The Smiling Rabbi, Live in Nashville with my publisher

Full Text of Interview Below.

– I'm Katie Connors,

and here with the Faith Words
imprint of Hachette Book Group.

We have offices all over the world,

in New York and Nashville as well,

so we're coming from the Nashville office

and we have a guest with us today.

It's Rabbi Evan Moffic
of the Happiness Prayer.

His release is on September 12th,

and we're here to ask him
a couple of questions.

So Evan, do you mind
telling us a little bit

about the book, and just
your heart behind it?

– Absolutely.

The book came out of my
own experience as a rabbi

who became the senior
leader, the senior pastor,

or the senior rabbi of
a large congregation

when I was 30 years old.

It was wonderful, but it
was a big struggle for me,

and I was looking for guidance
and support along the way.

And I found this prayer
that had been part of

the Jewish service, but
I began to look at it

in a new light.

It really became kind
of a guidepost for me.

And helped renew my
spirit, renew my faith,

renew my leadership.

And as I was studying that
prayer, or living that prayer,

I became exposed to this
school of psychology,

known as positive psychology.

I began to see the parallels between

what science is showing
leads to a meaningful life,

and what was helping me
through this difficult time.

And then it spread to my congregation,

and I decided to marry the two.

– That's perfect.

So your nickname is the Happy Rabbi.

– Yeah.

Yes, sometimes the Smiling Rabbi.

But you know,

I try to smile a lot,
and it lifts my mood,

and hopefully lifts others,

but yes, that's become my nickname.

– I think that's terrific,

and you all need a little bit of that.

And you've been very intentional,

because you went through
some hard times as well

where you had to make the decision

that you were gonna be happy,

and it wasn't necessarily,
you said, a destination,

but it was a journey.

Would you mind telling us
a little bit about that?

– I think that,

everyone goes through struggles in life.

Right, the book of Ecclesiastes says,

time and chance befall us all.

So we all go through difficult periods.

And in some ways, going
through those times

actually helps us see the joy,

and appreciate the joy even more.

So I think we have to
struggle with those times,

but then we also have to
try to choose happiness.

It's easy, it's easy to
take a different path.

I once had, my first congregation,

had two wonderful women, each
of whom lost their husband

right around the same time.

And they were both
involved in the synagogue,

and after the loss, one of them

sort of retreated inward.

Everything in her home,

it's her husband's voice
on the answering machine,

it's that on the answering machine,

the husband's picture was
everywhere in the house,

and she rarely left the house.

The other went through deep grief,

but then emerged outward,
volunteered at a hospital,

became more involved with the synagogue.

And, I don't wanna judge
somebody's path of grieving,

because we all have our way,

but I think the second path was healthier,

and she was happier with that.

And so that has to be a choice,

even if you're struggling.

– Yeah, yeah.

So what would you say,
why is there a need then,

for people to make that
choice to choose to be happy?

– Well I think it's what God,

I think God wants us to be happy.

A lot of religion, in its earlier,

I would say puritanical forms,

you know it was sort
of like, it's a scold.

Somebody somewhere must
be having a good time,

and that's not good.

But I actually think God designed us

to search for meaning and
to search for happiness.

You know, there's a beautiful
verse from the Psalms,

that says Evdu Adonai B'Simcha

which means “worship God with joy.”

And so I think part of our quest

is to find that joy.

So I think we're created that way,

and I think ultimately life
is more meaningful that way,

whether you're a religious person or not.

Feeling a sense of happiness and purpose

makes life richer.

And, this is a side bonus,

you actually live seven years longer.

That tends to be connected
to a house of worship.

People who are connected to a community

and a house of worship
live seven years longer,

they're healthier and they're happier.

So I think that's the way God designed us.

– And maybe I should've asked
you this at the beginning,

but how would you define happiness?

– I would say happiness is
satisfaction with one's life.

It's not pleasure.
Pleasure is a part of it.

I mean, we can all get instant pleasure

by having a beautiful
piece of chocolate cake,

if you like chocolate and
you're not allergic to it.

There are little things we
can do that give pleasure,

and that has a role in happiness,

but happiness is much bigger than that.

You know, struggle is part
of the price for happiness.

Anyone who works hard in their
job and achieves success,

you know that there are moments
that are really really hard.

They may not be pleasurable,

but they actually lead to happiness.

– I like that.

So then, one of the
things that we've seen,

even on social media, Facebook, is that,

while we have all of these ways to connect

with other people,

we have technology, and we have,

we seem so much further
advanced than what we were

people are still unhappy.

Why do you think that is?

– Well, technology's a double-edged sword.

So it can cut us off from
people, and it can connect us.

It can also, you know
one of the great joys

of being able to be on video,

is you can connect with people directly,

and ask questions of people.

But, still you and I
sitting in the same room,

there's an even deeper connection,

because you know you can see the person,

you see their hand motions,

you know all five senses are engaged.

Whereas in technology, we can
cut off a part of ourselves.

I think like anything, it's how we use it.

You know, my daughter
was just at summer camp.

And she came back and she
hadn't been using technology

for four weeks.

And she survived, and she
was happy, and delightful,

and so I think we all need that break.

I think of it as a digital sabbath.

And so whereas technology
has infinitely expanded

our possibilities, I think
it also makes it more urgent

to take that time to really disconnect,

and be with people we love.

– I like that.

So you can take a digital sabbath

on Sunday if you would like,

but I still suggest that you check

the FaithWords Facebook page. (laughing)

– Oh absolutely.

– When we're on live,
there's no digital sabbaths.

– Can you tell us a little bit
about the Happiness Prayer?

It's been around for 2,000 years.

And a little bit about
why it was needed then

and why it's still relevant today.

– Well, there were groups,

so in 70 CE, so almost 2,000 years ago,

the Romans destroyed the
Great Temple of Jerusalem.

And there was a feeling amongst Jews,

so this was a time when there were

Jewish followers of Jesus,

this was a very intense
time in religious history.

And these rabbis who survived
the destruction of the temple,

they were trying to
find a sense of purpose

and meaning in their world.

And they were asking themselves,

what will allow us to continue
to flourish as human beings?

We don't have the temple
to offer sacrifices in.

So how do we live the life
God intended us to live?

And they wrote this
book called the Talmud.

And the Talmud contains a lot
of various laws and practices,

but it also contains this prayer.

And this prayer was in
a way a kind of summary

of some of their greatest wisdom.

For community, honoring father and mother,

acts of kindness.

So it kind of captured
all of their values,

not all of them, there are more,

but it really distilled some of those

into a clear prayer.

And that's really where it came about.

It came about out of a sense of urgency,

in some ways kind of like
the time we're living in now,

where things are changing so quickly,

and we need those anchors
that can keep us lifted.

– That's really good.

So you answered the question, basically,

but I'd like to hear a little bit more,

why is this prayer, it's
not necessarily just for,

say rabbis, or for people
who follow the Jewish faith,

it's really for everybody, isn't it?

– Absolutely.

It's for anyone who wants
to live a meaningful life.

I think there is a faith element to it.

I mean,

a person who embraces this prayer,

I think needs to have some idea

that there's a higher
power in the universe.

Now we don't need to know exactly how

that higher power works,

and it can come from a variety
of different traditions,

but one of the sort of
underlying precepts is that

we are part of something
bigger than ourselves.

And we serve that purpose

by becoming part of community,

by doing acts of kindness.

So we have to, in a way,

get a little bit past pure selfishness,

which I think sometimes
our culture encourages.

But again, that's the way I
believe God designed us to be.

I think when we are purely selfish

and focus only on ourselves,
we're going to be less happy.

Right, so I forget, there was
a famous minister who said,

something like a person
wrapped up in himself

makes a very small package.

– (laughing) Wow.

– So there's something about
getting outside of ourselves

that I think this prayer nurtures.

And you kind of have to
come to it with an openness

to that higher power.

– That makes sense. Wow.

So we can't be happy all the time.

Do you mind if I ask you
how happy you are right now?

And then how do you sustain
that and keep coming back

to that joy that you're talking about?

– Yeah. Well on the
pleasure side of things,

I'm in Nashville and I've
had some great meals,

so that has kept me very happy.

But on the deeper side of happiness,

you know, I love teaching.

I love writing, speaking,
teaching in a classroom,

and so I feel that sense of
purpose and meaning and joy

when I'm teaching.

So I feel very happy right now.

And you know, the book
doesn't get into extroverts

and introverts, but I'm a
bit more of an extrovert,

so I love being in
conversation with people,

I get energy that way, so
I'm happy in that setting.

And you know, I have a lot
of good friends in Nashville,

so I feel a sense of community.

Community, of course, is
a very important thing.

I think as a rabbi, because
I'm surrounded by community

all the time, I sometimes
take that for granted,

but it is a huge gift to feel
a connection to a community.

So I'm feeling very good right now.

Now, you know, I also, a couple weeks ago,

did a funeral for somebody
that I knew very well,

so that was a painful time.

I think life, we have
all those experiences,

and part of real happiness means

an openness to those
different experiences.

You know, one of the
practices that we talk about

in the book, it's number six,

is being with people in times of mourning.

When somebody dies,

we need community to remind
us of what matters most.

So one of the spiritual
practices that leads to happiness

is being there for people
when they experience a loss.

So that's not always pleasurable,

but it ultimately adds meaning.

– Right.

What are some ways that you
can be there for somebody

who has experienced that loss?

Are there a few tips that
you can give to people

who might be facing that with
a friend of a family member?

– Absolutely.

The most important thing
is just showing up,

just showing up.

In Jewish tradition there's
something called Shiva,

where for the first few
nights after somebody dies,

people go and visit the
mourners at their home.

And you're supposed to go in,

you're not supposed to ring the doorbell,

you're not being entertained.

You're simply there to show
your presence, to say hello.

And so just showing up.

And it can feel awkward.

You know, sometimes we feel,

oh so many other people are calling them,

they don't really wanna hear from me.

Just overcome the hesitation,
just call and say hello.

Just say, I was thinking of you.

And if they don't answer,
leave a message that just says,

no need to call me back, but
I just wanted you to know

I'm thinking of you, I'm
so sorry for your loss,

and I'm here for you and love you.

That's all.

That makes a huge difference.

– Just being present.

– Just being present.

– Wow.

It's a lot simpler I think
than what we think it is.

– Yes, we don't have to solve
their theological problems.

We don't have to, especially
soon after a moment of death,

we're not there to, you
know if you're a rabbi,

or you're a person of faith,

you're not there to
offer a theology lesson.

You're simply there to
be present and intimate.

And I think somebody once called

it the ministry of presence,

in that we walk with people
through their difficulty,

and that's so important.

The theological stuff, that comes later.

You know, people work that out.

But in the immediate time of death,

just be present with what matters most.

– That's one of the things that I love

about your book The Happiness Prayer,

is that you don't shy away
from those hard issues,

you really delve right into that,

and you have a lot of practical tips

about how to be present
and things of that nature.

And as we were talking in
the FaithWords on this,

we were coming up with some questions

that we wanted to ask Evan.

And one of them was, we just
wanted some practical examples

of how you would use the happiness prayer

so that we can use that in our own lives.

Do you mind giving us some of those?

– Absolutely.

So I try to look at the prayer every day.

You know, it's almost part
of my morning routine,

that I have a cup of
water, I have some coffee,

I do a little reading, and I look at,

you know, I'm up before my kids,

and then I look at the Happiness Prayer.

And I ask myself, in some
ways, what can I do today

to meet some of these goals?

So one of them is acts of kindness.

So I try to say, okay, where will I have

an opportunity to perform and
act of kindness for somebody.

So just thinking of, looking
for those opportunities.

What am I grateful for?

One of the great leaders
of positive psychology,

who I talk about in the book,

his name is Martin Seligman.

He's an extraordinary person.

He essentially created the
school of positive psychology.

Positive psychology is kind
of like scientific proof

for the wisdom of our traditions,

somehow how I think about it.

Like they are using the tools of science

to prove that gratitude is healthy,

that prayer is healthy, it's amazing.

And so one of the studies
that Dr Seligman did,

was he had people write down for every day

three things they were grateful for.

Then he measured their satisfaction.

He found huge differences
in the sense of happiness

between people who wrote down three things

and people who didn't.

And so I try to write down, every day,

three things I'm grateful for.

It's a very simple practice,
it takes five minutes.

But in fact,

for people who pre-ordered the
book, those of you out there,

I have a packet that sort
of gives you a template

for writing down those three things.

And you can get right to doing it.

And you don't have to worry about it,

it doesn't have to be
perfectly grammatical language.

You just write down, you know,

saw a great movie today,

it reminded me of my first love, whatever.

Just writing something simple
down makes a big difference.

– Do you call that a
gratitude journal, or?

– Yeah.

I think the title I gave it was

gratitude in five minutes a day.

– Wow.

– Yes, something like that.

– It doesn't take that long.

– No, not even five minutes.

I mean it's really powerful.

And it's persistent.

Some scientific things are just temporary,

but this gratitude practice has been shown

to make people happier over four weeks,

over eight weeks, over

The effect persists,

I think because in some
ways it changes our mind.

I think prayer has the same effect.

You know, prayer, the more we pray,

it ultimately changes us,

it smooths out our emotions,

it gives us a greater depth,

and I think gratitude does the same thing.

– Wow.

So there are so many truths in this book,

and I could keep asking you questions,

but I wanna be able to open
up to people who are watching.

But before I do, can you
just tell us a little bit

about who this book is
for, who you wrote it for,

and why?

– This book, it's really
for Christians and Jews

and those who are seekers,

who want to find happiness in their life,

and want to incorporate some,

they're not easy, but very
doable, spiritual practices.

And that are looking for real happiness.

You know, there are a lot of books,

and some of them are wonderful,

but they kinda promise instant happiness,

an easy route to a happy life.

And I try to say, you know,

it's not hard, but it's not simplistic.

It takes a deliberate intention.

And if you are a person who
is looking for greater depth

and meaning, and are open to learning from

the world's oldest religious tradition.

I mean Judaism, we've been
around for 5,000 years.

And so there's a lot of wisdom there.

And so this is for anyone who's
open to hearing that wisdom.

And part of the reason
I wrote it is because

so much of Jewish wisdom is kind of hidden

in ancient texts that
are in Hebrew or Aramaic,

and are really inaccessible to people

who don't speak Hebrew, or
who aren't really familiar

with that tradition.

So I wanted to take that
wisdom, which is profound,

and bring it forward.

Because I think our world needs it.

There's so much divisiveness.

So much confusion over happiness.

I mean, we see thousands and
thousands of advertisements

every day that promise us
happiness with this car,

happiness with this house,
happiness with this vacation.

Not that I'm against any of those,

I think that those are
a part of the journey.

But real happiness takes something more.

So this book is for people
who want that real happiness

in their life.

Whatever their age.

You could be, you know,

at your life and see what
brought greater happiness.

You could be 20 or 30,

and say I'm at the beginning
stages of my adult journey,

what can I do to live a
happier more meaningful life?

That's why I wrote this book.

– Well I know a couple of people

that I want to give the
book, which is great,

since I work here I can do that.

But you can pre-order the book,

and we have a question from
Sara Beth here in Padgett,

on the Facebook FaithWords
page, in the comments section.

So if you have any
questions, you can ask that,

I'm looking at it right now.

But she wanted to find out
about how you get the packet

that you had mentioned early,

and it goes back to pre-orders.

– Yes. There's a website that we set up,

happinessprayerbook.com.

And happinessprayerbook.com.

And if you pre-order it that way,

it'll be automatically delivered to you.

– Couldn't be easier.

– Great technology.

– Do it from your computer,
while you're at work on Friday.

So if you wanna go there.

What was the name of
your URL one more time?

– Happinessprayerbook,
all one word, dot com.

– That's great.

So Sara Beth has another question.

She said, where can,
excuse me it just moved up,

where is that question?

All right, she would like to know,

what's your favorite part
or line of the prayer?

– Oh boy.

I would say,

my favorite verse is gm'eelut chasadim,

which is the second verse,

which is perform acts of kindness.

And the word gm'eelut
actually means redemption.

And so in a way it's
saying kindness redeems us.

It's a kind of grace
that we give to ourselves

and to others when we
perform acts of kindness.

And to me, that's what's most powerful.

And one of the points that
I make in the final chapter,

is that there are moments in life

where certain parts of the
prayer will be more meaningful

than other parts.

You know, unless you are a saint,

you're not gonna be able
to do all 10 practices

every day consistently.

There are times in life when certain parts

speak to us more powerfully than others.

Let's say we have aging parents,

the aspect of honoring father and mother

may be more important.

Let's say we are in a stage where

we are leader in a community.

Then certainly the community
part may be more important.

Or let's say we're in a stage of life

where we have a lot of friends
who are experiencing loss,

and their parents are passing away.

So certain stages will speak
to us at certain times.

At my point in life, for some reason,

kindness is really just
speaking to me more,

just really doing as many
acts of kindness as I can,

that's resonating.

So that to me is my favorite.

For people that have,
sort of my pre-readers,

people that have already read the book,

a lot of people found the chapter on

honoring father and mother very important.

Which to me, that surprised me.

People found that very helpful.

Because I kind of divide
between the commandment,

or the prayer, says
honor father and mother.

It doesn't say love father and mother.

And for some people, that's very hard now,

especially if we grew up
in difficult situations,

difficult parents, maybe
they weren't there.

We can't command that sense of love.

But we do owe something,

we owe honor to people
who brought us into life.

And so I unpack in the
book what that means,

what Jewish tradition says that means,

and that has been helpful for people,

it's almost given them permission
to do what they need to do

but not feel guilty for their emotions.

– And you need guidance at that, for sure.

So that's wonderful.

There's just so many truths
that we've talked about today,

and one of the things, you
talking about kindness,

that's something that any of us can do,

whether it's sending an
email to your co-worker

and encouraging them in some way,

or maybe you're going
through the line at Starbucks

and you could buy someone's
coffee behind you.

– Yes.

Put money in somebody's parking meter.

– Yeah, perfect.

Or if you have roommates,
maybe do the dishes.

Or if you have an aging parent,

– You'll feel good.

– Send them flowers. (laughing)

– You'll feel good.

It might feel kind of awkward.

Like sometimes a lot of these practices,

they feel awkward at first,

but you feel good afterwards.

It's really amazing.

– Love that.

Well thank you so much
for talking with us today,

taking your time.

– Oh, it's an honor.

– We love having you here in Nashville,

so if you wanna come back
and hang out at any point,

we'll be here.

– Thank you.

– And if you all have any questions

from the FaithWords Facebook page,

go ahead and write them in the comments,

and we'll see if we can
get them answered for you

later on.

The video is gonna be up for a while.

And then, it's also streaming
from your Facebook page.

– Yes.

– Do you mind telling
people where they can

find out more information
about you as well?

– Absolutely.

Well on Facebook, it's just
Facebook.com/rabbievan.

Or my website is rabbi,
R-A-B-B-I, dot M-E.

– That's great.

And you were just on a podcast.

Do you mind telling us about that

and your event tonight?

– Oh, yeah.

There's a lot of great stuff going on.

So I was on a podcast with
my good friend Ian Cron,

who is an expert in enneagram.

His podcast is called Typology.

And we actually co-hosted
a few episodes together.

And that was yesterday.

And then this evening I'm speaking at

the largest synagogue here in Nashville.

And you know there'll be speaking,

I mean I'm not speaking
all over the country,

but if you're in different
parts of the country,

you can find it.

I also do a lot of Facebook lives.

This was even better to do an interview,

but if you wanna learn more,

you can see some of those Facebook lives.

Email me, message me on Facebook,

and love to be in touch.

– We love how accessible you are,

that's so nice for readers.

Well thank you everybody,
have a good Friday,

and The Happiness Prayer is
releasing September 12th,

so make sure that you go out and you can

pre-order a copy online right now,

or it'll be available in
bookstores everywhere.

I show the way Jewish wisdom make our lives richer and happier. In particular, I help Jews appreciate their heritage and Christians uncover the Jewish roots of their faith. Get my FREE Jewish holidays cheat sheet by signing up here!

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