Simcha: A Sign of the Times

R’ Jared Viders
Ohr Somayach Monsey

Now that Shavous is in the rear view mirror, the days seem somewhat amorphous in the unfolding drama of the Jewish calendar. Whereas other seasons carry distinct flavors – be it the Teshuva of Elul in preparation of Rosh Hashanah or the 49 days of the Omer in preparation to Shavous – it’s difficult to identify a particular theme in the weeks and months to come.

Interestingly, Rav Ovadiah Bartinera – one of the foremost commentaries on the Mishna – (1450-1510) labels the days between Shavous and Sukkos as “times of joy” – an appellation which immediately strikes us as misplaced in light of the more somber fast days that appear “next up” on our Jewish calendars.

Nevertheless, with simcha (“joy”) being the theme of these days, it is eminently appropriate and inestimably worthwhile to give some thought to the mechanics of the Torah’s view on “simcha” – its centrality to our lives and a recipe (or two) as to how to keep it vibrant.

The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) writes “the very first mitzvah one should be fulfilled by a bar mitzvah boy upon his reaching his 13th year is to rejoice and be happy to accept the mitzvahs of Hashem; for being b’simcha is a positive mitzvah in the Torah, i.e., to serve with joyousness and good-heartedness emanating from all the goodness which has been bestowed upon you.” Several noted Torah sages over the centuries have all identified simcha as the coin of the realm in terms of one’s personal growth and religious fulfillment.

The Orchas Tzaddikim (a well-known Sefer anonymously written in the 15th century) offers a line which should be kept close to the heart of every Ba’al Teshuvah. In the “Gate of Happiness,” he writes, “the attribute of joy hinges on the positive commandment to see all that befalls a person as being just … for if after one does Teshuvah, he finds that matters are not as pleasant as they were beforehand, it is a mitzvah to think in one’s heart” that all the seeming “turbulence” is truly a gift from Heaven that is ultimately for own best interests. Over the centuries, this gem has provided strength and inspiration to many a Ba’al Teshuvah grappling with the changes in their lives and some of the disturbing repercussions – family, professional, social, etc. – that invariably come with the territory.

Practically speaking, the contemporary sefer Alei Shor (written by a master of character perfection Rav Shlomo Wolbe) suggests a relatively simple exercise to stimulate one’s simcha mindset. In two of our morning blessings – specifically when we thank G-d for (1) “providing me my every need” and (2) for “firming my footsteps” one should utter them with “abundant contemplation” and a “great strengthening of one’s emunah (belief).” This tiny exercise, the Alei Shur writes, can, over a period of several months instill in a person the true rejoicing and satisfaction with one’s lot in life which is the hallmark of true Jewish “simcha.”

May we merit to strive for an internalize true joyfulness in the days and weeks to come.

6 comments on “Simcha: A Sign of the Times

  1. Compare that Chasam Sofer thought with this quote from the third volume of the the recently-translated hagiography of the Brisker Rav:

    At the Bar Mitzvah celebration of one of his sons, as people stood in line to wish [the Brisker Rav] mazal tov and were clearly in a joyous mood, [he] wondered aloud, “Is this a time for joy and gaiety? The boy, after all, is entering into such an awesome responsibility. He should prepare for it with a sense of awe and trembling, knowing the extent of the obligations involved. It’s inappropraite to make merry, as if this were a wedding.”

    (p. 181, The Brisker Rav, vol. 3).

    I wouldn’t go through the trouble of typing this up if I hadn’t read this disturbing passage just last night, and then read this today…

    No wonder we’re confused.

    I have no idea what to do with it.

  2. A potent message with a point that can never be belabored. If we can all strive to internalize these fundamental beliefs,I believe we could all elevate our behavior and be even more shomer mitzvos.
    May we be zochare!

  3. R Jared Viders,

    In order to balance out the list of simcha sources and scholarly suggestions, would it be possible include the Gra’s halachic definition of simcha and how he incorporated that understanding of simcha into his daily schedule.

  4. The Makor for the Chasam Sofer is in Parshas Vayechi also brought in the beginning of Piskei Teshuvos (vol. 1) in a footnote. jmv

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