Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Still Happy

Here we are, days after Purim, with the feelings and sounds of joy reverberating in our souls, perplexed by what we can do to keep the euphoria going a while longer. The real world, with its many concerns, invades the Purim bubble and we seek protection. A new virus is creating anxiety, and people everywhere fret over the disease and its repercussions. Yet, through it all, we are told to be happy…and who doesn’t want to be happy?

What are we to do? The concept is so simple, the pursuit is so universal, yet, for so many, it is so unattainable.

During the month of Adar, in which we find ourselves now, we are obligated to be happier than during all other months. When Chazal make a statement of fact, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha” (Taanis 29a), they are saying that simcha is not a utopian dream attainable only by the elite and very rich. Happiness is within the reach of every Jew, and thus all are instructed to increase their joy during the month of Adar.

The language of Chazal is a bit troublesome. “Mishenichnas Adar, as the month of Adar enters,” they say, “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 teaches that simcha cannot come from a quick fix. It is a goal that is attained through contemplation and hard work.

Simcha has to be increased in levels… Therefore, we begin from Rosh Chodesh [Adar], 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 tikkun hamiddos in order to become selfless and non-judgmental, and to avoid being consumed by jealousy of others.

Reaching simcha means living with the words of the Chovos Halevavos so that you become imbued with the bitachon necessary to survive and flourish in a cruel world.

Shaar Habitachon in Sefer Chovos Halevavos is essentially a guide to help us navigate the turbulence we encounter. Its study reinforces the understanding that our ability to succeed and navigate the vicissitudes of life is based on the degree of faith we maintain in the Borei Olam. Once we realize that all that transpires is caused by a benevolent Father in Heaven, we look at the world, and ourselves, differently.

To be content, we have to rid ourselves of the “if-only” syndrome: If only I had those shoes I saw my friend wearing, if only I could afford to go to a hotel for Pesach, if only I had what other people have, I’d be so happy.

The feeling that life is incomplete without the attainment of something just beyond our grasp is analogous to a child crying bitterly until he receives a lollipop. His life is as complete before the candy as after, but the lollipop provides only a momentary lift that is quickly forgotten. Transient objects that are craved to stimulate happiness never fail to disappoint. Their impact is fleeting, masking some inner need, but they can’t ever provide lasting fulfillment that engenders true simcha.

It goes deeper than that, as well. Rav Yisroel Elya Weintraub portrayed a Purim with the famed mashgiach, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, in the Mir of old. He sat at a table, and around him were the lions of the yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rav Leib Malin, Rav Yonah Karpilov, Rav Shmuel Charkover and Rav Michel Feinstein. They sang beautiful niggunim, their souls rising higher as they got more engrossed in the joy and meaning of the day. During breaks, Rav Yeruchom spoke, expressing deep thoughts of Torah related to the day. The air was festive, yet heavy, laden with meaning and holiness.

A random bochur entered the room, acting as though he were drunk, dancing around light-headedly in an attempt to cheer things up.

Rav Weintraub, who plumbed the deepest secrets of Torah, explained why they were upset with him.

An old bochur became engaged and his whole family was overcome with joy, singing and dancing throughout their house. The infant brother was the single exception. He stood in his crib crying. His brothers and sisters went to him and said, “Be happy. Your old brother is a chosson.” Of course, the child continued crying, for he was clueless as to what they were saying. They gave him a candy and he stopped crying. He smiled and was happy. But he wasn’t happy with the simcha of the engagement; he knew nothing about it. His joy, to use a modern phrase, was “fake,” empty, and devoid of meaning and value.

In the big world out there, people spin about seeking to become happy by escaping reality with artificial stimulants. In an attempt to find joy and fulfillment, people become addicted to fake stuff, escaping the sad reality of a vacuous life. Their goal eludes them and all they achieve is a lethal habit.

True happiness emerges from internal satisfaction that is brought about through strength and conviction. It is not superficial. It comes from a strong constitution and immune system equipped to withstand spiritual and emotional battles. A person who is mentally and physically fit can make do without a temporary fix, and to one who is weak, the flimsy band-aid is of little use. True strength is acquired through emunah, bitachon and Torah.

The baal bitachon experiences happiness and serenity that escape others. He rejoices in his friends’ successes and does not become embittered when his own ambitions are not realized the way he would have wanted. He is unencumbered by jealousy and petty personal grievances. Despite temporary defeats, he is able to view the whole picture and comprehend that all that happens is for the good.

In fact, it is this acceptance that serves as the motivation for him to succeed. 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 inherent in the failure of achieving his ambitions.

Adar is the month of happiness, leading into the month of geulah, but in order to achieve the aspiration of simcha, we must engage in the process of marbin besimcha. Step by step, we have to increase our cognizance of the truths of life, so that we grow and 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 have to undertake to climb the ladder that leads to simcha. Through that resolve, we will improve ourselves and our avodas Hashem, making us better and happier people.

This mandate is relevant every day, but especially during the month when we are commanded to be happy. We would be repulsed to see someone dancing joyously to loud music and eating meat at the beginning of the month of Av. Similarly, if we see someone unhappy when chodesh Adar arrives, we should know that something is amiss and seek to help that person.

In his later years, the Ponovezher Rov was old and sick. Though he suffered much, the rov kept up his schedule traveling the world raising money for his beloved yeshiva. Someone asked him from where he derives the energy to work so hard, always happy, never growing tired.

He told him his secret.

“Many years ago,” he began, “when I was a very young boy, on Purim, my parents would send mishloach manos to the rov of our shtetel. There were a few brothers in the family and my father would hold a raffle to choose which one of us would have the honor of bringing the cake our mother baked for the occasion – together with a bottle of wine – to the rov and rebbetzin.

“One year, a peddler of seforim came to town. Among his seforim, he had a Gemara Bava Basra from the Vilna Shas. In those days, barely anyone owned a complete Shas, let alone the beautiful Vilna edition, and even to have a single Vilna volume was a big deal. My father bought it and set it aside to give to the rov on Purim.

“My brother won the raffle to bring the rov the cake and wine, but I was honored with carrying that heavy volume and giving it to the rov. As soon as I handed it to him and told him that it was mishloach manos from my father, he broke out in a wide smile. He held the Gemara high as if it were a Sefer Torah and began singing songs and dancing around the table with it, as if it were Simchas Torah.

“We stood on the side with the rebbetzin, watching in awe as he danced and sang with supreme happiness. When he finished, he asked the rebbetzin if she would agree to serve the seudah an hour later than planned so that he could go into his room and study from the new Gemara. ‘That will be your mishloach manos to me,’ he said to her. She readily agreed. He once again picked up the Gemara and began dancing.”

Said the famed Ponovezher Rov, “I was but a child of nine years old and had no concept of why the rov was so happy because he had a Gemara­, but I made up my mind then and there that if Torah can make a person that happy, I was going to dedicate my life to Torah.”

The secret of happiness, the secret of satisfaction, the secret of accomplishment, is rooted in Torah.

The Rambam, in his introduction to Sefer Hamada (pg. 21, Frankel edition), writes that the reason Chazal instituted the reading of the megillah on Purim is to notify future generations that “emes hu,” the posuk (Devorim 4:7) which states, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim kerovim eilav, kaHashem Elokeinu bechol koreinu Eilov,” is true.

The posuk is correct in assuring us that this great nation has a G-d Who is close to it and Who is there whenever we call out to Him.

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

Perhaps the proper understanding is that the story of Purim demonstrated that at every stage of the unfolding saga, there was a Divine agenda, prodding circumstances towards a happy ending. Though not evident until the story reached its culmination, every occurrence, as sad as it appeared to be, was a facet of a plan leading to redemption.

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 path towards salvation.

Bechol koreinu, no matter 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 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,” any time we call out to Him, He answers.

Mordechai rallied the Jews of the time 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 yodeia taalumos.” We ask Hashem to accept our shouted prayers, as He knows secrets.

There is an obvious question: 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 prayers and bring about the reprieve that He has planned faster, with less pain and aggravation.

The world is spinning out of control. Every day brings more ominous news. Media reports about the coronavirus have people on edge, taking irrational precautions to protect themselves from the disease that is spreading across the globe. Businesses are forced to shut, supply chains are broken, travel is a mess, and the stock market gyrates like someone who drank too much on Purim.

People have many tzaros. They wonder why they suffer from illness, children not turning out the way they dreamt, parnossah challenges, tuition bills, shidduchim, and so much more. They wonder why they are being tested. Why me? Why is this all happening? What is the purpose? How will it all end?

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

Purim is over, but Adar is still here. Let’s be happy. Let’s be thankful for the good Hashem has bestowed upon us and that He watches over us every day. Let us concentrate on the good and be happy with what we have.

Marbin b’simcha, increasing our happiness every day.




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