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Life, Happiness, and Godliness

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Joseph’s brothers return to the land of Canaan and inform their father, Jacob, that Joseph, Jacob’s long-lost son, is still alive. Jacob, who has been separated from his son for 22 years, initially struggles to absorb the news. The brothers tell Jacob of their conversation with Joseph and show their father the wagons that Joseph sent to transport him, and Jacob finally absorbs the fact that Joseph is still alive.

After realizing Joseph is still alive, the Biblical narrative continues “…and the spirit of their father Jacob lived. And Israel (Jacob) said, “A great amount (plenty). My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”” (Genesis 45, 27-28) Jacob’s reaction requires further explanation. What does the verse mean when it states: “and the spirit of their father Jacob lived”? Joseph was the one who was thought to have died, not Jacob. Additionally, what does Jacob mean when he says, “A great amount (plenty)?” A great amount of what? Rashi explains that the divine presence that left Jacob had now returned to him and, therefore, his spirit was alive again. Jacob then declared that, now that his son Joseph is alive, he has plenty of happiness to look forward to in his life.

Our sages explain that from the moment that Joseph disappeared, Jacob could not bring himself to feel true joy. Jacob had some level of depression and uneasiness that constantly accompanied him. The divine presence (related to the ability to prophesize) only dwells upon a person when he/she is in a state of happiness. When Jacob internalized the fact that Joseph was still alive, his melancholy feeling was lifted and he felt a sense of tremendous joy and happiness. He felt joyous and alive for the first time in many years and the divine presence immediately returned to him.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that it is a mitzvah to be in a state of joy and happiness. In a state of happiness, spirituality and Godliness are more easily attained. It is, therefore, very important that we work on making ourselves joyous and happy. How do we become happy? There are numerous techniques – Rabbi Nachman suggests focusing on the good in ourselves and others as an important technique in bringing joy and happiness. I have personally also found mindfulness practice to be a powerful tool in manifesting a sense of joy, well-being, and vitality. Whatever works for you, do it! Because it is a mitzvah to be happy and it brings God into our lives.