We Don’t Know High Until We Know Low

I really, really don’t like sadness.

Growing up, my parents wouldn’t raise their voice to scold me, instead they would discipline me in a joyous, sing-songy voice. There was this ever-present, overflowing sense of joy my mom generated with her upbeat, wholehearted concern for all to be happy in the home. My father’s whimsicality made the difficult times a whole lot smoother.

As the youngest of seven children, there was always good eats, good music, and most importantly good company. Baruch Hashem, I was blessed with such an overflowing cup of goodness that sadness has always been somewhat foreign to me.

A grounded joy runs through my veins.

And so I do my best not to dwell on feelings of sadness. I search for the sparks of light hiding within the confines of my struggles – an insight, a new appreciation, a new niggun – drawing from the inner wellspring of joy that my mother and father nurtured.

But, I must say that this year I have had some heavy struggles. A broken engagement, losing a job I really loved, dropping out of college to move forward on a path less traveled by. Learning of corruption in leaders I looked up to; having to break-up with someone I loved because of rabbinical restrictions. Close family, friends, and teachers becoming deathly ill so suddenly, so out of the blue.

Gevald – a lot of legitimate reasons to be sad. Grappling with all of these heady things has not made it easy to uphold my natural state of “happy”. I’ve had so many sleepless nights this year. Rivers of tears…

At the same time, this year has been the most fulfilling year of my life.

Two of my close friends and I went to the studio to record some fresh tunes from the bottom of our hearts and somehow, somehow the EP we made charted at #9 on Billboard’s World Music charts. We started selling out shows, meeting myriads of incredible souls along the way, reaching the highest heights in prayer with friends, family and strangers. Now we’re working on the next album, music videos, touring, a documentary and trips to Israel, Australia and the UK.

I’ve been privileged to reach the highest spiritual heights in learning and prayer with my dear friends. Shabbos has never been so sweet and magical as the Shabbosos I spent this year with my close friends and family. Birthdays. Wedding anniversaries. Graduations…

A year so full of sweet, sweet goodness. So many successes. So many celebrations. So many moments of oneness.

In the deepest of ways, my life experience this year exemplifies the idea that the wholeness of one’s joy and happiness comes hand-in-hand with one’s sorrow and sadness.

My friend told me to check out this poem by the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran called “On Joy and Sorrow” and, gevald, he took the words right out of my mouth and then some:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

In other words – ירידה לצורך עליה – we go down to depths of sadness only to go up to the heights of joy.

When planting a seed, the seed first decomposes to near nothingness. Only then, from that place of nothingness, does the seed burst forth with all of its hidden potential and strength into ‘something’ so immensely beautiful and strong. A gigantic cedar tree!

While this year has had tremendously painful moments, it has simultaneously contained the sweetest moments of my life. In essence, knowing what it means to be low has taught me what it means to be high. As King David once said: הזורעים בדמעה ברנה יקצורו – those who sow with tears, harvest with utmost joy. My journey through the depths of sorrow and suffering have brought me to new levels of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You see what it is? We don’t know high until we know low… and the deepest deepest secret of the righteous is to have one part of your heart completely broken with sadness whilst having the other completely whole in the selfsame moment.

כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה  בשמחתה ושאינו מתאבל על ירושלים אינו רואה בשמחתה – all those who mourn for Jerusalem merit to see it in its joy and all those who don’t mourn for Jerusalem don’t merit to see it in its joy. From all these tears we’ve shed personally and nationally these past two thousand and some-odd years, may we now be blessed to taste the beginning of all things good for our families, for our people, for Jerusalem & for the world.