Is Everyone Happy?
Anyone who has ever read even a most superficial work on Jewish history is familiar with the history of the Hassidic movement. Historians emphasize the aspect of joy which they say is unique to Hassidism and among Hassidic teachers the one who is most associated with joy is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. His most famous teaching is the following (Likutei Moharan, vol. 2 , teaching #24):
It is a great mitzvah to always be happy…
The American Dream
This is something which even the American Declaration of Independence declares:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rebbe Nachman says that there is a “great mitzvah to always be happy” but if it is a “great mitzvah” then happiness must be elusive and difficult to find.
The Declaration of Independence says something similar. Happiness is not present; it needs to be pursued.
The Jewish Ideal
Another great teacher of Hassidism was Rebbe Zusha of Hanipol. Of the many stories told about him, one of the most famous deals with happiness:
A man once visited the holy Maggid of Mezeritch and said he had great difficulties applying the Talmudic saying that “A person is supposed to bless God for the bad just as he blesses Him for the good.” The Maggid told him to find the Maggid’s disciple Reb Zusha of Hanipol and ask him. The man went and found Rebbe Zusha, who received him kindly and invited him to his home. When the guest came in, he saw how poor the family was, there was almost nothing to eat and they were beset with afflictions and illnesses. Nevertheless, Rebbe Zusha was always happy and cheerful. The guest was astonished at this picture. He said: “I went to the Holy Maggid to ask him how it is possible to bless God for the bad He sends us the same way as we bless Him for the good, and The Maggid told me only you can help me in this matter.” Rebbe Zusha said: “This is indeed a very interesting question. But why did our holy Rebbe send you to me? How would I know? He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering.
What was Rebbe Zusha’s secret?
I think that Rebbe Zusha totally felt that his life was lived in the service of Hashem. Every moment of the day was spent in Hashem’s presence and with this perception of life, he exemplified what the Rambam (Rambam, Hilchot Lulav, chap. 8:15) teaches us about happiness which is a lesson based on this week’s parsha:
The joy which a person derives from doing good deeds and from loving God, who has commanded us to practice them, is a supreme form of divine worship.
Anyone who refrains from experiencing this joy deserves punishment, as it is written: “Because you have not served the Lord your God with joy and with a glad heart” (Devarim 28:47)…..True greatness and honor are attained only by rejoicing before the Lord, as it is written: “King David was leaping and dancing before the Lord” (Shmuel Bet 6:16).
If Rebbe Zusha would have ever read the Declaration of Independence I think he would have smiled and said, “Happiness does not have to be pursued -it is right here.”