Pinny Arnon

Simcha in Wartime: How Can One Feel Joy When S/he Knows that Others Suffer?

Photo by Ángel López on Unsplash

We are in the month of Adar when the Sages teach that we are to be “marbim b’simcha/increasing in joy.” But how are we to feel joy when war continues to rage and our hostages continue to be held captive? How can one be happy when s/he knows that others are suffering?

First and foremost, it is imperative to feel the pain of our brothers and sisters and never to be insensitive to the very real suffering around us. Simcha/joy does not mean that one is callous and ignores the hardship of others.

Nor does simcha mean that one is ecstatic at all times, without any cares or concerns. Torah commands us “ivdu es Hashem b’simcha/serve God with joy,” but it does not demand that we live with our head in the sand or in the clouds. We are to be firmly in reality, working with all of our energy to improve the world and alleviate the burdens of those around us. How then are we to be b’simcha/joyous at all times if we are simultaneously mired in all of the muck of this world and intricately involved in life’s inevitable struggles and challenges?

Is it possible to be at war and be “marbim b’simcha/increasing in joy” at the same time?

The key is to understand that simcha is joy, but it is not bliss. Simcha does not result only when everything is going exactly as we desire. Simcha is not predicated on the perfect fulfillment of all our needs. If one is happy only when s/he receives or attains a complete list of requirements, then s/he will never be happy because life is not perfect. Life is sloppy and hard and unpredictable. Simcha is the ability to experience joy in imperfection, to see light even in the darkness.

How can one experience simcha in the midst of pain, disappointment, and inexplicable injustice? Only by surrendering oneself to the absolute certainty that God is in complete control of His universe. Nothing happens contrary to God’s will because God is One, and therefore there is nothing other than God that can counter Him. If this is so, then everything that we perceive to be “bad” is only a concealed good that we, in our limited human comprehension, cannot yet understand.

The story is told of a man who once approached the Maggid of Mezeritch with the question of how it is possible to fulfill the Torah’s edict to thank God for everything that happens to him whether it is good or bad, as it is written “a person is obligated to bless upon the bad just as he blesses upon the good” (Mishnayos, Brachos 9:5). The Maggid told the man that in order to find the answer to such a question, he should travel to the home of the chassid Reb Zusha of Anipoli. The man followed the Maggid’s directions through the forest and came eventually to a ramshackle cabin. He knocked on the door and was warmly greeted by Reb Zusha, who invited him in. The shack’s interior was even more shabby than it had appeared from outside. There were no furnishings other than a crude wooden table and bench, and few supplies other than some basic necessities. Nonetheless, Reb Zusha’s demeanor was warm and upbeat, and he offered his guest everything he had. After observing the poor chassid for some time and realizing that he had never met anyone so destitute, the man posed his question. He explained to Reb Zusha that the Maggid had recommended he travel here to ask him how it was possible to be grateful to God even in the face of severe suffering. Reb Zusha considered, and finally responded that it was an excellent question, but he couldn’t understand why the Maggid had sent the man to him, as he had never suffered a day in his life.

The chassidic masters teach that simcha is attainable even when our circumstances are far from perfect – even as we grieve, even as we fight, and even as we plead for an end to war and captivity and all other forms of darkness. This does not mean that simcha is the resigned acceptance of the status quo; it is rather the awareness that every minute detail of the creation is directed by God who loves His children infinitely. This absolute faith and trust brings us joy even when we do not yet see the goodness that we know to be hidden beneath the surface. And this joy in the midst of hardship and imperfection is precisely what will enable the hidden goodness to be revealed, as the mystics teach, “tracht gut vat zein gut/think good and it will be good.” When we “think good” – that is, when we fully internalize the reality of God’s Oneness and His infinite goodness – then “it will be good,” the darkness will finally give way to the light that it conceals.

Excerpted in part from Pnei Hashem, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
Related Topics
Related Posts