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ATTAINING TRUE SIMCHA!
Be wise, my son, and my heart will gladden. (Proverbs 27:11)
Many of us aspire to great levels of purity and avodas Hashem (service to G-d) but find it arduous and our labors unfruitful. We may lack a principal ingredient in our lives, that of joy. Without happiness in our hearts, we are unable to rise to the great heights of achievement we set for ourselves. We serve Hashem and perform mitzvos to the letter of the law, but frequently lack the spirit with which we are intended to perform these acts. A person cannot serve Hashem properly with a heart full of pain. At times, it feels as though we are riding an emotional roller coaster and we are stuck in a maze of obstacles that block our way on even the simplest, most direct path. We search for answers, sometimes without knowing the questions. When we can finally identify the problem, the solution may elude us. The only way to truly search for answers is through a joyous heart. “You shall emerge with joy (Isaiah 55:12) from your troubles.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> If we are not emotionally healthy, nothing else matters.
Doctors call ours the Prozac generation: Never before have people struggled so much to find relief from emotional distress. “A happy heart is as healing as medicine.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The only way to have a truly happy heart is to “Cast your burden on Hashem, and He will sustain you.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Many of us keep our emotions bottled up inside until we are ready to burst. Tell Hashem your troubles. Do not live a life of sorrow. As difficult as it might be to confide in someone, find a person to whom you can unburden your heart. There is no need to inflict our souls when there is so much help waiting if we reach out. When you start to talk to someone about what troubles you, it helps to put it in perspective and you might see that the problems aren’t as overwhelming as you thought. What seems overwhelming when you keep it to yourself might seem almost trivial once you verbalize and share the problem.
Do you find it difficult to think positive thoughts? There is so much for which we can all be thankful. Rabbi Avigdor Miller says, “A person who is depressed has a lack of hakaros hatov (appreciation) for what he has been given.” Make a list of everything for which you are grateful and read it every morning.If you find your mind dwelling on negative thoughts during the day, read the list again. Do we ever thank Hashem for the simple things? Walking the hallways of a hospital or nursing home, it is virtually impossible to ignore all the things we take for granted. Does seeing someone on a respirator help us realize how much we should value our ability to breathe? Are we thankful for our functioning extremities when we see someone in a wheelchair, being fed because they lost use of their arms as well as their legs? Do such sights encourage us to take better care of our bodies and appreciate the gift of life? Or do we squander our lives depressed about things we cannot change, failing to recognize the limits of our own mortality? Rabbi Chayim Zaitchyk said, “Be aware of the great value of being alive. When you realize the great treasure that lies in every second of life, you will experience the great joy that is in inherent in each moment. This awareness will motivate you to utilize each moment to its fullest.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A lonely man once asked the Nikelsberger Rebbe why he didn’t have many friends. The Rebbe answered, “People don’t want to be around someone who is sad.” We have to work on our happiness so we can enter the palace of the King and people will enjoy our company.
We are often faced with trying to find joy in our busy and confusing lives. Not knowing what to do, we reach for some object that we think will make us happy. If you believe the media, the road to happiness is paved with diamonds, new luxury cars, confounding electronic equipment and extravagant vacations. Unfortunately, many people seek these material answers, only to find that after they get what they yearned for, they are still unhappy. To make matters worse, not only have they yet to find their happiness, but now they are deeply in debt, paying for the tangible representation of an intangible goal. Chazal teach that a person dies with only half of the materialistic possessions they wanted. The more money you have, the more you crave. No one sets their sights on earning a specific amount of money, then stops when they’ve acquired that amount: The goal is to earn as much as possible. How is a child supposed to grow up to be self-sufficient and happy with what they will be able to afford if we give them everything they desire and more, spoiling them for eighteen or twenty years? Will our children learn how to be content without the newest, most popular toys if they see us desperately craving the latest state-of-the-art gadgets? Can anyone find happiness within him- or herself instead of at the nearest discount electronics store? Hashem accepts and loves us, regardless of the car we drive, where we live or what we do for parnosa (livelihood). We need to incorporate that love so that we can have faith in Him. Our lack of joy can stem from not having enough emunah – trust - in Hashem. Rebbe Nachman teaches that talking about trust in Hashem helps one to increase their emunah. Even when your initial goal is to help someone else increase their emunah, it will help increase your own. When you have trust in Hashem you have no alternative but to be happy.
If you were stuck on a desert island, could your family enjoy each other’s company without some electronic contraption? Let us all learn to be happy with life itself. We must show those we love that we appreciate spending time with them. We don’t need box seats for the ball game to spend time with our loved ones. In fact, we need nothing but each other to create treasured memories. When your children are grown, will they recall the time you took them to the store to buy another toy or will they remember the special times spent together as a family? Our grandparents lived a much simpler life and appreciated what they had. Family was a cherished gift and multiple generations lived under one roof. We, on the other hand, are never satisfied with our possessions, our families or ourselves. The abundance of self-help books gives testimony to our dissatisfaction with our lives. We need to learn self-love, but not to the exclusion of loving others. The basis of Torah, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, clearly instructs us to love others, but we can only do so if we first love ourselves.
Time should be specifically reserved for some form of enjoyment in our overloaded schedules. There will always be something to worry over; families, health, our homes, cars, children, finances, work. If we constantly fret over these things, we may never have a moment’s peace in our lives and will, chaz v’sholom, end up physically or emotionally ill. Medical science has identified who is most likely to endure serious illness, based on a particular set of character traits. People with the ‘Type A’ personality are known to have a greater chance of suffering such medical problems as heart attacks, strokes and gastrointestinal disorders. They rarely stop agonizing over things long enough to relax and enjoy life. We transmit this stress to our children by overloading their schedules as well. Whereas the only after-school recreation activity children used to attend were scout or youth groups, today their calendars resemble that of a busy executive. There are music and foreign language lessons, sports and tutoring, not for remediation but so they will excel. Our children are getting the message at a very young age that it’s not enough to go to school, come home, do homework and join an extra-curricular activity at school. Psychologists agree that children today are growing up with much too much stress from the pressure of all these activities. They have less time to enjoy being children due to their parents’ lack of satisfaction with some aspect of their own lives.
Rebbe Nachman says that the way to release oneself from illness is to be joyous. When a person is happy, they are able to reflect upon themselves and their lives. This brings a person to complete teshuvah (repentance) and health. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson taught, “Depression comes from haughtiness. If you would realize who you really are, you wouldn’t be so disappointed with yourself.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> He explains that depression, while not a crime, sinks a person deep into an abyss. It originates within our own self-destructive elements and once depression takes hold, a person can easily sink further. Depression can cause a person to stop doing mitzvos. In an attempt to find relief from the depression, a person might sin, simply because they don’t care enough to avoid doing aveiros. Rabbi Nosson once remarked that the evil inclination cares less about the sin than about the depression that follows it. By means of the depression, it can further trap the person and gain much more than from the first sin. If we make the mistake of committing a transgression, we should be remorseful but not allow ourselves to become depressed. It is vital to fight depression as one would fight their greatest enemy, run from it as they would from death itself.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
When a person becomes ill, their legs feel heavy. When you feel depressed or sick you can feel this heaviness. Man’s right and left legs correspond to the sefiros (spiritual realms), netzach and hod. The judgment for a person’s sins corresponds to these sefiros. If you are sick or depressed, Rebbe Nachman recommends that you dance, elevating these divine judgments back to their source, binah, which corresponds to ones heart. “Through dancing and body motions, joy is aroused.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> There doesn’t have to be anyone around and you don’t have to know how to do any specific dance. Jump around and clap your hands. Dancing is a universal happiness. I was once faced with tremendous confusion and pain. In a distance I spotted a back parking lot so I walked there and I just started dancing. The Holy Baal Shem Tov used to dance in order to increase his religious hislahavus – enthusiasm - and d’vekus – connection to Hashem. He taught his followers, “The dances of the Jew before his Creator are prayers.” “All my bones shall say, Hashem, who is like onto Thee?” (Psalm 35:10)<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Every Shabbos night a crowd would surround Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov to watch him dance in honor of the Queen Shabbos. The entire house was filled with the light of kedusha (holiness). Though not seen by observers, the angels came to dance with Rabbi Moshe Leib. For hours he would dance without tiring, drawing close to Hashem.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hashem blessed us with the ability to keep Shabbos with an extra neshama shining into us. Observing the festivities of Chanukah, Sukkos, Purim, Shavuous and Rosh Hashanah is as if we have all been born with a silver spoon of joy.
Hashem would love nothing more than for us to serve Him with simple joy and love of life. Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid taught, “The root of all prayer is a joyous heart before Hashem. “Glory in His holy name, rejoice you hearts that seek Hashem.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> King David accompanied all his prayers and Psalms with the harp, filling his heart with joy and love of Hashem.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A person should create ladders by which he can ascend to heaven. A niggun (melody) is one such ladder, especially when you sing after experiencing the joy of performing a mitzvah.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A cantor or singer is called a chazan, from the word chazon, meaning vision and prophecy, since his music is derived from the same place as prophecy.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> An expression of fervent love is singing songs of love, as we should before Hashem.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “Which is the service of joy and happiness? It is song.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The essence of d’vekus is through melody.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Musical instruments and melody have power to draw a person closer to Hashem. Especially on Shabbos and holidays, it helps to enliven the day with a melody and connect with Hashem.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The Baal Shem Tov said, “The main rule in serving Hashem is that you should keep yourself from sadness to the very best of your ability.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “Without joy, it is impossible to be attached constantly to Hashem.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> When you perform a commandment with joy, it is a sign that your heart is completely with Hashem.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Nothing in the world is more pleasant than a mitzvah performed with gladness. When you do a mitzvah, you should concentrate on the positive feelings that come with the action itself and not on the potential of receiving a reward in olom habah (the world to come). Having the opportunity and ability to perform another mitzvah is the reward Hashem sends as the reward for the first one.
Your joy is in the mitzvah,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> which is the perfection of holiness.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
A person can do good deeds all their life, but if they do so without simchas hachayim, the joy of life, what meaning does it really have? “Because you did not serve Hashem with happiness…” (Devarim 28:47), the Kotzker Rebbe explains, “Our nation was warned that if they do not listen to Hashem and follow in His ways, they will provoke severe chastisement. They will be punished specifically because they ‘did not serve… with happiness.’” If a person does not serve Hashem with happiness, does that warrant this stern rebuke? Not only did you not serve Hashem, but you were happier that you did not serve Him!<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hashem does not want us to go through life with sadness. I have met people whose hearts were so broken and full of sadness I don’t know how they managed. There is no life in a world of sadness. There is no reason for someone to dwell in this pit of depression when all around is a joyous world.
“G-d chastises those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12). How can we explain why suffering is a sign of G-d’s love? Think about parenting. Why do we set limits and punish our children when they don’t obey the rules we have set for them? We love our children and want them to grow to be responsible, kind, generous adults. If they don’t learn when they are young, they won’t know the proper way to act when we are not longer standing over, coaching their every move. The same is true of Hashem. He gives us rules – the Torah and its mitzvos – to which we are expected to adhere. No one is totally free of sins; even the greatest tzaddik has a few sins for which he must do tshuva. In order for us to go on to olam habah – the world to come – free of spiritual blemishes, we must be cleansed of our sins in this world.
There are people who seemingly have no cares in the world. They go through life smiling, singing and spreading cheer to those around them. It’s often surprising to find that some of these people lead very difficult lives. Reb Zusia lived in poverty and constant pain. One day, a stranger passing through asked the village rabbi to explain how one could be expected to thank Hashem when bad things happen. The rabbi told the traveler to go ask Reb Zusia. The stranger found Reb Zusia living in a tiny hut with only the dirt on the ground for a floor. There was little furniture, no heat and scarcely any food to feed the large family. When the stranger asked his question, Reb Zusia replied ‘I don’t know why the rabbi thought I could help you. You see, I’ve never experienced anything bad in my entire life.’ The traveler left, understanding the rabbi’s lesson about being thankful for what we are given and achieving peace of mind.
The Vilna Gaon said that all of our actions are comparable to planting a seed. We plow and sow and the rest - the rain, dew, blight and rot, are up to Hashem. A person has to put forth the effort but should not be consumed with worry over the outcome, which is in Hashem’s hands. If a person spends his whole day in Torah study, he should be happy that he has done most of what Hashem asks of him. He should move forward each day, without worrying about yesterday’s results. At the same time, he must beg Hashem for success, but his desire for progress should not blind him to his slow daily growth. Fruits that are born after a long period of effort, and after having overcome many obstacles and trials, are much sweeter than the success, which might come in a moment.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Almost everyone has good days and bad days. Our individual paths are full of curves and blind spots. When the road is flat and straight, you don’t have to search to find happiness, it is there. When a fog permeates, as on a bad day, you keep searching but your heart comes up with nothing. There are times when visibility drops so much, we think to ourselves, ‘How will I get through the next hour?’ We must have emunah - faith.
When everything goes well, we think it’s because we did something right and we forget to thank Hashem. If we are born into wealth, we think that everything comes our way because of our parents and we do not learn to be dependent on Hashem. Does a child who grows up with servants to cater to their every need learn to be self-sufficient? We must struggle to build strength of character, to draw closer to Hashem.
Rebbe Nachman says, “Life is a narrow bridge; the main thing is not to fear.” During difficult times, separate yourself from your current slump and focus on your good points. Think about the mitzvos you have done today or one you did in the past. View yourself in a positive light. Make a list of the chessed you have done for others. Remembering ones good points during emotionally trying times should be a common practice in a person’s avodas Hashem. Keep the mitzvos and halachos that day very simply without any unnecessary hanhaga (stringency) you have taken upon yourself. When you are in better spirits, you can add them back. By giving 100% on those days, bad days will rarely come.
Rebbe Nachman teaches that thinking about the precious gifts we are given, simply by being Jewish, bring us happiness. We have been given the gift of olam habah - the world to come and the opportunity to perform 613 mitzvos to draw us close to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman says that overcoming sadness is one of the hardest tasks given to man. The Seer of Lublin, in the name of the Arizal, said, “When a person is sunk in a depressive state, no advice can help him. He must simply wait until the anger passes.” “When the moment of happiness suddenly arrives, all of his problems will then be solved.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> We must place our thoughts in a world of happiness. Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev would always recite the birchas hashachar (morning prayers) aloud before the congregation. As he was leading the prayers one morning, he passed over the blessing sheloh asani goy, which praises Hashem ‘for not making me a gentile.’ After the prayers, a few congregants asked him the reason for this omission. “Upon awakening this morning,” The Rebbe replied, “I was overcome with intense joy at having been born a Jew. I could therefore not contain myself and I felt obliged to recite this blessing without any hesitation.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The Torah is a splendid light and brings joy to ones heart, yet we rarely recognize its value to our lives. Rarely does someone say, ‘I am depressed, I must learn more Torah.’ We may think that observing all the mitzvos is too difficult most of the time, but especially when we are depressed. If we recognize that all of our strength comes from Hashem, we will see that nothing He expects of us is beyond our ability. The Torah provides spiritual strength for those who seek it. If you normally exercise everyday, you know how energized you feel. If you miss even one day, it is difficult to complete your regular exercise routine the next day and may be tempted to skip another day. When you return to exercise after a few days away, you have to struggle to keep up with your normal pace. The same is true of Torah: If you ignore it for one day, it will ignore you longer. When adversity come our way, people frequently lament ‘Why me? I can’t take it anymore.’ Hashem knows exactly how much we ‘can take’ and never gives us more than we can handle. It’s often difficult to find something positive in troublesome situations, but we must remember that what we see as negative may turn out to be positive. We don’t know Hashem’s intentions, which is exactly how it is supposed to be when we are without the emes – truth - of the future times of Moshiach.
Sometimes, the only way to overcome depression can be through lightheartedness. If you look at the tzaddikim of our generation, you will see that many have a humorous, lighter side to them. To take on such an important role in Klal Yisrael and carry so many burdens on ones shoulders, one must be able to joke around a little bit. I once met a great scholar who translates some of the most difficult Torah passages into English. Before meeting him, I expected he would have a serious, harsh nature; instead I encountered a pleasant, down-to-earth man. Rabbeinu Bachya teaches “The pious person carries his pain within, while his face radiates joy.”
Everyone likes to give and receive gifts, but sometimes we worry that the gift we’ve chosen will not be the right size or color or to the liking of the recipient. Still, we know that simply receiving the gift will elevate the spirits of both the giver and receiver. There is a gift that anyone can give, regardless of their financial situation and the best news is that one size fits all. We can give the gift of a smile and a joyous greeting. It costs nothing to put on a happy face. Try this experiment when you are walking in a crowded area: Nod your head and smile to each person you see. Smiling and happiness are contagious: It keeps getting passed on to the next person and soon everyone will be smiling. There is bound to be at least one person who is having a bad day, but when they receive a smile, their troubles will be lifted, even for a moment. When enough people smile and greet that person, he won’t be able to keep his troubling thoughts and the collective unit of people will have helped to raise his spirits. If each of us practiced smiling, what a happy world it would be! Even if we fake our outward smile, it’s bound to have a positive impact on us. Rebbe Nachman says, “If you have to, force yourself to be happy and soon after it will become a reality for you.” Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, the noted psychiatrist, says that smiling, even when one is alone, leads to a positive outlook toward life.
Every time a person thinks of something joyous, the satan counters it with sadness. The only thing the satan cannot degrade is the thought that we are Jews, not heathens. This is our greatest joy, which cannot be confounded by outside forces. The Jewish heart and soul are special. When one feels as if all hope is lost, the key to rising above these feelings is to reflect on how lucky you are to be a Jew. Being Jewish is so powerful, that one cannot lose their status as a Jew. A Jewish soul lives forever, in this world and the next. Our good deeds carry on for eternity and not a single good deed is lost. For this reason, we have a great responsibility to the world. Each and every one of us can make a difference just because of our Jewish neshama - soul. We have an obligation to find that special treasure within ourselves and share it with others. Our sages tell us that each of us is from a part of a limb of the original man, Adam Harishon.
The Midrash teaches us that Hashem gave Adam and Chava (Eve) a blessing, as they were about to leave the Garden of Eden. He said, “I give you the gift of forgetfulness.” Simcha spelled in Hebrew, means shin – she - maha - removed or eradicated - as in the verse, “And Hashem will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> What is the secret for attaining joy? If you recall every hurt ever done to you, you will never be able to smile. If we never forgive others for hurting us, we will always have enmity in our hearts. Even if we mend the relationship, if we have even a slight amount of animosity toward another person, we hurt ourselves as well. No one can be happy if they harbor resentments. Once we forgive, we must let go of the anger, even towards ourselves. Forgetting is easy, it happens whether or not we desire it. Forgiveness takes conscious effort but is vital to our happiness.
Master of the world, I am grateful for all with which you have blessed me. You sustain every creature from a human being to a tiny fly. Never, do you forget my family or me as You continually provide for all of our needs. With all that You give me, I may sometimes forget to be thankful and appreciative. Some of this stems from the sadness and depression into which I often slip. I know that there is no reason to be sad as you provide so well for me, but being human I am far from perfect. I cannot say I do not know how to be happy because truly I do. All I have to do is look at the family and friends I have. I think about what I lack rather than all that I have, which is more then I need.
We are taught that the greatest joy comes from performing mitzvos and the blessing of being a Jew. As easy as this should be, I seem to live without realizing how blessed I am. When I perform mitzvos, I do so without reflecting on their importance and meaning. Please help me remember and recognize all the good that surrounds me.
Lead me to a life with the utmost joy and harmony in my heart. One of the ways to attain joy is to dance and sing zemiros. Sometimes laziness overcomes me and I don’t want to exert myself. Other times I am embarrassed that my family or friends might see me dancing and make fun of me. This is not a valid excuse, as it will not only bring joy to me but others around me. Please aid me in dancing and singing with joy and may all my sadness turn to joy. Let the judgments of Klal Yisrael and myself be full of mercy and not strict din. So many sins weigh heavily upon my shoulders, please lighten the weight and help me to make a new beginning in my avodas Hashem.
Assist me please Hashem in my emunah and bitachon. I know that my lack of emunah is the reason for much of my sadness. Help me to increase my emunah to believe that my future and mazel is very bright ahead of me. It is in you, Hashem, that I trust: Hashem is my salvation. Please give me assistance that I should always put in all of my effort into my every day religious activities. Thank you Hashem for taking the time to hear my prayers and for looking past the mistakes I have made while overcome by depression.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Mishlei 17:22
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Tehillim 55:23
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Consulting The Wise, Zelig Pliskin
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Bringing Heaven Down to Earth #120
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Ibid. #114
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Sefer Hamidos, Simcha #8
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Encyclopedia Judaica, Dance, vol 5, p.1267
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Tiferes Banim Avotam, p. 177
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Chronicles 16:10
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Sefer Chasidim 18
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Tzav v’Zairuz, #36
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Likutey Moharan 3
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Sefer Charedim, Chapt. 34
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Talmud Arachin 11a
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Likutey Aytzos, Neginah, #3
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Ibid, #11
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Likutey Yekarim 1b
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Sefer Hamidos, Simcha
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Likutey Etzos, Simcha #2
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Likutey Etzos, Simcha #9
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> And Nothing but the truth p. 18
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> In All Ways p. 38Your
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Zichron Zos
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> From my Fathers Shabbos Table p.79
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> The secrets of Hebrew Words