Finding Joy in Your Judaism

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a regular contributor to GTJ.

Purim might be over, but we don’t have to stop being happy. In fact with all the terrible things going on in the news in Israel and around the world at the moment, the mitzvah of being bisimcha (joyful) must take on a special degree of importance.

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shemini, we are told that the Jewish people rejoiced upon seeing that G-d had accepted their sacrificial offerings. The Torah recounts that “A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed what was on the altar…All the people saw and rejoiced, and they fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24).

On the verse, ‘all the people saw and rejoiced,’ the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that even if we serve G-d by doing all that is required – Torah study, performance of mitzvos, prayer etc. – it is not enough. To serve G-d properly we must do so with joy.[1] G-d doesn’t get a kick out of a bunch of unhappy, commandment-obeying robots. One must not serve G-d as if it is a burden and a chore. Judaism is not supposed to be stale, sterile, and lifeless. On the contrary it is meant to be invigorating and full of passion. Torah is a document that is relevant in every generation and contains the eternal wisdom of the Creator about how to live life the best possible way. If we study and observe its precepts in a cold and unhappy way we are missing the point. The idea of serving G-d with joy is especially emphasized in the teachings of Chassidus (Chassidic philosophy).[2]

We were created for the sole purpose of serving G-d and we do so even in our mundane, routine activities such as working, eating, and drinking. There are many reasons to serve G-d with joy. Here are just a few: When we devote our lives to a higher purpose it gives us a sense of importance and self-worth. Also, serving G-d brings a more revealed sense of G-d’s presence into the world and He then ‘dwells among us’. This should make us as joyful as it made the Jewish people to see the consuming of the sacrifices in this week’s parsha. When G-d dwells among us it is as if a very special guest such as the king or the president has come to our house for a visit. This should make us feel honored. Finally, as many already know happier people are better able to cope with difficult circumstances and accomplish more in life.[3]

It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for Messiah and the Hebrew word for ‘he shall rejoice’ have the same letters. Concerning this, the Rebbe teaches that we will all be redeemed through joy alone.[4] May the Redemption happen now.

Will Gotkin

[1] Pearls for the Shabbos Table. From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Y. Alperowitz, 68

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 68-69

[4] Ibid, 69

1 reply
  1. Will
    Will says:

    Just to clarify: There is no mitzvah d’reisa (commandment in the Torah) that we have to be happy. However, it is clearly understood from the Torah that this is the ideal. As one rabbi put it: “Depression is technically not a sin, but it is the worst sin in the Torah.” This is because we make most of our worst descisions when we are sad.

    *Obviously by ‘depressed’ I don’t mean the serious medical condition.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *