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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Choose To Be Happy

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

“In memory of my father in law Matisyahu ben Chaim Refael Poliakoff and his father Chaim Refael ben Menachem Mendel, whose Yohrtzeits we are commemorating this week. May Hashem give them a lichtigen Gan Eden.”

There are two stark admonishments in the Torah, in our parsha and then in parshas Ki Savo, They are connected by the number of dire consequences to be found in each - there are 49 here and exactly double 98 in Ki Savo. The Torah there explicitly mentions a single reason which could cause the whole catastrophic sequence of events to occur, both on a personal and global level - ‘because you didn’t serve Hashem with simcha’.

There is a well known principle in the gemara of ‘schar mitzva b’hai alma leica’, there is no reward for mitzvos in this world at all, rather the reward for mitzvos is entirely in the realm of the hereafter. This principle seems, on the face of it, to contradict a whole theme in the Torah of worldly blessings of timely rain, bountiful crops amongst others, as a direct result of keeping Hashem’s mitzvos. That is what the beginning of our parsha says clearly.

The Chasam Sofer explains that indeed the reward for mitzvos is in olam haba with one important exception - the reward for living and doing Mitzvos with simcha. The reward for Simcha is immediate.

I was privileged to talk to a number of Gedolei Yisroel of the previous generation - Reb Moshe Feinstein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Steipler, Rav Shach. They were all very different people, every Gadol B’Yisrael is unique and highly individual. However they had something in common - they all exuded an unmistakable aura of simcha. Not only that, but it seemed to rub off, and I felt in a state of simcha on leaving their presence, without being able to identify exactly why.

My occasion to speak to Rav Shach was at Rav Scheinberg’s prompting. I had asked him a question which he told me he couldn’t answer, I need to go to Rav Shach. I asked R Scheinberg’s son, R Simcha, if I should make the bracha of ‘she’chalak m’chachmaso’, on meeting Rav Shach. He joked that perhaps the correct bracha should be ‘she’kocho u’gvuraso malei olam’ since he was such a powerful personality. Nonetheless meeting him felt like meeting my own grandfather, such was his personal warmth.

I certainly have no delusions of grandeur, yet I often wonder whether I ever have the same effect on people when they come to see me, do they leave my office feeling happy?

The Shulchan Aruch states that when Av comes in one must reduce one’s simcha, and that when Adar comes in one must increase in simcha. The commentaries understand this as a direct implication that the default at other times is a state of simcha from which to add or detract as Av or Adar require. It strikes me that it often seems so much easier to be less b’simcha in Av than more joyful in Adar.

Why is Hashem so concerned that we should happy? Well, don’t we want our children to be happy? Don’t we want our spouse to be happy? Hashem wants us to be happy!

And, crucially, what exactly is this elusive simcha which is so important?

It comes down to an inner acceptance of one’s circumstances in life. It’s so easy to think that really this just isn’t right. I deserve better than this. I’ve been handed a raw deal and it’s just not fair. My wife does this, or my husband does that (believe me, there’s an equal number of husbands and wives out there feeling hard done by).

This isn’t even about going as far as being happy with one’s portion, as pirkei avos recommends, it’s about accepting that what you have has been given you for a reason. Resentment is poisonous. It makes you unable to maintain an emotional even keel and stops you being satisfied with your life. It destroys relationships.

True simcha comes from acceptance that things are the just the way they are and that you have what you have.

(Transcribed from memory by Dr. Ben Bradley)

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