The Way of Simchah


Simcha (Hebrew: שִׂמְחָה  śimḥāʰ; Hebrew pronunciation: [simˈχa], Yiddish pronunciation: [ˈsɪmχə]): a Hebrew word that means gladness, or joy

A good friend who reads my messages has written to me saying he appreciates my commentaries on the direction of current events in Israel and worldwide, but he is frustrated because he feels unable to do anything practical about the situation. He therefore asks if I could also share some words of sweet Torah to shine light and provide practical spiritual guidance – a request I surely cannot deny.

Indeed, our greatest challenge in these times is to maintain our Emunah that everything is sent by G-d and that everything must ultimately be for good. But how can we be happy when every day there are reports about more deaths, injuries, destruction and acts of baseless hatred, both in Israel and across the world?

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: “It is a great mitzvah to be in SIMCHAH always” (Likutey Moharan Part 2 Lesson 24), and indeed, the Torah states that all the troubles that have befallen Israel are “because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with SIMCHAH and gladness of heart over the abundance of everything” (Deuteronomy 28:47).

What exactly is this SIMCHAH and how can we attain it? Surely, the Torah would not command us to remain carefree, merry and bubbling with happiness under all circumstances at every moment of every day, which is humanly impossible.

Indeed, Rabbi Nachman sets forth a path that takes account of the inevitable falls and lows that people constantly experience, as I will discuss below (Na’aseh Venishma). Equally important is his advice on some easy practices that can help us maintain a positive approach to the daily challenges we face.

Avoid negative language

The news media diffuse endless messages of impending doom and gloom, and the negativity is infectious, with many falling into despair about the general state of the world and the bleakness of their lives. Yet Rabbi Nachman teaches that the words we use to describe anything determine the way we will perceive it, and if we talk negatively about things, we are inevitably going to see them in a negative light, while if we look for the good side and talk positively, we can transform our perceptions and even change the reality of the situation.

How are you?

Thus, Rabbi Nachman said: When someone asks his friend how he is and the friend says, “Not good”, this can be an opening for trouble. Because G-d says: “You call this not good? I’ll show you what not good is!”

But if when his friend asks how he is, he answers brightly, “Good, thank G-d!” even though things really are not so good, G-d says: “This you call good? I’ll show you what good is!” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-32)

Thank you!

A key element in the quest to attain true SIMCHAH is the practice of Hitbodedut, taking regular sessions alone for spiritual stock-taking and personal prayer in our own words. We all have many needs, material and spiritual, and it is in our sessions of secluded communion with G-d – whether for a few moments here and there, or for regular, more extended periods — that we can put all our feelings, desires and yearnings into words and request help, insight and guidance.

Rabbi Nachman taught that we should begin our session Hitbodedut with thanks:

“When a person wants to pray to G-d and ask for what he needs, he should first thank G-d for all His past kindnesses and only then ask for what he needs. Because if he starts by asking only for what he needs, G-d says, ‘Have you nothing to thank Me for then?’” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-2)


Amidst all the gloom disseminated by the mass media and the litany of complaints many of those around us are constantly pouring out, it is most important to stand aloof and make an effort – both in Hitbodedut and at every possible juncture throughout the day – to focus on all G-d’s goodness and His endless gifts and blessings. The pious Jew begins the day with Birkhot HaShachar, the morning blessings over the return of our soul after sleep and the gifts of bodily functioning and our other faculties. We then go on to recite Psalms 145-150 depicting G-d’s greatness, kindness and mercy before rising in prayer to put our requests before Him. Throughout the day, every time we eat, we bless G-d over the grace and mercy with which He sustains us. Each time we attend to our bodily needs, we bless Him over the wonders of our physical functioning. In this way, we constantly prime ourselves with awareness of G-d’s goodness, which will bring us to deep joy.

“He did not make me a heathen”

Among the first of the daily morning blessings, we thank G-d, “for He did not make me a heathen”. Rabbi Nachman taught that there is no greater joy than when we understand the greatness of the gift G-d has given us in making us a part of the nation of Israel. For the soul of each Israelite lives not only in this material world of bitter pain and frustration, but is destined for the life after life, to delight in the ultimate goodness of G-d.

Each and every Jew has the obligation to gives thanks to G-d Almighty for granting us His infinitely precious gift of eternal life in His Light, and for separating us from the ”heathens”. These “heathens” are not merely primitives who worshipped sticks and stones, but also all those sophisticates or simpletons across the world who have no true G-d, no Torah and no true values, and whose time in this life is spent on the vain pursuit of self-gratification, wealth, power, glory and other evanescent G-ds.

In recent times, as the crescendo of rage over Israel’s alleged actions in Gaza peaks ever higher, we are witnessing a process of sifting and sorting in which the “heathens” have revealed their true face, glorifying murder, rape, pillage and destruction in the name of “justice” and “legitimate resistance”. Paradoxically, this resurgence of classic antisemitism in the guise of Palestinian solidarity has pushed many previously less committed Jews to a deeper attachment to their roots. As they heighten their understanding of the difference between the Jews and our mission as opposed to barbarous murderers and their heathen supporters, so the Jews will come to rejoice in the most precious gift of all: “Shelo Asani Goy” – “He did not make me a heathen”.

And those non-Jewish people who love the G-d of Israel, His Torah, the people of Israel and their land, should not feel they can have no share in this joy. For: “Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of the seven commandments of the Children of Noah and is precise in their observance is considered one of ‘the pious among the gentiles’ and will merit a share in the world to come” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 8:11, cf. Prohibited Unions 14:7). While the barbarians and their admirers across the world gloat over bloodshed and destruction, all non-Jews whose eyes have been opened to the truth about Israel, her struggle and her destiny, may indeed justly rejoice that G-d Almighty has shone His light into their souls and separated them from the straying masses.

Torah study

G-d’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; G-d’s testimonies are faithful, making the simple wise. G-d’s precepts are just, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the G-d is clear, making the eyes light up (Psalms 19:8:9)

The surest way to inject joy into each day is to set some time for the study of Torah – whether the written Torah (TaNaKh) or Talmud, Midrash, Halakhah, Kabbalah, Chassidut etc. For some, the prospect of tackling a page of Talmud or dry laws can be forbidding, and while we must discipline ourselves to learn what is mandatory (the weekly portion and the laws governing practical life), we should be sure to study where our desire lies in order that the sweetness of the Torah will elevate and inspire us. It is very sad that many Jews, including those who study Talmud regularly, are quite unfamiliar with the treasures of wisdom in such works as Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, or in the Chassidic masterpiece, Likutey Halakhot by Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, not to speak of many other deeply engaging and satisfying Torah works.

Jokes and lightheartedness

Rabbi Nachman fully understood human frailty, and well knew that for most people the exalted pathway of regular prayer, Hitbodedut and Torah study can be a heavy prescription that far from instantly leads to profound joy and can even cause people to feel burdened, depressed and in a rut.

It is a natural human tendency to become discouraged because of life’s hardships and suffering, and for that reason Rabbi Nachman taught that we must force ourselves to come to a better state of mind, even through joking and lightheartedness. He said that having a sense of humor is good on three conditions: if you are not vulgar, do not insult others, and do not try to present yourself in a good light to the detriment of others (Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-13). Even when we are upset and unhappy, it is good to try to put on a happy front. “At first you may not feel genuinely happy in your heart. Even so, if you act happy you will eventually attain true happiness and joy.” (Sichot Haran #74)

Shabbat joy

Rabbi Nachman emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive mood on the Shabbat. “Be very careful to feel only joy on Shabbat. There is nothing to compare with the greatness and holiness of Shabbat. The key to honoring the Shabbat is joy. Do not show even a hint of depression or anxiety on Shabbat. Treat yourself to all kinds of delights in the food you eat, what you drink, your clothes… whatever you can afford. The food of Shabbat is completely holy. It is purely spiritual and filled with G-dliness. It rises to a totally different place from that of the food of the six working days. Try to feel the joy of Shabbat and you will find true happiness. (Likutey Moharan Part 2, Lesson 17).

Na’aseh Venishma – “We shall do and we shall hear”

“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said: All that G-d has spoken, we shall do and we shall hear” (Exodus 24:7)

In one of Rabbi Nachman’s most important lessons about SIMCHAH (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Lesson 22), he cites the rabbinical teaching that when the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Sinai with the words Na’aseh Venishma, “We shall do and we shall hear”, 600,000 ministering angels descended from Heaven and placed two crowns on the head of each Israelite, one for Na’aseh and one for Venishma. The Israelites were saying: “First we shall do, practice and obey, in the belief that later on, in the merit of our faith, we shall be worthy to hear and understand in greater depth the meaning of these commandments.” However, when Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, one of the two crowns was taken back from the head of each Israelite, and will only be returned at the time of the Redemption (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 88). The scriptural source for this teaching is the verse in Isaiah 35:10: “And G-d’s redeemed shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting SIMCHAH shall be upon their heads”. I.e. The joy that they once had will once again be upon their heads.

From this teaching Rabbi Nachman deduces that the attainment of true SIMCHAH is bound up with the secret of Na’aseh Venisha. That is to say, every single Jew on any given level can and should perform the various commandments that apply to him or her in a practical manner in accordance with what they understand about the relevant revealed laws of the Torah (nigla) even without an understanding of their deeper meaning on the hidden, mystical level (nistar). However, in performing the revealed laws (Na’aseh), the person should yearn and pray to attain the higher level that is as yet beyond their understanding (Nishma).

“The way to come to SIMCHAH is through Torah and prayer. The main thing is prayer. You should always pray to attain the level that is hidden from you. And when it is revealed, you should pray to achieve the level that is still hidden. This is how to rise from level to level.” (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Lesson 22)

In other words, SIMCHAH comes upon the sincere spiritual seeker through the very quest to advance from level to level in the practice of the Torah and the mitzvot, constantly striving to enhance and deepen their performance through greater understanding of the details of each commandment on the revealed level, and first and foremost, through prayer to G-d to advance each time to the next level of connection that is as yet “concealed”.

This teaching becomes more understandable in the light of Rabbi Nachman’s words in Likutey Moharan Part I Lesson 5: “The Holy One, blessed-be-He, is in simple unity with the mitzvot… and when a person performs the mitzvah for the joy of the mitzvah itself, he enters into the joy of the Holy One Himself.” Thus, the path to the ultimate SIMCHAH, joy in G-d Himself, is itself the path of Torah and Mitzvot, through always putting our best efforts into advancing in our practice and deepening our understanding.

Rabbi Nachman cautions us:

When it is time for a person to advance from one level to the next, they must first experience a fall before they can rise. The whole purpose of the fall is to prepare for the advance. Try to understand this and you will realize the determination which is necessary to serve G-d. No matter how you may fall, you should never allow yourself to be discouraged. Remain firm and resolute and pay no attention to the fall at all. In the end the fall will be transformed into a great advance. This is its whole purpose. And this applies to all the different ways one can fall. People always think their own situation is so bad that this idea does not apply in their case, believing that it only applies to those on very high levels who are continually advancing from level to level. But you should realize that it holds true even for people on the lowest of levels. For G-d is good to all (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Lesson 22:11).

AZAMRA “I will sing”

And to end on a very positive note: let us always keep in mind THE SIMPLE LIFE HACK THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING – found in Rabbi Nachman’s teaching in AZAMRA “I will sing” (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Lesson 282). This is based on the verse in Psalms 146:2: “Azamra! I will sing to my G-d as long as I live!” — “The way to sing a happy song is by looking for the good in all people, especially in ourselves. Each good point is one more note in the song of life!”


About the author

Avraham ben Yaakov

Avraham ben Yaakov is a Torah teacher based in Safed Israel & author of translations and commentaries on Bible, Hassidut, Kabbalah, Spiritual Growth, Health & Healing.

By Avraham ben Yaakov

Avraham Ben Yaakov

Avraham ben Yaakov Greenbaum is a Torah teacher in Tz’fat (Safed) in Israel’s Galilee, and author of translations and commentaries on Bible, Hassidut, Kabbalah, Spiritual Growth, Health, Healing and the Environment.

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