Pursuing Happiness

Editor’s Note: Jewish Sacred Aging welcomes a new contributor, Rabbi Lynnda Targan. You can learn more about her at her website.

Rabbi Lynnda Targan
Rabbi Lynnda Targan

The Declaration of Independence calls the “pursuit of happiness” one of its inalienable rights, and the “psychology of happiness” is among the highest attended courses offered among today’s Ivy League colleges. But long before either of these modern ideas came to be, Judaism was at the vanguard of the happiness track. You may ask how a religion known for its guilt factor is compatible with pursuing happiness? Reflect on this…

Judaism considers the pursuit of happiness an obligation. The Torah teaches, “You shall rejoice with all the good that the almighty has given you.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic Movement states, “The Almighty has sent you into this world on an appointed errand. It is God’s Will that you accomplish your errand in a state of bliss.” True happiness means becoming a partner in Creation with God or a power greater than yourself in the universe. Judaism also posits that to be happy is to be in a heightened state of spirituality and is, therefore, an obligation to yourself, spouse, partners, co-workers, friends, community and humanity at large. In the presence of others, if we show a happy face, we elevate them. Cheering people up is a great act of kindness, and transmission is an extremely high value in the Jewish tradition. It’s an ongoing sacred practice requiring mindful actions.

Regardless of a person’s life circumstances, the pursuit of happiness comes as a choice. We read in Deuteronomy, “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse—Choose life, so you may live.” We don’t always get what we deserve or deserve what we get, but we do have the opportunity to choose how we react to our situation. If we choose to have a good day, to make the most of our position, and to walk the unknowable path ahead with optimism, faith and resilience we invariably move ourselves to a better place.

To facilitate the process, it is incumbent upon us to develop an inner climate of gratitude. At one time or another life may be taking us on a difficult course, but if we focus on what we can glean that is positive, we invite the uplifting spiritual sparks to enter. A gratitude journal or daily posting may be helpful. Staying connected to community is also key. Finally, doing something good for someone in need is one of the best routes to personal happiness.

Whatever steps you make on your ongoing pursuit of happiness, set your kavanah, your intention towards building a life of joy and wonder. Remember, transforming sadness into happiness is a blessed state of being which requires a commitment only YOU can make.


About Rabbi Lynnda Targan 1 Article
Rabbi Lynnda Targan was ordained in May, 2003 at The Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) in Riverdale, New York, the only pluralistic seminary that trains rabbis and cantors for ordination in the spirit of Klal Yisrael. She entered the Rabbinate after a successful career as a communications expert: journalist, oral historian, writer, poet, storyteller and owner of her own public relations business. In preparation for the rabbinate she earned an MA in Jewish Liberal Studies in 1996 (Summa Cum Laude) and an MA in Jewish Communal Studies in 1998 (Summa Cum Laude) from Gratz College. She distinguished herself by winning the Nettie R. Ginsburg and Nathaniel I. S. Goldman Prize for Highest Academic Standing and the Arnold R. Ginsburg Prize for “Constructive Leadership and Promoting Communal Democracy,” and by delivering the Valedictory address at graduation. In addition, she was twice awarded the I. Bernard Rabinowitz Memorial Award for unique leadership, commitment and service to Jewish institutions. While a student at AJR, she was an active participant in the community, serving as treasurer for three years, founder and editor of the community newspaper, Gesher l’Kesher, chair of a number of programs and committees and eventually president of the student body. She was also awarded a CLAL internship (Center for Learning and Leadership), and trained as a chaplain at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in New York. She was the recipient of The Heschel Matt Creative Liturgy Award for her curriculum on adult B’not Mitzvah entitled Recipes for Jewish Living and she received the Rabbi Chana Timoner Creative Liturgy Award for her project, A Guide for Clergy to Understand Recovery of Family Members, Friends and Co-Dependents of People with Addictions. She also received the Student Association Leadership Award for years of dedicated service. Known for her compassionate mentoring and inclusive facilitative style, Rabbi Targan is on the faculty of the 92nd St. Y as a teacher of Derekh Torah, and teaches graduate courses in the Florence Melton Adult-Mini School of Gratz College. She also serves as a public speaker for various organizations, inspiring people to develop their own spirituality and unique purpose and mission in the world. Simultaneously, she continues to write healing services, meditations and other creative works which have been published widely. She also officiates at a number of services and conducts many lifecycle events. Rabbi Targan is the recipient of various academic and community service awards and is listed in Who’s Who in Professional and Executive Women and Who’s Who in American Women. Her hobbies include reading, art, theater, bicycling, cooking and traveling. She is a member of the Lions of Judah of the Women’s Philanthropy division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a Women of Vision, as well as a supporter of a variety of other political, cultural, and philanthropic organizations. She is a member of both the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis and the New York Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Targan is the wife of Larry Targan, president of Integrity Textiles, Inc., the mother of Eric Targan, a businessman in Florida and Beth Seltzer, an attorney in Philadelphia, and the mother-in-law of Dr. Charlie Seltzer. Rabbi Targan stays grounded by her faith in God, her work, and the love and support of her beloved friends and family.

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