Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Double Joy


Think about it. If this year wasn’t a leap year, we would be celebrating Purim this week. Instead, Purim is a month away. But even though we have to wait a month to celebrate Purim, we can still be happy. After all, Adar is a month of joy.

But being happy, for some, is easier said than done.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet, in the world around us, the search for happiness leads people in many different directions, chasing all types of superficial stimulants to cheer themselves up. This usually lasts for fleeting moments before they are returned to their sorry, empty lives.

Some try music, while others go wild for sports. Some gorge themselves checking out every restaurant, while others satiate themselves with gallons of ice cream. Some people are forever traveling, as if getting on a plane can somehow transport them to blissful happiness they so desperately seek. Some turn to alcohol and worse. Yet, their goal eludes them and all they are left with is a lethal habit.

The concept is so simple, the pursuit is so universal, yet, for so many, it is so unattainable.

For Torah Jews, simcha is an obligation. When Chazal make a statement of fact, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha” (Taanis 29a), they are saying that simcha, that elusive destination, is not a utopian dream attainable only by other people. Happiness is within the reach of every Jew, and therefore they can instruct us to increase our joy during the month of Adar.

Mishenichnas Adar, as the month of Adar enters, marbin besimcha, we increase our happiness.” What does it mean to increase happiness? To what extent are we to do so? Why the ambiguous language?

Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler writes that simcha cannot come from a quick-fix. It is a goal that is attained through contemplation and work. This is what he says: “Simcha has to be increased in levels… Therefore, we begin from Rosh Chodesh, since the avodah of simcha requires great preparation, and we continue with this avodah each succeeding day” (Michtov M’Eliyohu II, pg. 125).

The attainment of simcha requires working to shed the barriers that prevent a person from feeling joy. Simcha requires a focus on fixing our middos so that we are selfless and non-judgmental and aren’t consumed by jealousy.

Feeling simcha means living with the words of the Chovos Halevavos to become imbued with the bitachon necessary to be happy and to flourish in a cruel world. Shaar Habitachon is essentially a guide that helps us navigate the turbulence we encounter. Its study reinforces the understanding that our ability to manage the problems life brings is based on the degree of faith we have in Hashem.

When we recognize that everything that happens to us is from Hashem, for a reason we may not yet understand, we aren’t devastated when things don’t go our way.

The feeling that your life is incomplete without the attainment of something you don’t really need is akin to a child crying bitterly until he receives a lollipop. His life is really as complete now as it was prior to his receiving the candy. The lollipop provides a momentary lift only to be quickly forgotten. Transient objects that are craved to stimulate happiness never fail to disappoint; their effect is fleeting, quickly disappearing. All they can accomplish is to mask over some inner need; they cannot provide lasting fulfillment that engenders true simcha.

Happiness emerges from internal satisfaction that is brought about through strength and conviction. It is not superficial. It comes from a strong constitution coupled with the ability to withstand spiritual and emotional battles. One who is strong mentally and physically can make do without the band-aids, and to one who is weak, the band-aid is of little use.

It’s not cheesy to say that mental strength and real happiness are acquired through emunah and bitachon.

Once, when I was speaking to my rebbi, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, the name of a common acquaintance came up. The rosh yeshiva asked how his talmid was doing.

I responded, “Ess geit em shver. He’s having a hard time.”

Without hesitating for even a moment, he looked at me and shot back, “Bei der Ribono Shel Olam, iz gornit shver.”

In his pithy, concise way, he was teaching a lesson. For someone facing a challenge, the problem seems so overwhelming and daunting, but we have to remember that the Ribbono Shel Olam has no limitations. However large the issue seems to the person who is experiencing it and to those who love and care about him, in essence, to the Creator, Who can heal all, it is not a big deal.

We get upset and we become forlorn because we become trapped by the moment and cannot look past it. Though we are limited in what we can perceive, we mustn’t forget that “Bei der Ribono Shel Olam, iz gornit shver.

The person who lives with bitachon experiences happiness and serenity that others cannot. He knows that the world was created by, and is run by, Hashem, Who has the ability to give him whatever he wants and needs. A person with real bitachon is not embittered when his own ambitions are not realized the way he wanted, and he doesn’t feel himself equal to others. Personal grievances don’t get him down. When he is frustrated, he can realize that all that happens is for the good. He absorbs the blow and moves on, with the knowledge that if he puts himself together and has faith about the future, Hashem will help him achieve what has been planned for him.

Understanding that the world is controlled by Hashem permits the baal bitachon to joyously accept what comes his way. It enables him to manage his fears and emotions in a productive manner and erase the pain of what otherwise would be perceived as failure.

The two months of Adar with which we are blessed this year help us get ourselves together, properly aligned for the coming month of geulah in Nissan.

Marbin besimcha. Step by step, we grow in our appreciation of the truths of life and thus develop the ability to be truly joyous.

The Shechinah doesn’t rest on a person who is unhappy and depressed. In order to make ourselves worthy of properly understanding Torah and interpersonal relationships, we walk on the path that leads to simcha. And as we improve ourselves and our avodas Hashem, we become better and happier people.

Rav Pinchos Menachem Alter of Ger recounted that as a child, he visited a bank. He saw a man handing over piles of cash to a teller and felt so bad for the man. “Oy, the poor man has to give so much money to the bank. He probably has nothing left for himself,” he thought in his childish head.

As he stood there, he saw another man receiving bundles of money from a manager. “Look at that rich man,” he thought to himself. “He is walking out of here with a fortune.”

The rebbe related that it was only later that it was explained to him that the person he saw handing over money to the teller was, in fact, the wealthy man. He had come to deposit his money in the bank for safekeeping. The second man, who walked out with a big wad of cash, was quite poor. He had no money of his own and had come to the bank to negotiate a loan. He had to put up his house as collateral and had no idea how he would ever pay the loan back.

When we trust and believe that there is enough money in His bank to provide for us all, we will recognize that, in fact, we do have what we need.

The Rambam, in his introduction to Sefer Hamada, writes that the reason Chazal instituted the reading of the Megillah on Purim is to notify the future generations that “emes hee,” the words of the posuk are true. The posuk (Devorim 4:7) states, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim kerovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu bechol koreinu Eilov – Because ours is the only nation that has a G-d Who is close to it and Who is with us whenever we cry out to Him.”

Why does the Rambam need to underscore that the posuk is a reality? It’s a posuk, after all. Of course it is real. How could we even contemplate otherwise?

Perhaps the proper understanding is that the story of Purim demonstrates that at each stage of the unfolding tale, there was a Divine agenda, prodding circumstances along towards a happy ending. Though as the story was unfolding there was plenty of reason for fear and sadness, when the story ended, everyone was able to see that at every step of the way, Hashem was with them, orchestrating their eventual victory.

Seemingly random incidents and facts, such as Vashti’s brazenness, the search for a new queen, Mordechai’s knowledge of foreign languages, and even the month during which Achashveirosh married Esther, were all details in a gradual, measured march towards salvation.

Bechol koreinu eilov. Regardless of what our situation is, we cry out “eilov,” to Hashem. Everything that transpires brings us closer “eilov,” to Him. As the Jews of Shushan watched the goings-on, they felt as if the world was closing in on them and that they were doomed to destruction and defeat. In fact, the opposite was true.

They had sinned at the feast of Achashveirosh and were therefore marked for “kloyah,” annihilation (Megillah 12a), but because Hashem pitied them and heard their tefillos, bechol koreinu eilov,” when they repented and called out to Him, He responded with redemption.

Mordechai rallied the Jews and they cried out, fasted and did teshuvah, so Hashem had the tragedy bring about a return of the Jewish people “eilov,” to Him.

Ana Bechoach is a special acrostic tefillah composed by Rav Nechunya Ben Hakanah. It is recited every morning together with the korbanos and on Friday evening prior to Lecha Dodi. The tefillah asks Hashem to accept the prayers of Klal Yisroel and concludes by stating, “Shavoseinu kabel ushema tzaakoseinu yodei’a taalumos.” We ask Hashem to accept our shouted prayers, as He knows secrets.

The question is obvious: If we say that we are crying out to Hashem, why do we then add that He should hear us because He knows all the secrets?

Because He knows all the secrets and how the travails will end in salvation, we ask that He hear our tefillos and quickly bring about the reprieve He has planned, with less pain and aggravation.

Along with thousands of others, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach and his family found refuge in Vilna during the period leading up to the Second World War. While in Vilna, he had developed a relationship with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.

During his stay there, his 14-year-old daughter, Miriam Raizel, passed away from a lung condition from which she had been suffering. Rav Shach was devastated.

At the time, Rav Chaim Ozer was old, virtually bedridden, and weakened from the illness that would claim his life. He was unable to be menachem avel the Shach family as they sat shivah. A short while later, Rav Shach went to visit Rav Chaim Ozer, who had himself experienced the loss of his only daughter. The aged gaon looked at the young rosh yeshiva he had come to know, appreciate and love. Though Rav Shach didn’t mention his daughter’s passing, Rav Chaim Ozer saw the pain in his eyes.

After an extended silence, the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah said a few words that Rav Shach would carry with him for the rest of his life. He said to Rav Shach, “Lulei Sorascha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi. Without Torah, I wouldn’t have been able to go on.”

Those words were to become Rav Shach’s mantra.

Many years later, some rabbonim went to visit Rav Shach on the day of his daughter’s yahrtzeit. He spoke about his daughter and repeated what Rav Chaim Ozer had told him. And then he explained what he thought Rav Chaim Ozer meant.

He related that it is analogous to two prisoners who were jailed under horrendous conditions. They were both understandably miserable, yet one managed to smile from time to time and make conversation with others. The other one was bitterly morose. He looked miserable and acted even worse.

The difference was that one knew that he was nearing the completion of his sentence and would soon be free. While he was suffering terribly, knowing that he would soon be free gave him the strength to smile. The second prisoner had a life sentence with no hope of ever getting out alive. He was emotionally destroyed and could never bring himself to smile or interact socially ever again.

Rav Shach explained that without Torah, when tragedy strikes, a person loses his equilibrium and ability to go on. He becomes overcome with pain and sadness and finds it impossible to function. One who learns Torah is blessed by the “pikudei Hashem,” which are “mesamchei lev.” But it is more than that. Someone who learns Torah, someone who is mesha’ashei’a in Torah, knows that Hashem maintains Hashgocha Protis on everything in this world. When he is hit by tragedy, he doesn’t lose himself, for he knows that what happened to him was brought about by a loving Creator for a higher purpose.

The world is spinning out of control. Every day brings with it more ominous news. People have many tzaros. They wonder why they suffer from illness, children not turning out the way they dreamt, parnossah challenges, tuition bills, shidduchim difficulties, and so much more. They wonder why they are being challenged. Why me? Why is this all happening? What is the purpose? How will it all end?

Lulei Sorascha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi

Emes hee.

We must remember that it is true. Bechol koreinu eilov. We can be comforted by the knowledge that we will live to see the purpose in all the sadness that we experienced. We will experience the joy of seeing the circle closing and the pieces of the puzzle fitting together, bringing relief and simcha.

May it occur speedily for all who need yeshuos and refuos. May we all have much nachas from our children, financial prosperity, and stability. Let’s keep on davening for the Jews in Eretz Yisroel, for ourselves, for our friends and neighbors, and for all of Klal Yisroel.

May we all be zoche to much happiness and the geulah sheleimah.




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