Yiddishkeit is Simcha by Rav Twerski Shlit’a
Yiddishkeit is Simcha
Rav Twerski Shlit’a, Annual Dinner, Sukkos 5767
It was a true joy to welcome Rabbi Dr A Twerski shlit’a as the guest speaker at this years’ Annual Dinner
celebrating the 36 Anniversary of the Yeshiva. A close friend of the Yeshiva, best selling author, lecturer,
clinical psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, and perhaps above all, an ordained Rabbi, he held a captive
audience that filled the Yeshiva’s Sukkah. The choice of topic, Yidishleit is Simcha, was particularly
appropriate to the occasion, Chol Hamoed Sukkos – Zman Simchaseinu, and the dinner was followed by a
public Simchas beis Hashoeva.
Yiddishkeit is Simcha (Summary)
Yiddishkeit, Jewish life, is more than keeping Shabbos, performing Mitzvos and good deeds such as Bikur
Holim (visting the sick), Hachnasas Orhim (welcoming guests) or preserving family purity. These must be
done with Simcha, but what is Simcha? The memorable impression of seeing the joy of a young boy
singing and dancing while walking his dog compels us to think of Simcha in more than one way.
Everybody would agree Simcha is happiness and joy at times of celebration – Simchas Torah, Purim, Bar
Mitzvas and weddings. Simcha can also mean feelings per se , even if those feelings are not joy, because
emotions, in themselves, are an important part of Jewish life. This idea is referred to in the Gemoro in
Brochos in relation to accepting difficulties or tragedies with Simcha and a Lev Shalem, perfect heart.
There the idea of full unfaltering faith is referred to as Simcha. It follows that not feeling, having a ‘Lev
Even’, a heart of stone, is an antithesis of Simcha. A clinical anecdote captures this concept. A patient
burnt her hand in which she had previously lost all feeling. She sang and danced when she suddenly felt
something (albeit pain) for the first time in many months.
R’Samson Rafael Hirsch suggests that spiritual growth is also a form of Simcha, as alluded in the similarity
between the Hebrew word for Simcha, ‘sameach’ and that for growth, ‘tzameach’. Frustration is an anto-
nym of Simcha. An emotive analogy is a man incarcerated for many years turning a wheel in the hope of
some fruitful purpose to his labours, who then finds on release that it produced nothing at all. In Judaism
the process, not just the product, is Simcha in and of itself. Simply being involved in Torah learning
achieves a reward. The product is not the accomplishment; it is the work that we put into it.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that Simcha is Shleimus, perfecting ourselves. The Creator brought the entire
Universe into being without consulting any other being. When it came to creating man, He said “let us
create man”. All other living things were created in a state of completion. To become the Adam he is
supposed to be, a person has to work on himself. He is not born an Adam. It is only when he develops
himself that he becomes an Adam. A prime example is care of children. Animals do this instinctively. Only
mankind have the ability to work on giving of ourselves out of chesed. That is what makes us a man. If we
are working on achieving Shleimus, that is Simcha, whether we happen to be joyous at the moment or not.
Another meaning of Simcha, described beautifully by the Baal HaTanya is knowing that an object should
be loved and deserves to be loved, even if you don’t feel the love. Although you might not feel elated
putting on Tefillin 6 days a week, knowing that you should feel Simcha is Simcha too.
The imagery of the Succa itself represents the Simcha of knowing that G-d protects us, as well as the
Simcha of satisfaction in one’s lot, taught by Rabbi Akiva, even if this is merely a simple temporary
dwelling. Addiction can become a form of slavery. The true Simcha of freedom is mastery of oneself. Am
Yisrael’s ability to feel emotion only came to fruition at the time of Succos, “Zman Simchaseinu”, once we
had shed the physical and spiritual shackles of slavery, at Pesach, and had acquired the knowledge of
Torah, on Shavuos. Jews have mourned the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash every year since its
devastation on Tisha B’Av. The fact that we still mourn this means it is still alive for us. Napolean
commented that a people who mourn the Temple for 2000 years will be sure to see its rebuilding. Arriving
at the Kosel for the first time we tear Kria, whilst the next day we can be in the same spot singing “Lecha
Dodi”, dancing, welcoming in Shabbos. What do we mean when we say “moadim lesimcha” (festivals for
Simcha)? Perhaps we should say “moadei simcha” (festivals of Simcha). Lesimcha is more precise; if we
put all our energy into Sukkos, G-d rewards us with Simcha for the rest of the whole year.
May we ultimately be zoche to the true Simcha, the building of the Beis Hamikdash, bimhero veyomeinu, Amen.