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The Joy in the Struggle

The Joy in the Struggle

Ethics 4:1


“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot” Pirkei Avot 4:1

I was having one of those days. I had overslept, which, of course, had thrown the entire morning routine into a scene from the Titanic. Lunches, coats and umbrellas were flying, not to mention the grizzly frowns on the little people departing for their classroom adventures. The rest of the day didn’t fare much better; it consisted of one discontented client, a grumpy secretary and a cross-exchange with my architect who never seemed to get those sketches right. All this would have been tolerable, I mused, if it was only one of those days, but I began to realize that all of my days were slowly transforming into only those days.

My life had become one big rutAs I sank into the driver’s seat on my commute home, I began my daily personal prayer to G‑d, and opened, rather ungratefully, with my list of grievances about how I had survived yet another stressful day of unsuccessful attempts to balance my heavy workload, responsibilities of motherhood and refinement of my character traits—which, after several outbursts throughout the day, I knew needed emergency repair. I felt my frustration mounting as I thought how, once again, my day seemed to seize me rather than me seizing the day. There was no advancement in creating a more peaceful home where I didn’t serve as the twenty-four-hour-a-day unpaid moderator; no advancement at work, and no advancement in accomplishing even one of those Rosh Hashanah resolutions I had made only a short four months earlier.

My life, I muttered to the Sustainer of the Universe, had become one big rut—and the more I pondered this thought, the more my jaw tightened. I knew something had to be done, but what? I had been searching and searching for a remedy—for an escape from these invisible barriers that seemed to block all my attempts to change my life into the direction I wanted it to lead. I hadn’t been able to find a less demanding job that would allow me more time with my children, my interests, and simply, more time for myself. I was, to put it bluntly, stuck. My visions of being a relaxed, tranquil mother, raising the next generation of righteous people while administrating a blossoming career, had gone up in smoke.

What was I supposed to do to transform my days—to lift them from the mire and to slow the pace? I had tried being more organized, more assertive, and more accepting. I had searched the wisdom of our sages and poured out my heart in prayer, but nothing seemed to move forward, and quite the contrary, as my resentment mounted, life was moving in reverse.

Suddenly, as if from another realm, a thought popped into my head—“Be happy and you will grow.” What on earth did that mean? At first, I ignored it because it seemed like such an obtuse answer, but the thought mercilessly boomeranged in my mind as I pulled into my driveway, exhausted, frustrated and ready for the Battle of the Bedtime routine.

“Be happy and I will grow,” I repeated to myself as I struggled to bathe my slippery four-year-old—noting with irritation that she had managed to shower me as well. “Be happy and I will grow,” I said aloud while once again picking up the dirty laundry off the floor. “Be happy and I will grow,” I groaned the next day as I took on yet another impossible assignment with a ridiculous deadline.

I should just seek happiness—periodAnd then it hit me: the obstacle was the remedy. The “apparent” stumbling blocks to my growth—the static situation at work, the unending grind, the monotonous peacemaking at home—were all there to teach me that I should just seek happiness, period. Not in reliance on some artificial marker of success, but for the sake of happiness, because happiness itself is growth. If I could be happy in my present rut, if I could see the good in it, then I would grow as a person. Maybe I wouldn’t be on the cover of “Mother of the Year Magazine,” but I would grow because I would find joy in my struggle.

Joy is the key to closeness to our Creator. Through joy, as we learn from our sages, and particularly Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, spiritual blessings and abundance flow to the person. Depression and sadness have the opposite effect; they constrict the flow of blessings, and moreover, they actually deplete the blessings a person has already received, and like a downward spiral, they lead to further sadness and depression which leads to a further depletion of spiritual blessings.

Okay, now I got the message, but how was I supposed to find this pot of joy? And again, I remembered the wisdom of our Sages—joy comes from appreciation. In other words, I should start counting my blessings. In fact, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the key to joy is to think positively twenty-three hours a day, and to spend only one hour a day focusing on what you deem as lacking—both spiritually and materially.

And so, I began. In the morning, I really thanked G‑d for returning my soul, for giving me heat on a cold winter morning, for the fact that my husband had already woken for his morning prayers (testifying to his great character despite the winter cold), that my children were sleeping peacefully (yes, in sleep they managed to stop quarreling), that I had a welcoming mug of coffee to start the day, and that my fridge was chock-full of food. When my children began bickering over whose turn it was to make the beds, I thanked G‑d that I was blessed to have children who could bicker, and for giving me the opportunity to teach them about orderliness and cooperation.

On the way to work, I thanked G‑d for the job I had waiting for me, the fact that I had clients, and that I had convenient transportation. When I got stuck in a traffic jam, I thanked G‑d for giving me more time to reflect in personal prayer during my commute.

As I went through the day, an amazing transformation happened. I began to actually feel joy, and with that, my physical appearance transformed. I no longer had my regular afternoon headache—in fact, I noticed I had more energy than usual.

My children actually began to bicker lessAs the days progressed, I realized that my children actually began to bicker less, and my heavy workload seemed more manageable. In fact, the more I thanked G‑d—even for the seemingly “bad”—the more I saw, with my own eyes, situations transformed for the “good.” I understood, of course, that I should always strive for improvement, but while struggling in these efforts, I needed to take pleasure in my lot, or I would never really sense accomplishment or blessings at all.

I realized that in all my years of soul-searching, the answer had been there all along—I had just overlooked it. But I didn’t regret this either. In a way, it was fortunate that it took me this long to be thankful, because now I could really appreciate that all those days were nothing but a gift.

In memory of my mother, Annilee Patricia bat Rita, on her ninth yahrzeit, the 22nd of Shevat.

Sarah Azulay is a busy mother of many small children, and works in international business and investments.
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anonymous Los Angeles, CA May 19, 2011

thank you! you have immense wisdom in your experience. thank you for sharing with me. Reply

Kim South Pasadena, Ca May 18, 2011

Showing me another way The way things work for me is if I am still then G-d will show me a way.
I've been rather grumpy lately. I work on projects and at this particular job site it was hinted that they may hire me, when the separation date came and I was let go I was very disappointed and hurt. But mostly I was angry and pull out each and every time I had been wronged in a working situation, listing them all for G-d. Didn't G-d realize that I needed a job and mostly I wanted to continue working at this job site.
So I have sat stewing for two weeks, becoming more and more depressed and then I read this article.
If I am very still G-d always shows me a way.
I was very still and this article showed me a way.
Thank you very much Reply

Brachah bat Leah Germantown, MD via February 20, 2010

Very Inspiring I read this article just in the right time for me. I felt very similar extreme pressures in my own life, work and children, and did not see a solution. Your wisdom and search for joy and appreciation in everyday life were such an inspiration for me.
Thank you for this article. Looking forward to more. Reply

Deena Boca Raton, FL USA March 18, 2008

You mean I'm really not alone? Thank you so much for this truthful expression of yourself and the candid accounting of your life these days. I have felt very alone in the nooks & cranies of life. While reading your piece I was hearing my very own words-almost in disbelief. You are a fellow traveler on this stressful road of ours- women of 5768 - and I am very, very grateful for your companionship. IMy efforts to come closer to G-d are deeply enriched by the communication of kindred sojourners like yourself. I was feeling quite blue the other morning. My very intuitive 9-year-old was having breakfast while I stood by the sink...sinking. All of a sudden the words of my rebbetzen came streaming into my brain, "are you remembering to be b'simcha (joyous)?" At once I said aloud, "That's it! I am going to be happy. I am happy." It was as if I had turned on a simcha switch- the depression was gone! I did a mitzvah! What a powerful moment for both of us. Thank G-d. Thank you again Sara Reply

Elisheva Cape Town , South Africa via February 4, 2008

Thank you so much for pointing out the obvious. I am in the same situation and your article has changed my and my families life for the better.


Esther Miami Beach, FL January 31, 2008

Hazak u Baruch - Strength & Blessings Thank you for your wonderful insights and the manner in which you have made this lesson clear for us. The understanding you convey just shed tremendous light in my life.

Yasher Koach (Congratulations) & May G-d continue to bless you and your family to go from strength to strength. Kol tuv. Reply

Anonymous Washington, DC January 31, 2008

I Needed to Read This Article Dear Sarah Azulay:

Thank you for writing this article. This was a message I really needed to hear right now.

There is lots of good spiritual writing on what to do in really bad times in one's life, but sometimes managing good fortune can also be very difficult spiritually, and we need to be reminded about the spiritual importance of joy and contentment with one's lot.

Like you, I've recently had some great blessings, but I have not been practicing spiritual joy, instead I've been gripiing and focusing on the negative aspects.

Thanks again for some wonderful spiritual advice!


Leah Orlando, FL January 30, 2008

Thank you I am currently in the same situation, and I can't thank you enough for your enlightening article. Reply

Rubi Orlando, F.L. January 29, 2008

Right on time I'm happy to hear what through consistent believe and prayer you have accomplished. Exactly this is my current battle. In this few days I could see the difference it makes in me to think that the circumstances I have gone through in life are working for the good even when they seem "bad" in the moment. The moments of wait that may despair can be taken for a time of prayer, thankfulness, and reflection. Sometimes it gets tuff but have to keep climbing. Thanks for this beautiful article. Blessings for your family and may you stay strong in His Word. Reply

Anonymous January 29, 2008

great article!
thanks so much! Reply

Anonymous Puebla, Mexico January 28, 2008

thanks! just what I needed to know...I really mean it!, I thanked G‑d for this this lesson. Reply

Anonymous January 28, 2008

Talking to me! Thanks for writing this as I feel almost in the same situation. It opened my eyes to how to get out of my rut and for that I am grateful. Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Greenville, SC January 28, 2008

Be Happy and I Will Grow What a great article! This was so worth my time to read today...thank you for this! I think you're right. When we notice and thank G-d for our blessings, we become happier. Reply

Carol florida January 28, 2008

joy in the struggle Counting our blessings is truly the first step to a new peace of mind. thank you Sarah for reminding me Reply

Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
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