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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh/Purim: True happiness and imagined happiness
How can one be commanded to be happy? By reminding ourselves of the miracles that took place in the days of Mordechai and Esther, as well as the great miracles that took place at the time of the exodus from Egypt, it will help us to get into a happy mood. Although our enemies have managed to decimate us, G'd always saves us and we bounce back in full force, and continue our mission in the world. When we contemplate the marvels of how G'd sustains us as a nation, we have much to thank for and be happy about. But on an individual level, it can be very difficult to feel happy, just because we enter the month of Adar. The Divine Presence will only dwell upon individuals who are happy. A prophet will only be able to prophesize when he is in a happy mood. There are two kinds of happiness; one is true happiness, whereas the other one is imagined. Imagined happiness is promoted by Hollywood and other glamorous media. If we encourage a young child to share a toy or a snack with a friend, the child will come back with a face that beams with true happiness and satisfaction for having done something that even a child understands is a good deed. "For there is no greater and more beautiful happiness than to make the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers happy." True happiness is the satisfaction of knowing that one is doing what is right.
It says in the Talmud (Taanis 29a), "When the month of Adar enters, one should increase in happiness." The obvious question is how can one be commanded to be happy? Happiness is an emotional feeling. Either a person is happy, or he is not.
Remind ourselves of miracles
Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, explains that the month of Adar and the following month of Nissan are months when miracles happened to the Jewish people at the time of Purim and Pesach. It seems that Rashi wants to answer the above question and provides us with the key to happiness. By reminding ourselves of the miracles that took place in the days of Mordechai and Esther, as well as the great miracles that took place at the time of the exodus from Egypt, it will help us to get into a happy mood.
G'd saved the Jewish people
The events of Purim and Pesach are classic examples of what we say in the Haggadah on Seder night: "In every generation, they [our enemies] get up to destroy us, and G'd saves us from their hands." No other nation in the world has been persecuted like the Jewish people. We have suffered from the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the Cossacks did whatever they could to wipe us off the face of the earth. In modern times, the Nazis systematically attempted to rid the world of the Jewish people. And nowadays, the militant Muslims are ready even to blow themselves up in order to kill as many Jews as possible. But although our enemies have managed to decimate us, they never succeeded to complete their evil plans. Every time G'd saves the Jewish people and we bounce back in full force, and continue our mission in the world.
Am Israel Chai
When we contemplate the marvels of how G'd sustains us as a nation, we have much to thank for and be happy about. This is the message of our sages when they teach that with the advent of Adar we must contemplate how G'd always saves and sustains us. As the saying goes, "Am Israel Chai." So on a national level, we actually have ample reason to rejoice and be happy.
But on an individual level, it can be very difficult to feel happy, just because we enter the month of Adar. Are we expected to forget our personal problems and issues in life, and just focus on our national survival from all perils? Or can we learn always to be happy despite any difficulties we may encounter?
Divine Presence & happy individuals
In this week's parasha, G'd says (Shemos 29:45): "And I shall dwell among the children of Israel." The Talmud (Shabbos 30b) teaches that the Divine Presence will only dwell upon individuals who are happy. This sounds strange. We would expect that a person should be serious and very spiritual in order to merit the Divine Presence, rather than happy.
Happiness & prophecy
The Rambam (The Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah 7:1) teaches that one must master to be both. He first describes on what level a person should be in order to merit the Divine Presence through prophecy. Such a person must be a sage with strength of character and in control of his emotions. He must live a life of sanctity, and be totally focused on spirituality. Later, the Rambam adds that a prophet will only be able to prophesize when he is in a happy mood. Again, we wonder why is happiness a pre-condition for the spiritual experience of prophecy. However, in order to clarify this we must try and analyze what true happiness is all about.
Koheles & two kinds of happiness
The Talmud (Shabbos 30b) points out an apparent contradiction in Koheles. On the one hand, King Solomon says (Koheles 8:15): "And I praise happiness, for there is nothing better for a person under the sun than … to be happy." But earlier on he has a very different approach to happiness and says (Koheles 2:1): "In regards to happiness, what does it accomplish?" The Talmud answers that there are two kinds of happiness, one is true happiness, whereas the other one is imagined. True happiness, says the Talmud, is connected to the observance of the Torah commandments. Imagined happiness is not.
In general, when we speak about happiness we conjure an image of a person with a big smile on his face, enjoying a carefree life, and having a good time with friends and family. However, unfortunately this is a picture of imagined happiness, as promoted by Hollywood and other glamorous media. Behind the glittering fa?ade, we more often than not find a life of sadness and misery, with people seeking relief through drug abuse and intoxication. The sad reality is that these role models have helped to develop a generation about whom the statistics say that the most commonly prescribed medication is Prozac, or other similar anti-depressants.
On the other hand, if we encourage a young child to share a toy or a snack with a friend, the child will come back with a face that beams with true happiness and satisfaction for having done something that even a child understands is a good deed.
Revive the down-trodden
In the laws of Megillah (2:17), the Rambam elaborates on the meaning of true happiness as he writes: "A person should rather increase in his donations to the poor [on Purim] than to increase in his own meal and mishloach manot [gifts to his friends]. For there is no greater and more beautiful happiness than to make the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers happy. For the one who makes these down-trodden happy resembles the Divine Presence. As it says (Isaiah 57:15), '(For so says the One Exalted and Raised on High … I dwell in Holiness, but I am with the broken and the down-trodden) to revive the spirit of the down-trodden, and to revive the spirit of the ones who are broken.'"
Satisfaction of knowing
We can now understand that in order to merit the Divine Presence or prophecy, one must emulate the Divine character traits of giving and caring that bring one to true happiness. This kind of happiness does not necessarily manifest itself in a person's outer appearance, but rather as a satisfaction of knowing that one is doing what is right. We human beings are not in control of many situations in our lives, but as long as we can truly feel that we are doing what G'd expects of us, we can be satisfied and truly happy. Even a person who is suffering, or mourning, can have this feeling of inner calmness and being content with one's situation. This is what the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:1) says, "Who is rich? The one that is happy with his lot." This happiness is an expression of being content and satisfied with whatever one's lot is in life. Next week, we will attempt to analyze how a person can achieve to be happy and content with one's lot in every situation.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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