The Joy of Existence

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

From Getting to Know Your Self

A person wants to be happy and at peace only by attaining something else that he is currently lacking. He feels now that joy and peace are lacking, and that once he will get it, he will have joy and peace. If so, the joy comes from attaining something one does not have yet. On the other hand, there is a kind of joy and peace that comes from merely existing. Chazal said of this, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his portion.” Obviously, they were not referring to the one who has all his needs fulfilled. Rather, the person is lacking things, and yet, he is happy. But how can he be happy? He can’t pay his expenses for the month! His daughter might be in the hospital! How can he be happy if he has all these troubles?

This is a joy that comes from existence. It is not a joy because one has shoes or socks. If one makes a calculation, he might decide that in fact, he lacks a lot of things, even more than what he does have. When can one really be happy? When he is happy because of his existence, not because of what he owns.

What is this joy of existence? How does one do it? What’s so good about it? We must understand and consider: what is one’s natural state – happy, or sad? If we decide that the natural state is one of happiness, there would need to be a cause to make one sad. If we decide, on the other hand, that the natural state is sadness, then there must be a cause to make one happy. What is one’s true nature? If there would be no external forces, what would one’s natural state be? Happy, or sad? For example, if you take a car and place it at an incline, the natural state of the wheels would cause it to go downward, because of gravity. Without using the breaks, it wall go downward. What is one’s natural state: happy, or sad?

The answer is that a person is naturally happy! If a person is created naturally happy, he will be happy if there are no opposing factors. These factors might place one in a state of sadness. If so, why isn’t a person happy? One will respond that he lacks a livelihood, or good health, or proper respect. This may be correct, but it is a very superficial attitude. The real reason one isn’t happy is that he wants things besides his existence. If one would need a reason to be happy, he could claim, “Why should I be happy? I’m lacking this and that! How could I be happy?” But if one’s very nature, by virtue of his creation, is to be happy, if he doesn’t make himself want things, he will naturally be happy! The ratzon is the beginning of the process of uprooting joy from a person’s soul. It’s not as it seems to be, that one lacks and therefore is sad. Rather, because one wants things, he feels a lack, and that lack removes his natural joy. Joy is natural, and if one will just take care to not destroy himself, he will be happy.

How does one avoid destroying himself? He must live in a world without desires. Superficially, such a person would seem lifeless. Doesn’t he want anything? What kind of a life is it when you don’t want anything? How is it possible? The true answer is as follows: If someone lives in a three-story villa, and he is given the opportunity to live in a suffocating underground warehouse with no windows – with the option that the air conditioner will be fixed – he would say, “Thank you, but leave me alone!” If told, “What a lifeless person! You are offered a nice apartment; why don’t you want it?” he would respond, “If I were a homeless person with only a bench on the street, your suggestion would in fact be charming, but why would I want a warehouse without a window in place of a three-story villa?”

If a person were asked, “Would you like us to throw stones at you?” he would say, “No!” Would they say, “You’re like dead; you have no desires; you should want people to throw stones”? The answer is clear: a person only wants something if he believes that he will be better off when he gets it than he is now. But if the current state is fine, one’s lack of desire does not come from inner lifelessness, but because he now has all he needs.

The problem is that we do not look at our lives as a state in which we have everything. The pasuk says, “I left my mother’s womb naked, and naked I shall return.” People think this is negative, because a person is born with nothing. But he’s not born with nothing! A person is born with everything! However, we and the world teach the soul that “you need this, you need that.” Gradually, the person is convinced that he needs and needs, and he lacks and lacks, so what was a happy person became a very needy person.

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