At services recently, I shared that this is the third year I’m renewing the same New Year’s intention: to create more space in my life to experience joy. In these challenging times, experiencing an abundance of joy seems ever more elusive. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, a well-known Chassidic personality who suffered from severe depression, some say bi-polar disorder, decided the medicine for his blues was joy. He taught, “Mitzvah g’dola l’heyot b’simcha. It is a great mitzvah to be b’simcha, joyful.” He also believed that some joy can be derived from looking into our own lives. But a more expansive experience of joy is also available to us. We can magnify our joy by stringing together the joys that are all around us.
“Ordinary people do not find joy in all things at once, since there are many different sorts of joy. Take a wedding. Some people are happy because of the good food, meat and fish and all kinds of good things. Somebody else is happy because of the musicians. The parents are happy because their children are getting married. All sorts of happiness are present. But, no one is rejoicing in all those pleasures together; they’re just taking them in one after another. Then, of course, there is the one who really takes no pleasure at all in the wedding. This guest is busy suffering with jealousy that this person wound up with so-and-so.
But, the truly great and complete joy is when you can rejoice at all things together. This can only be done by looking upward to the root of joy, from which all good things come. There, in the root, all is one, and there you can rejoice at all of it together. That is truly great joy, shining with a very bright light. By joining things together, linking one joy to another, the light of joy itself grows greater. Its strength grows by the fact that each joy, as it touches the next one, gives forth an extra sparkle of light. The more joys are linked, the brighter those sparklings. So, when all of joy is joined together, the brilliance is truly incredible.”
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likkutei Moharan II 34)
This is what sacred community offers: a place where we find we can link simchas together and increase the brilliance of our joy. I’ve seen this happen before my eyes. Recently, I greeted a congregant before services and it wasn’t long before it became apparent she was distressed, worried and generally not in a good place. By the end of services, there was a visible transformation in her. If she had chosen to stay home, perhaps her worries and unhappiness might have eaten away at her even more. But at temple, she seemed to tap into the joy in the music, the gladness of the people around her, the possibility to connect to the Root of All Joy until her worry was replaced with lightness and light. May our Temple continue to lighten and enlighten all of us.