Feeling Joy in Troubling Times – Rabbi Ed Gelb
This is the D’var Torah I gave at Temple Israel in Sharon on Shabbat – It was originally in outline form and I have cleaned it up a little to read better, but it isn’t polished writing.
I have been thinking about time a lot lately – the times we are living in, when is the right time to do something, how do we use our time. Today, we read from Kohelet:
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 קֹהֶלֶת
|1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:|
|2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
|3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
|4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
|5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
|6 A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
|7 A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
|8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
It is interesting that each festival has its own line in Kiddush/Amidah – each festival has it’s Time
Passover – Z’man Cherutainu
Shavuot – Z’man Matan Torahteinu,
and of course, Sukkot – Z’man Simchateinu
Time for joy? When exactly? These are troubling times. How do we bring joy into our lives? Is it right to be joyous when thousands of peoples’ lives are destroyed in hurricanes or hundreds in senseless violence?
Additionally, what does it mean – time of our joy? Are we commanded to feel joy? Permitted to feel joy? Or something else?
There is a famous teaching from Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pershyscha (chasid from Poland – 1765-1827). Reb Simcha Bunem carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out each slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder to himself.
We have to hold two opposing emotions at the same time – we feel the pain of what is happening. We need to celebrate/have joy. This is a tension we live with in our lives.
Sukkot is a time to think – Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.”
Why is being joyous and bringing joy so important?
The Talmud in Ta’anit 22 recounts a conversation between Rabbi Beroka and Elijah about who will have a share in Olam Haba. They are walking around the market and Elijah points out different individuals that do. Here is one exchange:
תלמוד בבלי, תענית כב.
While they were talking, two men passed by and Elijah remarked, “These two have a share in the world to come.” Rabbi Beroka then approached and asked them, What do you do?” They replied, We are jesters, when we see men depressed we cheer them up; furthermore when we see two people quarreling we strive hard to make peace between them.
There are two points here that are important.
- Bringing joy to others – even somewhat frivolous joy like jesters is considered a great thing. Jesters do fun and mindless humor.
- It goes deeper – when people feel joy, they are more likely to work out their differences. Bringing joy to someone helps them improve their interpersonal relationships. This leads to peace.
This next piece of Talmud was sent to me my good friend Dr. Josh Kulp (who is the Rosh Yeshiva at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel and is our Rosh Bet Midrash at Camp Ramah in New England.) There are definitely gender roles here that I hope won’t distract us from the deeper message.;
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת פסחים פרק י
תני צריך הוא אדם לשמח את אשתו ואת בניו ברגל במה משמחן ביין. רבי יודה אומר נשים בראוי להן וקטנים בראוי להם נשים בראוי להן כגון מסנים
וצוצלין וקטנים בראוי להן כגון אגוזין ולוזין
It was taught: A person must bring joy to his wife and children on the festival. With what does he bring them joy? Wine. R. Judah says: Women with what is appropriate for them and children with what is appropriate for them. Women with what is appropriate for them such as shoes and small articles of clothing. Children with what is appropriate for them, such as nuts.
What’s the mitzvah here? To bring joy to others. It is a mitzvah to bring joy to others.
Not only that, Josh points out, you must be thoughtful in your gifts and think about the other person and what they would like. The gift itself is nice, but the knowledge that someone actually is thinking and caring about you brings joy. It is also true that the one who gives the gift also is happy.
As my hobby, I have coached high school basketball for many years. I like to tell my players when they are having a bad game or shooting poorly to focus out – to focus on others. Make a good pass, get a rebound, set a pick, compliment someone else. When you do that you start feeling better about yourself too and then you often play better.
Sukkot/Simchat Torah asks us to move outside our comfort zone – literally – and go outside. We sing and dance with each other. We eat festive meals. We give thanks for the bountiful harvest. These feelings of joy hopefully give us the strength and energy to go back into the real world and make a difference.
At camp, I often tell my rashei edot (division heads) to “struggle joyously”. The job is hard. There are ups and downs. The more you can smile and laugh through these times the more effective you will be.
At camp, joyous singing is such a part of what makes our community so special. Hearing close to a thousand people joining together in song is special. One of the favorites is from psalm 100:
עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה
Serve God with gladness; come before His presence with singing.
Being happy is contagious, by serving God with joy we can impact others.
It turns out that joy is pretty serious business.
May we all find the ability to feel joy and happiness together, to bring joy to others, and may this joy fuel us to continue to work together to heal our world. Amen. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach