The Obligation of Joy
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Often times, people associate spiritual people with extreme seriousness, depression and unhappiness. This is a great misconception, refuted by many teachings of the Torah. For example, our Sages teach us that a prophet could not make prophesies in a state of depression. The Divine Presence would only rest upon a person if the person was in a joyous state of consciousness. One of the examples in the Bible is that of King Saul who would call David to play the harp before him to lift his mood, enabling him to enter a prophetic state. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov emphasizes the importance of maintaining a constant state of happiness. He further explains that depression greatly distances a person from the Divine.
In Chapter 28 of the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah speaks of the dire consequences that will befall the nation for neglecting their service to God. Verse 47 states “…because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart, while you had an abundance of everything.” Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah Hilchos Lulav Chapter 7, 15) “The happiness with which a perseon should rejoice in the fulfillment of the mitzvoth and the love of God who commanded them is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as the verse states: “…because you did not serve God, your Lord, with happiness and a glad heart.” This statement of Maimonides is extremely illuminating. Maimonides understands the verse to be saying that we are obligated to work on building joy and happiness within ourselves. Maimonides considers this ‘a great service.’ When we succeed at this service and create for ourselves a joyous state of consciousness then we are able to serve God with this joy and happiness. Our Rabbi’s laud those that accomplish this and carry out God’s commandments with joy.
The Million Dollar Question of course is: How does one become joyous? There are many different techniques suggested by our great Rabbi’s. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov recommends that a person search for some good aspect within themselves, and then focus intensely on that aspect of good in order to lift their mood. The reason this technique works is obvious from a psychological standpoint. Changing one’s thoughts automatically shifts one’s emotions. Spiritually, this technique works for an additional reason. The good within oneself represents the Godly within a person and connecting with the Godly brings a person to joy.
As we approach the High Holy Days, we intensify our prayer and service to God. Let us be sure to do so with joy and fulfill the dictum of King David to “Serve God with joy.”