In times of crisis, our gut reaction is to hide ourselves and to hide everyone we cherish. That’s a good first move. We’re required to preserve life. However, as Jews, as a grateful people, we must, concurrently, rejoice. “Yehudah,” from whose name we derive Am Yisrael’s appellation, means to “thank/praise.” In other words, especially in challenging times, rather than cower, we MUST celebrate all that Hashem gives us.
In “How Can We be Happy on this Simchat Torah,” a Dvar Torah that was written during Oct. 1973, i.e., during the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm zt”l wrote that embracing simcha fulfills four fundamental Jewish needs. These needs are: emunah, bitachon, acceptance of reality’s complexity, and weaponizing ourselves to fight evil.
Per emunah, Rabbi Lamm wrote that simcha “is an expression of our commitment to the existence of G-d as the source of all.”1 Creation is Hashem’s. We rejoice in being part of it.
Per bitachon, Rabbi Lamm wrote that “G-d who helps the poor and the downtrodden and the disadvantaged will help us.”2 We trust in Hashem. We have no other Savior.
Per accepting “the complexities, ambivalences, and ambiguities of life[, Rabbi Lamm wrote that t]he Jew knows that there is no sorrow without nechama or consolation; no joy without sadness.”3 It’s not up to us to determine the unfolding of the universe nor ought we to expect that only what we deem acceptable will occur. We can’t understand Hashem’s machinations.
Finally, per simchah “as a weapon with which to forge good news and battle evil[,]” the rabbi wrote that “Torah demands of us not only a discipline of action and appetite, but an iron discipline of emotion as well. It commands us to laugh even when we want to dry, to dance when we want to faint, to sing when we want ashes and sack-cloth.”4 Essentially, “[d]o not be afraid. Do not panic. Do not buckle down in front of them. For it is the Lord your G-d [W]ho goes together with you to do battle.”5
In other words, we cannot be spiritually complacent. It’s not just “foxhole” residents who require Hashem. Each and every one of us must keep in touch with Tatty in Shamayim. Our communication with Him is not reserved only for “easy” days but is also required on taxing ones. Cheerfulness is one of our most an important channels to Him.
Linda Shapiro elaborates on this idea in “My Endless Road Home.” She concurs that
[o]ur sages emphasized that to always be b’simchah is essential for our well-being. When we can experience the integration of mind, heart, neshamah…acquire the security to become our true selves…satisfy our visceral longing for attachment [to The Boss], we can also attain and maintain Divine simchah.
We need Divine simcha. Our experiences are first mapped in heaven.
On balance, some of us have grandchildren crying themselves to sleep in shelters. Some of us have grandchildren who were murdered. Some of us have grandchildren who are being held hostage. It seems impossible to extol our Creator under such conditions. Nonetheless, acclaiming His Oneness is exactly how we ought to be engaged. Praising His kindness is exactly the armament that will deliver us to tomorrow.
In practical terms, this directive means not forgoing daily showers, delicacies on Shabbot, or blessing friends and family living abroad. It means literally smelling the posies outside of our doors (and blessing their fragrance), regularly reciting Tehillim, and not forgetting to delight in celebrating another Kiddush Levana, sanctification of a new moon. It means engaging body and soul in acclaim Hashem.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman reminds us in “You are not Powerless. You Never Are,” that
[r]ight now is not the time for guilt and insecurity. Right now, you are a soldier.
A soldier who goes to battle in tears is better off staying home. After the war is won, then you can cry as you dance. Now is the time to uplift the spirits of all those around you, to mobilize our people, to get things done.
Now is the time for us to hold hands, not in tears, but in love, joy, and harmony.7
After all, it’s not merely with propaganda’s lies, spun on social and convergent media, that darkness seeks to extinguish light. There is an additional battle front, the one within each of us, that must be bested. Bravery has never meant a lack of fear or sorrow but an enacting, speaking, and thinking about Truth even when trembling. We can feel awful and still honor Hashem and all that He has made. One sentiment ought not to cancel another.
See, part of our giving ourselves hizuk (as well as of our being a light unto the other nations) is our “taking a deep breath” and recognizing that whereas our troubles might seem bigger than us, our Tatty is bigger than them. In stretching toward him with thanksgiving, we stay linked to the Power Who was, Who is, and Who will always be.
So, ironically, it’s during the most pressing times that we need to sing, to celebrate, to glorify, to bless, to honor, to adore, and in every way to worship through exultation. Our cheer might take the form of loving words to our dear ones, of putting out water for community cats, of cooking for soldiers or displaced persons, of leading prayer groups, and more. In Shema, we ask to serve with all of our hearts and all of our souls. In doing so, we fortify the “front line.”
G-d’s ways are those of chesed and rachmunus. We don’t have to understand, just to believe and to sing, dance, and pray ecstatically. It takes just one candle to light a dark room. Ani Ma’amin!
- Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. “HOW CAN WE BE HAPPY ONTHIS SIMCHAT TORAH?” [sic]. The Lamm Heritage Archives. Yeshiva U. 18 Oct. 1973. https://archives.yu.edu/gsdl/collect/lammserm/index/assoc/HASHd626.dir/doc.pdf?_gl=1*1soe23a*_ga*MTMyNzg1MzM5My4xNjk3OTE0ODUy*_ga_X8H8T80YF3*MTY5NzkxNDg1Mi4xLjEuMTY5NzkxNDkyMC41My4wLjA. Accessed 21 Oct. 2023.
- Linda Shapiro. “My Endless Road Home.” On the Road. Hamodia. Sukkos 5784/2023. 25-27.
- Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. “You Are Not Powerless. You Never Are: Winning the war against the Jewish soul” [sic]. org. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/6128915/jewish/You-Are-Not-Powerless-You-Never-Are.htm. Accessed22 oct. 2023.