Boost Your Happiness

Shai Bar Noy grew up in Jerusalem, studied at Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s yeshiva, Mercaz Harav and Yeshivat HaKotel which included his military service as a combat medic and an officer with an IAF Airborne Special Forces unit. He received Rabbinic Ordinations from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rabbi Shalom Messas (zt”l) – Chief Rabbi & Head of Rabbinical Courts in Jerusalem and Rabbi Eliyahu Atzur (zt”l) – Chief Dayan of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, and was later confirmed fit to be appointed as a District Rabbi by Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu (zt”l) – Chief Rabbi of Israel. Naturally, Shai went on to work in accounting and tax consulting, and received his degree in Computer Science. He spent most of his career in High-Tech in both Israel and the US, including founding his own software company in Miami. Shai moved to Ra’anana in 2011 where he met Harry, and has been studying with him ever since.


“Rav Yehuda the son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat says in the name of Rav: Just as we reduce happiness when Av begins – so too we boost happiness when Adar begins” {Ta’anit 29a}

This phrase משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה has been heard and sung in every community through the generations from Rosh Chodesh Adar onwards, announcing the upcoming Purim festivities.

However, when we try to understand the phrase it is quite puzzling. Not only are we (human beings) lacking the recipe for brewing happiness – and clearly not for lack of trying – we are now required to “boost” this alleged happiness that we should already have? How do we do that? No wonder Pharrell Williams chose “It might seem crazy what I'm 'bout to say” as the opening lyrics to his song Happy – it’s certainly not the norm nowadays for people to be happy.

If we look carefully at the above Gemara it seems like we should always be in a perpetual state )מצוה גדלה להיות בשמחה תמיד( ”of happiness. “It’s a great Mitzvah to be eternally happy {Likutey Moharan 24}. This includes the month of Av, only then we are required to “reduce” the level of happiness – not shut it down completely and turn to sadness, just less than normal. And “boost” it on Adar, but notice that there is no mention of reaching complete happiness.

The Maharal in Netivot Olam writes that “Happiness is derived from completeness, and one who obtains completeness is happy” {Netiv HaTorah 18} meaning that when a person feels he wants something that’s missing and then he obtains it, that person is happy. This idea of what happiness means is also clarified by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s decree “One is forbidden to fill oneself with laughter in this world” {Brachot 31a}. Our world is full of failures, disasters, difficulties, troubles, sickness and death therefore it is impossible to feel complete so how can we fill ourselves with laughter a.k.a. complete happiness.

However our world is not only deficiencies, there are plenty of good and fulfilling things. Incredible wisdoms are revealed all the time, good people and tremendous acts of Chessed are experienced constantly. Just as Tottenham fans will tell you (and since they are the Yids they had to win twice as there were two Adar’s this year) or the scarce Manchester United fans with their miracle Rosh Chodesh win will attest – there are plenty of reasons and opportunities to feel fulfillment and as a result happiness.

Furthermore the Shulchan Aruch brings “One must say a Bracha (blessing) on the bad with full intention and desire, identical to the happiness when saying a Bracha on the good” {Orach Chayim 222, 3). This is not to blur the lines between good and bad, nor a requirement to feel

pleasure from the bad the way one does from the good. It is to trust that the bad that Hashem brings is part of a person’s fulfillment, as the Torah says “As a man punishes his son, Hashem punishes you” {Devarim 8, 5}.

Rabbi Akiva’s friends were crying and agonized over the terrible situation when they saw a fox exit the ruins of Kodesh HaKodashim, but Rabbi Akiva was laughing despite his pain. He was able to see this as the beginning of the process leading to the Geulah (salvation) and his friends thanked him for his unique and fulfilling vision saying “Akiva, you have comforted us” {Makot 24b}.

It’s therefore quite clear that a constant state of happiness on one hand, with the fact that it won’t be whole on the other, complete each other and give us a balanced view of creation. There are times of boosted happiness due to elation and fulfillment, and times of reduced happiness due to hardship, failure and defeat.

Now focus, because we are getting into some deeper things that are the key to resolving our puzzlement.

We can talk about a “complete” or “whole” plant because a plant has a limited life force, and its wholeness is relative and subjective. So too are all creations when we discuss completeness. However, man was created in the form of Hashem, and what is its similarity to the creator? The eternal power of fulfillment. We are not whole like the creator, but we have the potential for wholeness, an infinite potential to advance, improve, and accomplish.

For this to work, there must always be some deficiency or want to enable the interminable advancement of a person. A person’s happiness in this world is therefore a happiness of fulfillment rather than being fulfilled. Accomplishment ‐ not accomplished.

Believing that life is random and things happen by chance or fate, makes all of existence out of our control. This agnostic approach leaves a person bound in chains in a world they cannot affect, a sad and cruel world that leaves no room for happiness. Once we appreciate that want is intentional to allow us to perpetually progress, and trust that we have free will and the power to affect and improve this world, then progression leads to happiness.

The “all powerful” Haman seemed to be in control of everything that was going on in the worldwide kingdom of Paras & Madai. But when it came time to announce his murderess decree, he played the lottery “הפיל פור הוא הגורל” he left it to blind luck to decide the fateful day for his planned genocide and “had no say in the matter” so to say.

Contrarily the Jewish nation – with literally no power whatsoever in the kingdom – managed to raise itself to the highest possible level. The Gemara says that Am Yisrael “accepted the Torah again in the time of Achashverosh” {Shabbat 66a} accepted of their own free will and not under duress. Even when evil seems strong (as Haman was compared to the few and dispersed Jews of that time) free will in its purity can overcome it. Am Yisrael discovered that by mending their ways they have the power to overcome evil and positively affect the entire world.

At Mount Sinai there is no mention of happiness. The Torah was forced upon us – as the Midrash brings “Hashem hovered the mountain over them and said: accept it or here will be your burial ground”. Acceptance was not a choice given to our decision, hence there was no fulfillment.

On Purim there was fulfillment that expressed our ability to mend deficiencies, to conquer our shortcoming. This is why the days of Purim – beginning on Rosh Chodesh Adar ‐ bring us this great happiness. This is the right time to renew and reinforce our trust in Hashem, appreciate our situation, and remind ourselves of the immense power we wield to do good in this world.

How, then, is it even possible to not boost our happiness? Really!!!