Question & Answer With Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Simcha
(Painting by Rabbi Elyah Succot)
A Simple Jew asks:
In the United States today, a primary emphasis is placed on the ultimate goal of being happy. While this indeed sounds like a positive goal, this happiness rarely refers to a person being happy with his lot, but rather to the enjoyment one has when gratifying his desires. It appears that society's understanding of the word happiness differs from a religious Jew's understanding of this word.
Does Judaism and Chassidus offer a definition of Simcha?
Rabbi Tal Zwecker answers:
I would begin by saying that it seems to me that in Yiddishkeit, Simcha is seen as both a tool in Avodas Hashem as well as a result. That being the case I think it would be correct to say that we don't serve Hashem, or learn Torah or fulfill its' commandments in order to achieve Simcha, its not the goal even if it is the result. That being said we have to try and define Simcha as something other than the simple English term for happiness or joy which as you said are seen as end goals in American society.
I found the following Midrash Shir haShirim Rabba. There are 10 Lashonos Synonyms of Simcha:
Gila - Joy, Exultation as in Zechariah 9:9 - Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion!
Sisa - Joy, Delight, Exultation as in Isaiah 61:10 - I will rejoice greatly or delight with Hashem, my soul will exult with Hashem.
Simcha - Happiness as in Isaiah 66:11 - Be glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her all you who love her exult with her in her exultation.
Rina - Song of joy as in Zechariah 2:14 - Sing and be glad O daughter of Zion!
Pitzcha - Burst into song as in Isaiah 54:1 - Sing out O barren one, who has not given birth; break into glad song and be jubilant.
Tzahala - Shout or cry out for joy, exult as in Isaiah 12:6 - Exult and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion for the Holy One of Israel is great in your midst!
Altza - Rejoice, exult Samuel I 2:1 - And Chana prayed and said: My heart exults in Hashem!
Aliza - Merriness Joyfulness gaiety as in Psalms/Tehilim 28: My heart exulted with my songs I praise him.
Chedva - Joy gladness delight Ezra 6:17 - Celebrated the inauguration of the Temple of Hashem with joy.
T'ruah - Shout or Cheer as in Psalms/Tehilim 98:4 - Call out to Hashem the entire earth; and Psalms/Tehilim 47 - All you nations sound the shofar (or call out) to Hashem with a cry of joy. (and Some exchange Truah with)
Ditza - Joyful dancing Job 41:14 - Before Him worry turns to delight.
At a glance we see that the context of the verses the Midrash chose many of these Simcha words are then defined as spontaneously bursting into song or dance out of sheer ecstatic rapture and joy. All seem to indicate a rejoicing in Hashem and spiritual matters such as redemption and salvation. No mention here really of happiness or joy in physical matters. Now, don't get me wrong I do not deny that one can find pleasure in physical matters, but it seems that Chazal are defining true Simcha in its every form as a spiritual rejoicing in Hashem which can lead to exultation and spontaneously breaking into song dance and shout!
Is Simcha a mitzva? In one word Yes. Next Part we will discuss how and proofs. Later in Part 2 we will discuss imy"H sources for how to achieve Simcha and practical applications, how to use it as a tool for Avodah.