A Few Words About Simcha and Optimism

It has been a long slog. The entire winter, indeed the entire year from last Purim until now, has been fraught with difficulty, uncertainty, and tragedy.

Every single one of us has been impacted in some significant way by the mageifah called Covid-19 that Hashem has brought upon the world. We all know people who have passed away. We all know people who have suffered the ravages of the disease. We are all familiar with the fall-out – physical, spiritual, financial, and practical.

Nevertheless, it is critically important to know and understand that Hashem does not want us tosit at home, morose and sad. Despite the losses, despite the need to make a cheshbon hanefesh and engage in teshuvah, we must be b’simcha. Teshuvah is a mitzvah and must be done with simcha, and that is exactly what Rav Nosson Wachtfogel would always tell his talmidim. He once recalled learning mussar with such energy that “I felt as if somebody was cutting my flesh with a razor, yet I did not become depressed. On the contrary, when I finished, I was in a state of intense happiness. I had begun to remove the separation that had formed between myself and Hashem.”

Hashem wants us serve Him b’simcha. Hashem wants us to come close to Him, to have bitachon in Him, and to be optimistic about the future.

The seforim teach us that the numerical value of the word Amaleik is the gematriah of safeik, uncertainty. Uncertainty handcuffs us. It paralyzes us and does not allow us to function. It is for this reason that the worst thing we can say about Amaleik is “asher korcha,” that he made us “cold.” The uncertainty that Amaleik planted fueled a cooling off in our relationship with Hashem.

Optimism and warmth in avodas Hashem are the diametric opposite of uncertainty. This lesson came to mind when thinking about the lechem haponim mentioned in this week’s parsha.

You would think that the bread served in the Mishkon was the freshest of the fresh, right? After all, for Hashem, we must have only the best!

Isn’t it surprising, then, that the bread eaten by the kohanim, the lechem haponim, was eaten nine days after it was baked? Yes, it was baked on Friday, but it was not eaten until the next Shabbos. How can that be?

Nine-Day-Old or Hot and Fresh?

A Yid once asked this exact question, and the Torah does not have very nice things to say about him. At the end of Parshas Emor, the Torah tells us about the son of a Jewish woman – the Torah doesn’t even mention his name – who cursed Hashem, r”l. What did he say? The Medrash tells us that he made fun of the fact that the lechem haponim was only eaten nine days after it was baked. He said, “It is the practice of the king to eat warm, fresh bread every day. Would a king eat cold, stale, nine-day-old bread?” This irreverent remark caused him to get into a fight with another Jew. During that fight, he cursed Hashem and became chayov misah.

The Imrei Emes asks a powerful question. We know that even though the bread was baked nine days earlier, it was steaming hot when it was removed from the Shulchan. The posuk tells us that it was literally as if it had just been baked. Why didn’t this person who was mekallel notice what everyone else noticed? Why didn’t he realize that the bread was steaming hot, delicious and fresh? Didn’t he see the steam rising from the bread like everyone else did? Why would he choose to focus on the fact that it had been baked nine days earlier and therefore conclude that it must obviously be stale?

It’s All in the Attitude

The Imrei Emes offers an eye-opening explanation. He says that it is all in one’s attitude. Some people view everything negatively, while others choose to always see the positive.

The Chovos Halevavos brings a fascinating incident to illustrate this concept: A chossid was once walking with his talmidim and they chanced upon the carcass of a dead animal. One talmid said, “What a foul odor is emanating from that dead animal!” The chossid, however, said, “Wow! Look, its teeth are so white!” (Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Hakeniah). The chossid was focused on always trying to see the good and the positive and therefore noticed the pearly white teeth.

In fact, the Imrei Emes says, one of the reasons that the bread on the shulchan was called lechem haponim­, bread with a face, was because everyone was able to see his own face in the bread. The bread was like a mirror. A person with real emunah would look at the lechem with warmth, saying, “Ah, this is the bread that is in Hashem’s house!” He saw warm bread because he was “warm.” He was on fire with emunah and love of Hashem. He had emunah that Hashem kept the bread fresh, and indeed it was warm and fresh.

On the other hand, a “cold person” who was determined to see the negative only noticed the fact that it was baked nine days earlier, and since it had been baked nine days earlier, it was old. It was impossible for it to be fresh. That is how a person without emunah looks at it.

The “Face” of the Bread

The lechem is therefore called lechem haponim because it depended on what type of ponim, what type of attitude, a person had when he looked at it. That son of a Jewish woman, the person who was mekallel Hashem, looked at the bread without emunah. He was completely “cold” and was only able to see “cold bread,” nothing else.

Now, we are in the middle of Chodesh Adar, the one-year mark since the dreaded term “coronavirus” entered our vocabulary. We must turn a corner in the way we think. Yes, we have to be careful and observe the laws of shemiras hanefesh, but, at the same time, it is a time for optimism, realizing that in the zeman of Purim, everything can turn around in a second. Just like in the story of Purim there was such a turnabout, such an open manifestation of Hashgocha Protis, so too, in our times, we can experience a great transformation.

So much depends on our own attitude, our own bitachon and trust in Hashem.

What did Amaleik want to do? Amaleik wanted to inject “coldness” into Klal Yisroel. Just then, as the Yidden were on their way out of Mitzrayim, just when they were full of thanks to Hashem for miraculously taking them out of servitude, just when they were on their way to receiving the Torah, that is exactly when Amaleik came. When the Yidden were “warm,” full of fire and enthusiasm for Hashem, that is when Amaleik came and injected coldness and uncertainty.

That is perhaps why even today, it is such a tremendous mitzvah d’Oraysa to erase Amaleik, because throwing a damper on those who are warm and enthusiastic about Hashem, Torah and mitzvos is the path of Amaleik.

Remember that it all depends on your attitude, on how you look at something. If you look at something with warmth and with emunah, you will see “white teeth” and “fresh bread,” but if you look at it with coldness and uncertainty, what will you see? A smelly carcass and moldy bread.