“Serve God with Joy!” (Psalms 100:2).
Rebbe Nachman teaches: It is a great mitzvah to be happy always.
Strengthen yourself to push aside all depression and sadness. Everyone
has lots of problems and the nature of man is to be attracted to sadness. To escape these difficulties, constantly bring joy into your life — even if you have to resort to silliness (Likutey Moharan II, 24).
Joy is the hardest of all levels to attain and maintain (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 20). When contemplating our daily pressures and workloads, this is very easy to understand. Happiness is not specified in Torah as a separate mitzvah. Yet, throughout the Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah, joy is given centrality in all areas of Judaism. The renowned Safed Kabbalist, the Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572), asserted that he attained his exalted spiritual level only because of the great joy with which he performed the mitzvot (Sha'ar HaKavanot, Shemini
Atzeret). Indeed, not many of the subjects discussed in Breslov literature receive the detailed attention given to joy and happiness.
Reb Avraham Chazan commented: If Rebbe Nachman taught that it's a great mitzvah to be happy always, then we must believe that there is what to be happy about! (Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen).
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THE IMPORTANCE OF JOY
One of the reasons we find ourselves distant from God is because we fail to concentrate on our goals. With yishuv hada'at (tranquility) a person can think clearly. However, this tranquility cannot be attained without joy. Like exile, depression leads one's mind astray, but joy is freedom. “With joy shall you go out [of the exile...]” (Isaiah 55:12). With joy we can direct our minds — exercise the freedom to choose our direction and prevent our thoughts from straying afar. But how do we find joy? We can cultivate joy and happiness by finding good qualities in ourselves. Even if we cannot find anything good in ourselves, we still have what to be happy about: “I am a Jew!” (Likutey Moharan II, 10).
But is there really something to be happy about? Aren't our daily lives filled with sufficient cause for worry? How are we going to meet the mortgage payment? What did you say happened to the car? Who did you say you're bringing home for dinner?! The list is endless.
Rebbe Nachman teaches: Depression is the bite of the Serpent (Likutey Moharan I, 189). Just as a serpent strikes suddenly, so does depression. Suddenly it hits, and you're left wondering how you can ever be happy again. If only you had some room to breathe, you'd be happy. Not necessarily. My Rosh Yeshivah used to say, “People think that difficulties are unexpected in life. They're surprised when sadness comes. But, even if a person were to live for a thousand years, he would still have a long list of problems waiting for him. When one leaves, another is sure to follow on its heels. This is an axiom of life.”
Why, then, do we become shocked and upset when something “unexpected” happens to us? It is not unexpected. At least it shouldn't be. It always is this way. There is always “something else” — something to bring us down to the depths of depression. Rebbe Nachman also taught that depression and inertia are synonymous. They lead to anger, to a lack of tolerance, and are the main reason why a person fails to succeed (Likutey Moharan I, 155). It's a cycle. Something unexpected happens and we get annoyed. The doldrums and depression, still mild, are on the horizon. We're already less tolerant of whatever happens next. Naturally, we anticipate everything going wrong. And it does! At the same time, we get angry, experience greater failure, become more depressed and feel more discouraged and lethargic. The serpent of sadness has struck, without our being aware of what actually happened.
But why is there depression, sadness and suffering? Our Sages teach: Whoever mourns Jerusalem will yet share in its rejoicing (Ta'anit 30b). Without experiencing sorrow and mourning, there is no way for us to appreciate its opposite. We have nothing with which to compare our happiness. Therefore, we must experience suffering. Only then can we know the true taste of joy. And, because some sadness and suffering are necessary, Rebbe Nachman urges us to
strive for joy. We have to use all our strength to attain happiness, since only by being happy will we have the necessary faith, courage and strength to face our sorrows and burdens and overcome them.
Reb Noson once wrote to Reb Ozer of Uman: I heard that you are very,
very religious. I heard from Rebbe Nachman that the main thing is
joy...and [being] religious too! (Aveneha Barzel p.63).
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HOW TO...WITH WHAT...
You'd think that being told to be happy is superfluous. Who doesn't know this? Is it really necessary to coax, urge and encourage people to make sure they're happy? It's a natural desire, not one that has to be worked on. So you'd think. Or would you? Rebbe Nachman certainly didn't. “True joy is the hardest thing of all,” he insisted. “You must force yourself to be happy all the time” (Advice, Joy 35).
Be joyous, always. And serve God with joy. Even if there are times when things look dark and difficult, strengthen yourselves with the “good times” gone by. This can be compared to a blind man who once had the power of sight. Although now he can't see at all, he knows there's light — he's witnessed it. Therefore, strengthen yourself with joy — the joy you once knew. If you do, then eventually the “good days” will return (Likutey Moharan I, 222). Elsewhere, Rebbe Nachman teaches that even within a problem, it's possible to find a “reason” to be happy (see Likutey Moharan I, 195). Just put yourself outside your situation for a minute or two. You'll realize that with everything crashing down all around you, there are ways in which it could have been even worse.
It is easy to be happy when you feel good and things are going smoothly. But what should you do when you do not feel happy, during the times when there's nothing to be joyous about? The Rebbe taught that we should find ways to make ourselves happy. His suggestions include the following:
Forcing ourselves. One of the Rebbe's suggestions for achieving happiness when it's not there, is forcing yourself to be happy. The importance of joy is so great that every effort must be made. It can be compared to a group of people who are dancing in a circle and pulling others in to join them. They join in the happiness while their depression stands off to the side. However, when the newcomers stop dancing, their depression returns. Though the few minutes of joy are valuable, it would be better to bring the depression itself into the circle of happiness and keep it there (Likutey Moharan II, 23). Forcing yourself to be happy will eventually turn the cause of your unhappiness into a real source of joy.
Someone asked Reb Noson how could he become happy when he had so many problems and difficulties. Reb Noson answered, “Borrow the happiness!” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 1-736). When it comes to money, we rarely hesitate to borrow against a future paycheck, dividend, etc. Well, sadness makes a person feel he's missing something. The thing to do, as Reb Noson advises, is to borrow from whatever you can think of that makes you happy. Besides, there's a big difference between owing money and owing happiness. When money is paid back it hurts a bit. However, with happiness, when we pay it back we again have happiness. Thus, forcing joy and happiness actually pays fantastic dividends.
Remembering your good points. Another way you can become joyous when depressed, is by acknowledging that you have at least some good within you. Even if you feel far from God, be happy and praise Him that “He did not make you a heathen.” Simply be happy that you can feel proud and joyous about your heritage, which is not even your own doing, but a gift from God (this is explained in detail in the next chapter).
Faking it. Even if you don't feel happy, you can fake it. Pretend to be happy. Who says that if you're feeling down, you can't smile. We fake a smile often enough when trying to be polite, why not now? Try it. A smile, even a put-on smile, is contagious. Not only will it make others happy when they return your smile, but, as studies have shown, smiling relieves tension and really does make your outlook on life a lot brighter (cf. Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #43).
Do something silly. In talking about making every effort to be joyous, Rebbe Nachman said that this even included resorting to acting a bit silly. The price one pays for a little silliness is far less than the price of depression and lethargy. [Unfortunately,] it really doesn't take much for us to act a little silly. Who knows? It might even be a bit of an improvement over many of the “serious” things we do.
Song, music and dance. Music clears the mind and makes us happy. Music has the power to help us pour our heart out before God. It also has the power to sharpen our memories and enable us to concentrate on our goals (Advice, Joy 14, 15). Therefore, the Rebbe taught that it's a very good habit to inspire ourselves with a melody. The spiritual roots of music and song are very deep and can arouse our hearts and raise our spirits (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #273).
Elsewhere, the Rebbe talks about the special power which dancing and
clapping have to make us happy and mitigate the negative things affecting us (Likutey Moharan I, 169). It is customary in every Breslov synagogue to dance each day after the Morning and Evening prayers. Many Breslover Chassidim dance after learning together, while some even dance daily by themselves. It's a surefire way to arouse a feeling of real joy and happiness.
Reb Noson once said to Reb Moshe Breslover, “I will give you a way to
repent. Dance every day!” (Aveneha Barzel p.62).
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JOY ON SHABBAT AND FESTIVALS
Rebbe Nachman once said: Even the most average Jew feels great joy and
happiness when sitting down at his Shabbat table (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #155).
Reb Noson once attended the funeral of someone whom he hardly knew. When asked why, he said, “A person should always cry out before God. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, I make the most of it” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 1-635). We must do the same when it comes to happiness: seize every opportunity. Rebbe Nachman's writings are replete with teachings about being joyous, especially on joyous occasions. He encouraged us to take advantage of Shabbat and the festivals by making an even greater effort to be happy and joyous on these days.
Reb Noson writes: Once, when the Rebbe was about to give a lesson about being happy on Shabbat, he asked me, “Are you happy on Shabbat?” “Sometimes I get an arousal of fear and awe on Shabbat,” I answered. The Rebbe said, “This is not the way. The main thing is joy!” He then spoke to me a lot about being happy on Shabbat. Afterwards, the Rebbe understood what I was thinking and he said to me,
“Now you have what to be depressed about!” He knew that now that I had to be joyous, I would worry about whether I could do it. How would I get myself to be truly happy on Shabbat? This helped me a lot, for it made me realize that I should at least not become depressed over having to be joyous....When the Rebbe told me to be joyous on Shabbat, I told him, “At least I want to be happy.” That is, even if I do not feel true joy, at least I want to feel it (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #155).
Rebbe Nachman teaches: People say that there are two worlds. This world and the World to Come. We all believe that there is a World to Come. This world may also exist somewhere. However, with all the suffering that we see in the world and what people must endure, where we are now must be Gehennom! (Likutey Moharan II, 119). Reb Noson told one of his followers, “If you were constantly happy, you wouldn't see Gehennom” (Kokhavey Or, p.78). The Gehennom that is this world, the suffering which many endure _ we will be able to rise above it by forcing ourselves to be happy (see Garden of the Souls where this is more fully explained).
Once, on an Intermediate Day of Pesach, a young man came to Reb Avraham Sternhartz to speak to him about Rebbe Nachman's teachings. Because the young man had only recently become interested in Breslover Chassidut, Reb Avraham spoke with him at length. At the end of the conversation, Reb Avraham looked at the young chassid and saw how sad and troubled he appeared. The young man sensed this and began to relate all the difficulties and opposition he was encountering since becoming a Breslover chassid.
Reb Avraham said to him, “Nu! Today is Pesach, the time of our redemption,” and started speaking to him about the greatness of Pesach, the Exodus and the true meaning of freedom. He gave him much advice and encouragement to help him through these trying times. At the end of the conversation, Reb Avraham said to him, “PeSaCH has the same numerical value as [Rebbe] NaCHMaN (148). How can we connect Rebbe Nachman and the concepts of Pesach? The Haggadah teaches us: This is what Hillel did! He took the Pesach, Matzah and Maror, and ate everything together.”
He advised this young man to accept Hillel's teaching. We can partake of the Pesach — the True Tzaddik — only by experiencing bitterness and difficulty! Then we can fully appreciate these teachings. “Now,” Reb Avraham said, “go home and have a very joyous Pesach!” (The Breslov Haggadah p.54).
If only we were joyous, we would not taste the bitterness of suffering and the full measure of life's problems could not weigh us down. This is neither fanciful nor unrealistic. It's simply that we know that sometimes, we can do nothing about our situation except pray. Rather than wallow in sorrow, we can rise above it and make the best of it. Things will eventually work out. Thus, Rebbe Nachman teaches: Joy opens the heart (The Aleph-Bet Book, Joy A:2).
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THE REWARDS OF JOY
A person who is always happy, succeeds (The Aleph-Bet Book, Joy B:1).
Joy enhances the mind's ability to comprehend (The Aleph-Bet Book, Joy A:21).
When happiness comes to a person spontaneously, it is clear that kindness and help are on the way (The Aleph-Bet Book, Joy A:26).
Rebbe Nachman teaches: The Light of the Infinite shines and descends through all the upper worlds and ultimately reaches this world. The only way to perceive this Light is by performing the mitzvot with joy (Likutey Moharan I, 24:2). Conversely, the Zohar often asserts that when we are happy, we bring about light and joy to all the worlds.
On this topic, Reb Noson has constructed one of his most beautiful discourses (Likutey Halakhot, Hoda'ah 6). For some twenty-six pages, he takes the concepts of joy and happiness and relates them to every individual, for every day, in every situation. He opens the discourse as follows: A person should know that the Rebbe's lesson on attaining the loftiest of levels, the Great Light of the Infinite, is applicable to every Jew who performs the mitzvot with joy. The Torah was not given to the angels. It was given to us. To those of flesh and blood. Even we can attain the greatest of all levels — simply by being
Always be joyful, for with happiness you can give another person life. Your friend may be in terrible agony and not be able to express what is in his heart. While there is no one to whom he can unburden his heart he remains pained and worried. But, if you come along and greet him with a happy face, you can cheer him up and literally give him life. The Talmud teaches (Ta'anit 22a): Two badchanim (merrymakers) were declared “dwellers in the World to Come,” merely because they made others happy (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #43).
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SAVED BY JOY
There was a poor man who earned his living by digging clay. Once, while digging, he discovered a huge diamond. Taking it to the local jeweler for appraisal, he was told that there wasn't anyone on the European continent who could afford such a stone. He would have to go to the diamond exchange in London.
The man sold everything he had and made his way from city to city until he finally reached the port. But by then, he had used up all his funds. Approaching the captain, he asked for passage on the ship. He showed him the diamond and explained that at the moment he was short of cash. He would pay the fare upon arrival in London. The captain readily agreed and gave him the best cabin on the ship. He also honored him by visiting him daily in his cabin, where the two men would spend hours talking and passing the time of day.
During his meals, the man would keep the diamond on the table in front of him. He enjoyed looking at it and rejoicing in the glorious future which awaited him. Once, after dinner, he dozed off. Meanwhile, the steward came and cleared the table, shaking the tablecloth with its crumbs and the diamond into the sea. When the man awoke and realized what had happened, he was overcome by worry and sorrow.
”What will I do now?” he asked himself. “What have I left?” He had already sold all his possessions for the sake of the diamond. And if his grief weren't enough, he realized that the captain would soon be joining him for their daily conversation. He knew that the captain was a ruthless man and would not hesitate to kill him for his fare. His world looked like it was about to cave in. It was then that he realized what he had to do. “Come what may,” he told himself, “I'm going to put on a happy face.”
Having no choice, he continued to act happy, as if nothing had happened. He did this so well that the captain suspected nothing. After talking for a while, the captain said to the man, “I would like a favor from you. I have a full cargo of wheat in the hold. If I bring it in through customs, there will be heavy tariffs to pay. I see that you are a clever and honest person and I trust you. I would like to transfer ownership of the wheat to your name and let you bring it through customs. Afterwards, you can transfer the wheat back to me.”
The man agreed. He hoped that this favor would spare him from the captain's wrath when he admitted that he could not pay for his fare. As it happened, as soon as they arrived in London the captain suddenly died. The entire shipload of wheat remained in the man's name, and it was worth far more than the diamond which he had just lost.
Rebbe Nachman concludes: The diamond was not his, proof being that he lost it. The wheat, however, was his, since it remained with him. But how did he get what was truly his? Only because he strengthened himself with joy in his darkest moment (Rabbi Nachman's Stories #19).
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