מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד -- ‘It is a great mitzvah to be in happiness always.’
This fascinating teaching, attributed to Reb Nachman of Bratslav, occurred to me while contemplating both the pandemic which is currently engulfing the world, as well as the many and varied reactions to it.
It is understandable that fear, defiance, self-protection, quarantine, anger, bewilderment, sadness, and even nonchalance are some of the responses we are expressing and experiencing at this time. But it might not occur to us to put happiness on this list.
And that’s the point of the teaching! It’s easy to be happy… when it’s easy to be happy. The challenge of happiness rises in times of distress, when it’s likely most difficult to be happy. The teaching doesn’t simply tell us to be happy – it tells us to be ‘in happiness,’ and it adds that key word ‘always.’
It is obviously unrealistic for anyone to always be happy. But to be ‘in happiness’ places those moments of crisis and despair into the larger and most comforting context of life, blessing, family, community, memory, strength, history, faith, mitzvah, eternity, and God. And while that crisis is temporary and passing (as the Talmud teaches, גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר – ‘This too shall pass’), the larger solid context is ‘always.’
I wish for each of you that you actively seek and find ways to be ‘in happiness’ during these times, that you summon the strength and wisdom to draw on all that will enable you to do this, and that the blessing of being ‘in happiness’ be yours ‘always.’
And I offer these Biblical words of encouragement for each of you to take to heart:
חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ אַל־תַּעֲרֹץ וְאַל־תֵּחָת כִּי עִמְּךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ
“Be strong and courageous; be not afraid nor be dismayed; for Adonai your God is with you wherever you go.”