Happiness Really Makes a Difference
Every festival has its unique brand of greeting. Before Pesach, we wish one another, “Chag kosher v’sameach.” On Chanukah, we say “Ah freilichen Chanukah.” For Shabbos, Ashkenazim say “Gutten Shabbos” while Sephardim say “Shabbat Shalom.” On Shavuos, it is traditional to wish one another that they should be “mekabel the Torah b’ahavah - that they should merit accepting the Torah anew with love.” I’d like to note the emphasis on the words ‘with love.’
Fulfilling and adhering to the Torah with love is a vital component of Jewish observance. In the tochecha in Parshas Ki Savo (the ominous warnings of dreadful punishment if we misbehave), the Torah tells us that terrible things will, G-d forbid, befall the Jewish people. “Tachas asher lo avadata es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha u’v’tov leiv - Because we didn’t serve Hashem with joy and gladness of heart.” The Aleinu Leshabeiach wondered why horrific punishment results from the lack of joyful observance. While it is understandable that a happy performance means that it is done passionately and more meaningfully, why should the absence of feeling result in the dreadful suffering and death discussed in the tochecha?
He answers profoundly that the element of joy is vital to the continuity of the Jewish People. He elaborates that when parents and educators do the mitzvahs and study the Torah with enthusiasm and delight, it is infectious. On the other hand, when they do it with a krechtz, with a groan, the children feel that it is a burden to their parents and are not as ready to perpetuate their parents’ religious observances.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, zy”a, relates that two families living during the Great Depression both succeeded with profound mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, in keeping the Shabbos although it entailed mighty hardships. Surprisingly, one family had success in raising all of their children to be shomer Torah u’mitzvos, G-d-fearing Jews, while the other family’s children sadly went astray. Rav Moshe explained what the difference was. The family that had hatzlacha, success, used to rejoice and celebrate every time they overcame an obstacle in the way of their religiosity. The other family, although they were just as scrupulous, used to groan and complain about how hard the Jewish way was, and how difficult it was to be Jewish in American society. This constant bitterness rubs off on the children and subliminally, after a while, caused an erosion of their Jewish dedication. Rav Moshe would often say that one should avoid such statements as “S’iz shver tzu sein a Yid - It’s hard to be a Jew.” Rather one should say with delight, “S’iz glicklich tzu sein a Yid - How fortunate we are to be Jewish.”
This very fundamental theme is applicable today in many areas of contemporary Jewish life. If father is always complaining about how long the Shabbos morning davening is or how tiresome and drawn out the Rabbi’s drasha is, this tends to take a toll on the neshamos, the souls, of our youth. I remember when I was growing up, how many people would go to hear a chazzan daven. From many shuls, people would converge to hear the great chazzan Koussevitzky bentch Rosh Chodesh. While there are those who cynically say that davening is not the time to hear a concert (albeit many were spiritually moved by his profound melodies), it was definitely healthy that people were excited and happy to go to shul, not anxious and rushed to leave.
In Pirkei Avos we are taught, “Al taas tefiloshcha keva - Do not make your prayer a mere routine.” Rather, believe that our talking to Hashem really can help and really make a difference. Elsewhere we learn another component. “Al taas tefiloscha k’masui - Let not your prayers be like a burden.” This extra warning is the theme we are discussing. We want to avoid at all costs our children feeling that davening or going to shul is a burden and a hardship. That is the worst kind of chinuch possible. Similarly, if we are listening to a shiur, a Torah lecture, and our children note that we are constantly looking at the clock or fretfully checking the wristwatch, this sends a very dangerous message. Mommy cannot afford to complain about cleaning and preparing for Shabbos; she cannot express her frustration at the daunting task of getting ready for Pesach. Daddy should not moan about putting up the sukkah or the difficulty about finding haddasim m’shulashim, kosher myrtle branches, for the celebration. For, if we succumb to these very human tendencies we are failing in our parental duty to infect our children with the proper enthusiasm for avodas Hashem.
The Torah’s mantra is “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha - Serve Hashem with joy!” When our children see that we don’t hesitate to take money out of our wallet for the poor; when they notice that with alacrity we write out a check to a needy cause, they will observe that we rejoice in the opportunity, not only to do kindness but to build for ourselves a portfolio for the Afterlife which is what the investment of tzedaka really is. In today’s day and age, when there are so many fun things to do, we American Jews have many more non-Torah distractions than did our ancestors. It is easy to fall into the mistake that our spiritual duties are burdensome and cheat us from more fun-filled pursuits.
May it be the will of Hashem that we merit serving Hashem and learning His Torah with joy and happiness and in that zechus may we be granted by Hashem long life and good health to raise many generations of children who will serve Hashem with true Torah delight until the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our days.
Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes Rabbi Weiss’ articles. If you wish to receive Rabbi Weiss’ articles by email, please send a note to ZeitlinShelley@aol.com.