Question & Answer With Akiva Of Mystical Paths - Simcha & Shabbos
A Simple Jew asks:
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that a person must be extremely careful and make an effort be b'simcha on Shabbos. At times, however, it seems that we are surrounded by people who are not approaching Shabbos with this perspective. What do you do to make sure you always maintain a happy mindset on Shabbos, even in the face of adversity?
Akiva of Mystical Paths answers:
First, I should note that being joyful on Shabbos is a lesson from the Baal Shem Tov. Once can certainly become hyper-focused on every halachic detail of Shabbos to a negative extent. For example, if one is afraid of accidentally stepping upon and killing an insect (which can be difficult to avoid in some places), one could stay home all Shabbos. If one is afraid of creating a draft that might affect the flame of the candles, one could sit still in ones chair all Shabbos. One could, by such actions, keep Shabbos to every halachic detail - avoiding any intentional or unintentional violation of even the most minor detail of Shabbos. But the Baal Shem Tov taught that one who does not involve oneself in the spirit of Shabbos, in the joy of Shabbos, has violated a great mitzvah.
While I am not a Breslever chossid, I understand that Rebbe Nachman taught that one should be joyful at all times! (Except for 1 hour a day, during which one should perform a cheshbon nefesh, a self accounting, regret ones negative deeds or insufficient positive ones, and resolve to improve for the next day, and perhaps during tikun chatzos - the midnight lamentation for the holy Temple.) If one is not serving Hashem with joy, then one is not showing appreciation for the mitzvot - instead one is treating them like a burden.
My answer to your question, however, is an answer learned from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the path of the Chabad shluchim -- a little light dispels a lot of darkness. When one is b'simcha, one becomes a shining light for those around him. Pirkei Avos teaches us to greet everyone pleasantly, and there is great power in simple smile, a good morning, and an enthusiastic response to "How are you doing?" with an upbeat "Baruch Hashem!". How much more so with a big smile and an enthusiastic "Good Shabbos!!!" Or a response to a mumbled to you 'good shabbos' with a big smile and a warm "Shabbat Shalom UM'VARACH!"
At first you may feel uncomfortable, being so enthusiastic when those around you are not. And you may wonder if those less so are thinking about you with a cynical "What's wrong with that guy?" (Yes, they probably are.) But after a while, a few weeks or perhaps longer, people will start to tentatively smile as they come towards you. People will start making a point of coming to you because YOU pick them up.
The Torah teaches us that EVERY Jew has the power to affect the environment around him. Yes that's spiritual, but it's also a direct impact on the people around him. A brief personal story, when I started working in an office in Tel Aviv with secular Israeli Jews, they would ask me the standard "How are you this morning?" I always answered with an enthusiastic "Baruch Hashem, tov!" After a few months, THEY all started responding to my statement "Yishtabach Shemo" (His name should be blessed, secular Israeli's blessing Hashem!) Or if I asked them how they were, responding "Baruch Hashem".
A final note: There was a very interesting study done on facial emotional expressions. One of the results was astounding. The experts cataloging facial expressions spent a long time working on themselves to replicate the expressions - to understand all the abilities of human facial muscles (what expressions are possible) and then what ones we make. As they spent weeks working on duplicating negative expressions, expressions of sadness and pain, they found themselves feeling very depressed. After a few weeks of this, they realized that while we normally think our facial expressions are a reflection of how we feel, it ALSO turns out how we make ourselves appear/express on our face AFFECTS how we feel. Which returns to the instruction in Pirkei Avos, greet everyone favorably - with a smile, and YOU'LL feel better (about yourself and about others).
We are taught that even one who does mitzvot for the wrong intentions will eventually come to do them for the right intentions. This applies to being b'simcha as well...smile, act happier, and you'll help yourself feel happier. Smile and show your enjoyment of Shabbos to others, and you'll affect them as well.