12 Cheshvan 5782 / Monday, October 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Embracing Joy    

Embracing Joy

It is so easy to find ourselves on the normal sound track of this world – sharing comparison, discontent and gossip in every conversation. Frowning while we drive or commute…


I have a clear memory of sitting in our local, small-town truck stop restaurant and my parents asking what I would like as a name (I must have been lamenting about not like my name, yet again). Sitting there, so small that my feet swung off my chair not even close to touching the ground, I suddenly realized I didn’t have an answer. I was so wrapped up in complaining about not liking my name yet I never took time to consider an alternative name. I glanced around looking for inspiration, wishing to give a great answer to this very logical question. I spied my silverware. “SPOON!” I announced. “I want to be called Spoon!” And thus one of my parent’s favorite stories to retell was born.


When I was young I had issues with my name. At once I liked my name and desperately wanted a different name. Something unique, that would stand out and make people take notice of me. That’s a theme that has followed me my entire life – from some of my earliest memories I’ve longed for people to take notice of me…. but not too much notice as to make me the center of attention – my shy self certainly didn’t want that!


As much as I had desired a unique name growing up, I was embarrassed of my middle name which I felt was weird. After all, how can an emotion be a name?




Post adolescence I grew into appreciation of my first name and, although I lost the embarrassment of my middle name, I still failed to embrace it. I liked the ring of my – Jennifer Joy – but I was not attached to it by any means. It was just a name and I mostly didn’t think about it. Joy was simply a J. in my signature.


It wasn’t until my husband and I were choosing names for our son that I learned the origins of my middle name. Perhaps my mom had told me previously – in fact she probably did but I failed to take note – but my grandmother gave me the middle name Joy and the blessing that I should bring joy into the lives that I touch.


At the time I learned of this blessing I had been on my journey of emuna for a couple years. I finally embraced Joy and the weight of the blessing fell onto my shoulders as I became keenly aware of all the years I spent not being grateful for the name and, now, for responsibility the name held.


As a child I had the nickname of smiley - I was constantly beaming and spreading happiness. As an adult, I have to admit I often fell (and fall) into the trap of spreading complaints, grumpiness or just simply being so wrapped up in my own thoughts and situations that I fail to smile and offer a kind word to those around me. Although, through my study of Rabbi Arush’s books and Rabbi Brody’s books and CDs, I knew the importance of smiling and speaking only good to others it was not until I learned of the origins of my middle name that I realized I had (and have) a lot of work to do in this area.


It is so easy to find ourselves on the normal sound track of this world – sharing comparison, discontent and gossip in every conversation. Frowning while we drive or commute – so wrapped up in our own thoughts and frustrations over traffic that anyone looking at our faces would assume that we’re having a bad day (whether we are or not) and that negative impression affects them on some level.  Spreading negativity is so normal in today’s world that anyone who regularly and intentionally shares joy, gratefulness and happiness is considered a bit weird or “out there.” Unrealistic. A dreamer.


Five years after learning about my name, I still fall very short of the potential it suggests. My name is a regular reminder to keep striving, to keep praying, to keep learning so that I will smile more, speak more kindly, offer more words of encouragement, and, Hashem willing, bring only joy into the world.


Will you join me? Make an effort to smile more, to offer a kind word, to avoid gossip, to share emuna – to bring joy into the lives of those you meet.



* * *

Jennifer invites you to participate in a regularly held Noahide on-line study group that reviews the garden series books of Rabbi Arush. You can contact her at jenniferjwoodward@gmail.com for dates and times.

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