Be that as it may, some things we can buy can also nourish the spirit. Here are a few:
1. Books: Jews have been called “The People of the Book.” We believe that books reveal sacred truths that connect us with God and enhance the holiness of everyday life.
A couple of books to consider if you do not own them: God in Search of Man, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, explores the experiences of awe and amazement by which God reaches out to human beings. “Indifference to the sublime wonders of living,” Heschel wrote, “is the root of sin.”
Another more recent book is The Great Partnership, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks, an Orthodox Rabbi, challenges the idea that science and religion inevitably clash and contradict each other.
He argues that the insights of each discipline can enrich the other.
2. Travel: Experiencing a different culture and landscape enhances our spiritual awareness. We see the way others relate to God and the universe, and begin to understand both the remarkable diversity and similarity between different faiths.
3. Experiences with friends and family: A focus on acquiring things–even the newest iPad or sports car–does not bring happiness. Rather, as numerous studies have illustrated, such a focus creates greater unhappiness. It constantly reminds us of what we do not yet have.
A focus on doing things with family and friends–a meal out or a visit to the beach–can create lasting happiness. They remind of us what we have rather than what we desire. They focus on what we share rather than what we lack.
4. Gifts for others: Paradoxically, when we spend money on others, we gain. Giving deepens relationships in a way that makes us happier in the long run.
Point in fact: As a rabbi I’ve noticed that students at my temple derive enormous satisfaction from the community service we ask them to do. They see how lucky they are, and find meaning in helping fellow human beings.
While getting presents is great, giving them away is even better.
By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.
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