By Michele Asa
A few years ago, within the space of four months, I made a Bar Mitzvah, then flew to South Africa to be with my mother who was ill and buried her the day after I arrived. One daughter got engaged while I was there. After my return, another daughter had a baby, and I made a wedding—in Israel!
There were many days I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and not come out (So I did, honoring my grieving process). When I got to the wedding, however, I found myself facing a common dichotomy.
How do I hold simcha—true, deep joy—with grief that ran just as deep?
Simcha is internal gladness that is continual. Happiness in its fullest sense. It is not dependent on outside factors.
Simcha becomes the essence of a person if they put effort into it. Who is happy? He who is happy with what he has (Avot 4:1).
Serving Hashem in this world should bring us joy. Mitzvos are there to bring us closer to Hashem, which should bring tremendous simcha to us.
“It is a great mitzvah to be happy always and to make every effort to determinedly keep depression and gloom at bay (Likkutei Moharan II, 24).” This statement of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov has been immortalized in the popular song Mitzvah gedolah lihiyos b’simcha tamid, “It is a great mitzvah to be happy always.”
In Tehillim (Psalms) 100:2, we are told, ivdu es Hashem b’esimcha—serve Hashem with joy.
A Jewish home should be a place of simcha. There are many opportunities to create a happy atmosphere in the home, whether one is single, married, has children or not. It is up to each individual person to create the feeling of being a privileged Jew in her home.
Is it easy? No. But it is doable with small baby steps.
When we focus on the moment, allowing ourselves to dance, sing and give thanks, and do what we can to bring joy to others, we bring blessing and simcha into our lives.
This genuine joy comes from profound spiritual awareness and an absolute clarity of direction, living for a purpose.
Holding on to the fact that Hashem tailor-made my situation for me (emunah), helped me as I figured out how to hold joy and grief at the same time. Knowing that Hashem is the one who gave me both situations, and that by focusing on the moment I could bring simcha not just to myself but to those around me, got me through the wedding. I missed my mother terribly, but felt her presence keenly. I knew she would want me to be happy at my daughter’s wedding, and that she was there with us (there is a custom to go to the graves of family members who have passed away to invite them to the wedding as our ancestors join us at the chuppah; my uncle in South Africa did this for us).
My clarity at that moment was knowing that Hashem wanted me to be besimcha for my daughter even though I felt heartache as well. Both were appropriate emotions. I could just let the feelings be, and continue to function with the pain. And the joy.
As we go from Purim, the time of hidden miracles, to Pesach, the time of open miracles, we need to remember that Hashem is pulling the strings behind the scenes. He has not forgotten us, and we have His promise that He will take us out of this exile as well. We have to hold on joyfully during the trying times we are all currently facing, knowing that He never abandons us and will bring us to the ultimate geulah, speedily in our days.
Practical Steps to Simcha Hachayim (Joy of Life)
1. Emunah: Emunah comes from studying this world and seeing that there is a Creator. G-d is intricately involved in the running of the world.
The word emunah has the root of “amen” (aleph, mem, nun), meaning “it is true.” It also shares a root with the word uman (a “craftsman,” someone who is an expert in what he does). Emunah is a practice. It grows deeper, and the more you become an expert in it, the more you accustom yourself to see all the phenomena of life as the manifestations of Hashem’s presence and glory in the world.
2. Bitachon: Bitachon is a powerful sense of optimism and confidence based not on reason or experience, but on emunah. It dictates how I live my life.
Bitachon is emunah manifested in a practical way— – where the rubber meets the road. There are varying degrees of bitachon, according to a person’s degree of emunah. One person may have emunah that although things right now are not good, they are all for the good (eventually). A higher, yet more enlightened emunah is that everything right now is good,— even when superficially it looks terrible.
While I am responsible to be proactive, I am not in charge of the outcome. And so, while I do my part, I rely on Hashem to care for me. I take my heavy burden and place it with G-d.
Bitachon takes the stage when things seem hopeless and that there is nowhere to turn. Having emunah and putting it into practice with bitachon leads to tranquility and simcha in a person’s life. It is a muscle that needs to be activated and used. Be patient. It takes time and practice. The more you learn about it and implement it, the more it will impact your life.
3. Gratitude leads to humility. Being grateful for everything in our lives strengthens both emunah and bitachon because we choose to see the hand of G-d directing everything in our lives. I can be grateful for the things that are challenging, as well as the things that are going right. Today, now, this minute.
Keep a gratitude journal, and you will see yourself finding what is right with your life and the people around you. Find something to be grateful for in the things going wrong as well, and you will find Hashem’s love in every part of your life.
Write at least three things down every day to be grateful for. The joys and the difficulties are there to help us connect with Hashem. We can use them as stepping stones to practice gratitude and simcha in our lives.
Emunah, bitachon and gratitude will lead us to a life not only of simcha, but also peace of mind and serenity of the soul.
Sources: Mrs. Jordana Bernhard, Rabbi Markowitz of aish.com, chabad.org, ou.org, ohr.edu, Living Emunah by Rabbi David Ashear, Strive for Truth by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Chovos Halevavos