Friday, August 24, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Ozer Bergman - Simcha

(Painting by Pieter Bruegel )

Reb Moshe ben Yehuda, a Breslover from Uman who moved to Teverya (aka Tiberias) Eretz Yisrael in the 1870s, writes in one his letters:

Just as the Rebbe (Nachman zal) told us to practice hitbodedut daily, he also told us to be b’simcha.

Approximately 99.99% of the world, when they hear that famous Breslov motto, “Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha tamid” (usually misconstrued as “It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy”) either paste a smile on their face, grumble about the impossibility of such a thing, or smile (smirk?) at the quaintness of such a seemingly simpleminded notion.

In addition to his great level of tzidkut (saintliness), Rebbe Nachman was a genius not only in Torah (i.e., that he could learn a sugya [Talmudic topic] with the best of them), and not only in understanding the human psyche (that the happier we are the better we perform in any given endeavor), but in knowing how to fix the world and those of us who inhabit it. So “mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha tamid” (which we may yet translate before this posting is finished) is critical to fixing not only our individual neshamot, but the entire blessed mess of this pain-ridden universe. (When it hurts you, tattele-shein/mammale-shein,* it hurts the Shekhinah and the Ribono shel Olam too.)

Likutey Moharan II, Lessons #23 and 24 are lessons in which Rebbe Nachman focuses squarely on the avodah of simcha. (Lesson #24 is actually the source of “Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha tamid.”) Now, whether you noticed it or not, in the previous (non-parenthesized) sentence, I stuck in the word avodah, which means two related things, “work” and “religious devotion/practice.” Broadly speaking, there are two types of simcha (happiness, joy, cheer, optimism). One is for kids, a childish sort of simcha: When Mommy or Daddy, or Bubby or Zeidy, gives you a lollipop, or a trip to Israel or the credit card. It's the type of simcha most people are looking for and pray for: If only I had...or he hadn’t.... God, I’ll be so happy if I have this job, if I can learn daf yomi, if I can be in Uman for Rosh HaShanah. (These are all good things, some of them are also noble. One should pray for them if he feels the need for them. But...) The common denominator of all these is that we are dependent on someone for our simcha. It is a gift, and lacking that gift we aren't happy.

That’s not the kind of simcha Rebbe Nachman is talking about. It’s not “mitzvah gedolah” simcha.

The pasted-on “Life is perfect, and nothing hurts, nothing bothers me” smile is also a symptom of false-simcha. It’s not the kind of simcha Rebbe Nachman is talking about. It’s not “mitzvah gedolah” simcha.

So what is? I’m glad you asked. “Mitzvah gedolah” simcha is simcha you earn. It is simcha you work to make. It is mature simcha.

I don’t know if it’s also Rebbe Nachman’s genius, but it is certainly his concern that is on display when he tells us (in the above mentioned lessons and Likutey Moharan II, Lesson #119 and Sichot HaRan #308.) that the world is full of pain, suffering and frustration—and it won’t go away unless you make it go away. Whatever the reason(s), stuff happens in life, big stuff and little stuff. Deal with it, Rebbe Nachman says. Face up to your challenges, look your pain squarely in the eye. Grab it and make it do something it doesn’t want to do—make it a reason for simcha, make it a vehicle for kedushah (holiness, sanctity).

How are you going to do that? That's the avodah, the hard work part, the “religious devotion” and dedication part. It starts with tefilah (prayer), it starts with acknowledging the pain and frustration, and it starts with the courage to step up and deal with your problems in order to make God happy.


*Literally, “handsome little daddy” and “pretty little mommy.” Yiddish terms of endearment for a young boy and a young girl, respectively.

© Copyright 2007 Breslov Research Institute


At August 24, 2007 at 8:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a while now, the Dejer Rebbe, Shlita, of Israel has been in our city for medical diagnosis and major operations, and has been attending minyanim at the home of his hosts, Rabbi Michael Hasten and family.

I met the Rebbe there last Shabbos evening and morning, and he is a remarkably serene, cheerful person despite his severe physical problems. His concern is about blessing others and putting them at ease. I believe this is the quality Rabbi Bergman was discussing here.

At August 24, 2007 at 10:39:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps it means: when H' created people He said "tov meod", very good. so the essence of our being, our life is very good. not only very good, because our essence is a spark from the Master of the Universe, the Source, the Life of LIfe,...who couldn't be happy knowing this?

ah, but we don't always know this, in our human condition. so a big part of our avodah is to know this more deeply, fully, experientially and to help others as well.

if our essence, from H' is joy...then it's a big mitzvah to be always in tune with this, aware of this, striving for this or even having the intention of knowing this.

At July 11, 2008 at 10:51:00 AM EDT, Blogger Max Carl Kirk said...

As said the Rambam, I believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of all things... I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One...I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. In all the troubles of life this is the labor pain that gives birth to joy.

At August 3, 2015 at 9:52:00 AM EDT, Anonymous simcha tomid said...

The Tur (E.H.65) has one more, “Mitzvah Gedola L'sameach Choson v'Kallah”--.
It's interesting The Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch skips the word Gedola
(Mitzva L'sameach---.)

There is another Mitzvah where Gedola is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch,

Hl. Pidyon Sh’vuyim “Ein Lecho Mitzvah Gedola K’pidyon Sh’vuyim.
(There is no greater Mitzvah than Pidyon Shevuyim)


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