I am a sucker for baked goods. My taste in pastries has been refined over the years, from Chips Ahoy to bakery made black and whites, to baking my own meringue cookies.  No packaged cookie is as satisfying as sharing your home-made treats with family and friends. Sharing what we craft is a core element of happiness.

“Happiness is not ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” This is a teaching of the Dalai Lama. The Jewish approach would be to say, “what recipe do I have to follow to create happiness?” And of course, we have more than one answer!

Torah teaches that before we enjoy our produce, we bring the first fruits as an offering. Imagine how tempting it must be for the farmer to taste the bounty of his fields and trees. Our tradition says, wait. First, make it clear to God that you recognize that a gracious and divine source made all that you have possible. It was not your own actions alone.

Acknowledging the Source is the first element of enjoyment. The second is to be in relationship. Enjoyment comes when we share our meals with family, friends, priests, and strangers.

 “And you shall enjoy, all the goodness that the LORD your God has given you and your household, you together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst,” Deut. 26:11.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכׇל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃

From the Harvard psychiatrist to the eastern mystic, every expert on positive psychology will tell you that an attitude of gratitude is the key to happiness. The Jewish tradition teaches that happiness is a function of feeling thankful. But our tradition says gratitude alone is insufficient.

To increase happiness we pair our appreciation with personal relationships. While we may make family the primary focus of our lives, happiness grows when we welcome friends and strangers into our homes. Torah teaches that real happiness comes when we share with a wider circle. Our tradition says that as the creator of happiness, you craft the greatest happiness by welcoming others to your home, even those who are strangers.

As we approach a new year, we might again be reminiscing about the large family meals of pre-Covid times. For those who are distanced from family or close friends by the pandemic, the nostalgia may be difficult to bear and disheartening. If you are blessed with abundance to share, here is your opportunity to share in your enjoyment.

We all must navigate this time of social distancing, figuring out how to increase joy by including friends or acquaintances who might not have the same bounty as you. Here’s my suggestion and it comes right from Torah. Be more inclusive with the meals at your patio table or in your zoom dining hall. Sharing a meal brings more joy because happiness is not ready-made but hand-crafted by you and is more vibrant when shared.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame