Better to be happy

pressure

On a recent road trip I organized with some friends in Northern Israel, it became all too clear that executing the entire itinerary was a far-away dream. At first I was torn. Should I push everybody to keep moving or just go with the flow, and accept that we won’t reach all our destinations?

Similarly, an observant Jew who follows the legal code of the Shulchan Aruch must recognize that he will find himself in many situations where he is unable to uphold to his ideal standards of mitzvah observance. For example, traveling may often present an obstacle. There isn’t always a synagogue to pray in when we’re on the road. In business dealings as well, we can find ourselves socializing with people whose moral and ideological values threaten us. Even in our own homes too, sometimes our families’ needs temporarily prevent us from meeting our personal standards. These circumstances are an every day part of our life.

The problem usually isn’t the situation that arises around us, but rather how we respond to it. Yes, our intentions of accomplishing are respect-worthy, especially in Divine Service, but everything comes at a cost. Do we become madmen when it seems like things aren’t going to work out like we wished they would have?

Most of us are familiar with Rebbe Nachman’s famous words (Tinyana 24):

מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד

“It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy”.

I was thinking about this statement today and I made a simple inference. The Rebbe didn’t say, “It’s a mitzvah to be happy”, or “It’s even a mitzvah to be happy”. He said, “It’s a great mitzvah to be happy”, meaning it’s a very important and worthy mitzvah to strive for. Maybe sometimes when we’re feeling bad about ourselves because of the circumstances that surround us, or even situations that we ourselves are responsible for, we should remember those holy words and say, “the bigger mitzvah is to be happy now”. Ok, so on Thursday when you got the call to have Shabbos guests and you declined, it was because you were overwhelmed, and now that it’s Shabbos you wish you would have consented. But maybe it’s a greater mitzvah to overlook the regret and be happy now, than to have had the guests in the first place? It’s not just a simple mitzvah to be happy, said the Rebbe, it’s a great mitzvah! Let’s try to remember its paramount importance more often and wear a smile on our faces.

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Be happy!

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In Tinyana 24 the Rebbe lit up the world with the famous words that we can’t live without:

“מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד”

“It’s a great mitzvah to be constantly happy.”

I’ve heard some people question this teaching as follows: Is it really a mitzvah to be happy? Maybe what Rebbe Nachman meant was שמחה גדולה להיות במצוה תמיד; it’s a great joy to constantly be performing mitzvos. But what’s the big mitzvah of being happy?

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In the same lesson the Rebbe teaches that ‘everyone is full of suffering’. It’s not easy to be happy, let alone ‘constantly’ happy. But he says we need to arouse this inner joy ‘with all of our might’. We should even do silly things to arouse it, if that’s what it takes.

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Hashem knows how difficult it is to push ourselves to be happy. He’s well aware of how much we need to overcome to put a smile on our face. But when we do, Hashem sees it as the greatest possible thing we can do for Him. The word מצוה comes from the root-word צֶוֶת, which means crew or staff. We unite with Hashem, like a team, when we perform mitzvos. Ask any boss and he’ll tell you, there’s no better staff than a happy staff. They’re united with their leader. They’re ready and willing to go out of their way for the team. When we’re happy, we open ourselves to the entire world. Happiness is boundless and expansive. It frees our hearts from worry, so we can materialize the many opportunities that are presented us. I’m not sure if it’s one of the 613 mitzvos to be happy, but it’s certainly the greatest tool to performing mitzvos. Nothing stands in the way of the happy person. The entire world is the happy man’s playing field.

We all know how hard it is. We know how easily we feel down and how it feels like too much for us to stimulate our own happiness. We need to pray hard and often to be happy. It’s ok to pray for that, it’s even recommended. We have to try as hard as we can with any possible (permissible) method to spark those smiles. Whether it’s by dancing, singing, creative outlets, joking around or shmoozing. Whatever it takes, do it! It’s the key to success, the prerequisite to healthy living and the essential drive of mitzvah performance.

מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד = שלום מרדכי רובאשקין יוצא בח׳ בחג