Rebbe Nachman is quoted as saying that happiness is more difficult to achieve than anything else in Judaism. By this he meant a feeling of constant happiness, in all situations.
Why is this genuine happiness so hard to come by? Because it has a very big payoff, or reward: G-d protects a person who is happy with a special protection. Happy people are genuinely serving G-d, and genuinely enjoying their lives. If they hit a rough time, their happiness and joie de vivre smoothes it out. Their life isn't over. Their desire to serve G-d and to do His commandments isn't over. They aren't looking for a reason to stay in bed all day, or a rationale to cut G-d out of their life. The discomfort from that period of 'bad' is minimized by their joy. They get through it faster, they come through it stronger, and once it's behind them, they are even happier than before.
That's why depression is considered the worst sin in the Torah because it inevitably leads to other sins. It is like the lighter fluid that ignites all the other bad behaviors and desires and bad characteristics in a person.
Depressed people are much more likely to eat unhealthy or forbidden foods; they are much more likely to "indulge" in unhealthy or forbidden behaviors; they'll find it much harder to pray; much harder to make their kids lunch; much harder to prepare for Shabbos, much harder to treat other people nicely, with the proper respect etc. That's why "being happy" is not just a choice or a preference - it's a torah commandment.
The Torah obligates us to be happy. It says very clearly: “You shall rejoice with all the good that the Almighty has given you.” (Devorim 26:11). So now we come to the question of questions: can a person really be commanded to feel happy? According to our Sages, it is not the nature of man to be happy. Man’s nature is to constantly want more than he presently has. He who has one hundred wants two hundred” (Kohelet Rabbah, 1:34). So how can the Torah legislate happiness?
The answer is that G-d would not obligate us to do the impossible. He wouldn't command us to be happy, then send us a whole bunch of difficult circumstances and inner turmoil to completely take us off track. Each of us can choose to be happy with our lot in life, at any point. How can we do this? By internalizing the three main principles of emuna.
Firstly, by internalizing that there is a G-d, and He is running every single detail of our lives. There is no such thing as "random", "happenstance" or "coincidence." Everything is Divine Providence, tailor-made to provide us with the optimal circumstances we need to achieve our soul-rectification.
Secondly, by internalizing that everything that's happening to us is actually only a kindness from the Al-mighty. Even when it's painful and hurts, it's coming to correct something fundamentally flawed. It's spiritual surgery - not fun, perhaps, but still necessary and life-saving.
And lastly, that G-d is trying to start a conversation with us. He wants a relationship. He's trying to give us clues all the time about what we're really doing down here, and what's really required of us.
Let's take a practical example: a father and son are learning Torah in the same Beit Midrash (synagogue) with different study partners. The son borrows his father’s cell phone and forgets to return it. Later on, the son develops a headache and leaves without telling his father where he is going.
Without emuna, the father thinks that his son is his “enemy”. After all, his son left disrespectfully without a word and left his father without a cell phone for the whole day! With emuna the father sees that his son is not his enemy but rather a loud speaker through which G-d is saying: “Hey, buddy - if you don’t like the feeling of being disrespected by your son why do you show such disrespect to Me - your father in Heaven?…and if you would like your son to be more communicative with you, why don’t you speak more often to Me? Look at how you complain and get sad when I took your cell phone away for just one day. Do you have any idea how many days I have been waiting “by the phone” to hear from you!" Continue right here...
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Have a blessed day!
Dr. Zev Ballen
Dr. Zev Ballen