Joy in Chassidus

Nov 26, 2014

The Powers of Joy

The Chassidic world, from the outset, placed a high emphasis on simcha. This flows naturally from the whole thrust of the movement. The Baal Shern Tov decried excessive personally imposed suffering and fasting as a path to piety. Instead he emphasized love:

“They asked the Baal Shem Tov: We know, and our fathers told us, that in earlier days there were pious men who would fast from Shabbos to Shabbos — and you negate this. You say that one who constantly fasts will, in the future, be judged negatively for it because he is referred to as a sinner who tortures himself (see Taanit II a). Therefore, tell us, what is the main service of G-d?

The Baal Shem Tov answered them, “My opinion is that one should draw on himself the following three things, namely,

love of G-d, may He be blessed,

love of Israel, and

love of Torah,

and there is no need for self torture.” (Botzina D’Nehora, quoted in Baal Shem Tov al Hatorah)

The following draws heavily on the article, “Serve Hashem with Joy” that appears in the first volume, section “Nesivei Avodas Hashem,” pp. 285-288 of Nesivos Shalom of the present Sionimer Rebbe, Hashem should grant him good health.

“This is a great principle in service of Hashem and the elevated levels of the righteous — there is no comparison between the service of a Jew when it is done with joy and when there is a lack of joy. Certainly, when it is done with sadness. . . .” (p. 285)

It says in the holy books, “Joy is not a mitzva but it is the gate to all of the mitzvot; Depression is not an aveira but it is the gate to all of the aveirot.” (p 285)

Joy’s power was sometimes even a surprise to the Baal Shem Tov himself:

“it is told that once before the shofar blowing there was a great accusation against the Jewish people in Heaven that the Baal Shem Tov was not able to sweeten. He did not enter for the tekiot. The chevraya kadisha, (“holy group” of the Baal Shem Tov’s closest students) sensed this and sat full of intense anxiety. There was a person sifting nearby, somewhat simple-minded, who, when he saw the anxiety on the faces of the chevraya, did an animal imitation in a way that aroused mirth and joy. Immediately the Baal Shem Tov entered and they proceeded with the shofar blowing.

Only simcha was able to avert the negative decree. (p. 288)

One of the chassidim of the Chortkover Rebbe, zt”I was once involved in a difficult trial in a gentile court, and he faced a death penalty. The man was in great pain. It was then right after the holiday and the chassidim danced with powerful joy. The rebbe instructed him to join the dancing and that would bring about his salvation. He told the chassid the following story:

Once right after Yom Kippur the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, was informed that if they do not do Kiddush Levana (blessing over the moon in the beginning of the month) right after Yom Kippur it is a sign that the year will be a difficult one, with negative decrees. The heavens were full of clouds and a strong rain was coming down and there was no chance of the moon being visible. He tried whatever unifications of the Divine Names he knew but all was to no avail. (p. 288)

The Baal Shem Tov’s students, on the other hand, did not know about any of this, and were dancing with amazing enthusiasm, like they always did right after Yom Kippur (the day that the Almighty forgives all of our sins). The joy burst all boundaries, until the dancing which began in the outer courtyards spread all the way inside, into the Baal Shem Tov’s inner chamber. With great emotion they requested him to join in the dancing, and he acquiesced and danced with them. Immediately they heard the call from outside that the clouds had split and the moon was visible.

The Baal Shem Tov told them that what he had not been able to accomplish with his mystical unifications they had achieved through their joy. (p. 288)

A word about dancing

There are two kinds of dancing:

There is one type where the joy begins in the mind and heart and then spreads to the feet; they are swept into the spirit and begin to dance.

There is another where one’s mind and heart just aren’t into it and he’s not able to uplift them. He begins to lift his feet in dance and this spreads through the limbs until it reaches the mind and heart themselves, until all of his limbs proclaim, “Who is likened to You, Hashem?”. If the voice can arouse inner intention, certainly the action of dancing and the sound of music can arouse the inner emotions of a sleeping Jew — arousing those who slumber and waking up those who sleep and reaching an inner joy. (p. 288)

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