Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Being happy on the festivals the Jewish way

Know your obligations. That may help you to live up to them, bit by bit.

We Jews have a Biblical Commandment to be happy on the Festivals.


For Purim, I have this trick question. How can it be that Purim is not a Biblical Festival, but you are Biblically commanded to be happy in Purim?

The answer is not so complicated. (Try to get to it on your own without first reading my answer.) We Jews are Biblically commanded to be happy every day, all the time!

The Talmud already tells us that Those who enter Adar (the month of Purim) should increase happiness. Now, what to do when you’re always happy, and more happiness would be mentally dangerous or impossible?

It took me years to find an answer, but I did find one.

It doesn’t say: increase your happiness! To increase happiness in general. Make more people happier. There are often lots of people around who could use a friendly word or a smile, who would appreciate when someone would break their loneliness or distract them from their worries or pains.

While you smile, you still can be self-absorbed. Try to give smiles away.


Many people have smiling enforced upon them. Sexist men get nervous around women who don’t smile (and horny when they do). In such a circumstance, it’s better to look slightly down. Not enough to set them off. But in your heart stay happy and try to get away as fast as you can.

In some cultures, being happy is a tricky one. For the US Middle Class and Up, you’re supposed to show off your dentistry even while contemplating suicide. Fake it ’till you make it became Be a fake. That’s not Jewish happiness. I’m sure that, for contrast, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, a most generous Jew, was seldom caught smiling. Jewish joy is not pretending.

Thomas Jefferson included in the Declaration of Independence the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as an unalienable right to be enjoyed by all. This is the best way to be unhappy. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.


How to do it? As Jews, we must first teach ourselves to be happy with what we have. Yes, it could always be better, bigger, longer, stronger, nicer, or more perfect in all ways. The art is to see how lucky we are already, to have come to life and still be alive, and when ‘everything’ hurts, typically, not everything hurts. Count your blessings. Not as a consolation prize but as an exercise in facing reality. Pull up the corners of your mouth and mean it. The happy feeling comes after that. It’s easy. If you first wait for the happy feelings to appear, you might have to wait forever.

It doesn’t mean don’t cry. When you’re happy, you’ll have an easier time getting to your tears. But while crying, stay happy, happy that you can cry.

I once told my host on Friday night that I first needed to complain about some very hard things that happened to me. He said: Why? Can you imagine it would have been twice as bad? Yeah, I said. Problem solved!

For most people, it’s already a big step to be happy with gifts, things, and situations. It’s not a rung to skip. Before retiring, list five things you are grateful about from that day. Children can be very happy with candy.

But if joy must come from presents, know that the greatest happiness comes from giving them, not receiving! A greater need than to be loved is to love others. More hurtful than not being loved is having no one to love.

A traditional Jewish blessing is: “May we hear good news.” Many don’t realize the goodness of the news often depends on how you hear it. Since every disadvantage has advantages, and vice versa, we have a lot of slack.

Don’t make yourself unhappy about sometimes not having been happy.


Yet, typically, kids don’t jump out of bed in the morning because they think of all the candy might get today. They are happy for nothing. It’s part of being human to be happy. It’s our natural default. But we tend to forget.

I know someone who works in a store, and some time ago, I noticed he wasn’t smiling at me. I tried to be friendlier to him. No effect. After a few months, I asked him if I wronged or hurt him. Not at all! But you used to smile always? Life, he answered. It bugs you down. Nothing personal. Yesterday, I passed him again. Busy with a customer. But he saw me and gave me a wink. I reminded him to smile no matter what. Made my day.


Our Rabbis remind us that the Torah says that curses come into our lives when we are faithful but unhappy. G^d doesn’t go after the Atheists. What ‘bothers Him’ are religious Jews who are faithful but displeased.

Being a Jew is not for everyone. It’s a demanding, laborious lifestyle. But more than that, even when you do everything right but with a krechtz (a grunt when in minor pain or discomfort), you’re violating the Basics.

But being happy all the time has more advantages than just not being an underperforming Jew. When we’re happy, it’s impossible to commit a lot of other sins like being jealous, displeased, ungrateful, rigid, down, snooty, impatient, overcritical, unfriendly, egotistical, greedy, worried, unhopeful, bitter, blaming, edgy, quarrelsome, disrespectful, demanding, and angry.

Besides, an unhappy Jew embarrasses Judaism and G^d, a serious(!) sin. And it misleads onlookers on what it’s like to be an Orthodox Jew. Life is not a valley of tears and then you die. It’s part of G^d’s generosity. Don’t be surprised if others are uninterested when you walk around sour-faced.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach asks why we try to make the groom and bride happy. Why Happy? Why not self-confident or anything else? Because when people are unhappy, each one sits in their own corner moping. People can only come together when they’re happy. The Rabbis tells us that G^d doesn’t even hear unhappy people’s prayer (not to be confused with crying people). Even a Prophet doesn’t hear G^d unless he’s happy.

Don’t follow a Rabbi who doesn’t have a friendly smile when he talks to the community. His intellect may have told him to help the congregation, and he might be very sincere (or not), but his heart is not in it. He’s too stern. Too assimilated to the prejudices from other Monotheists that they have the G^d of Love and we have the G^d of War, G^d forbid. A Chief Rabbi may stride like an emperor but should talk with you like a friend.

The L^rd knows it’s hard. So, He set a minimum standard to rejoice on the Festivals. Let’s just hope you can mean it. Then it may spill over into the other days. And you may have children and students who’d follow that.

Happy Holidays!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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