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ode to joy

05/12/2022 09:30:26 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

At Tree of Life we celebrated two B’nai Mitzvot the first two weeks of April, then celebrated eight days of Passover, then celebrated a Bar Mitzvah the first week of May, to be followed this coming Shabbat with an aufruf. What an incredible string of joy! It is indeed my honor and privilege to officiate at all of these, but even more so to witness the joy in the faces of the immediate family, and as a bonus, the joy in the faces of congregants.

Each of us will have a finite number of s’machot (the plural of simcha) in our lives, yet we do not take advantage of those opportunities. I recall a conversation with a congregant in a prior congregation, as the upcoming bris of my son Aaron would be the following week. This individual shared with me that attendance at the bris was uncertain due to the limited number of personal days afforded. I responded with a question, for is that not the Jewish way? I asked, “If a good friend suffered the loss of a family member, or, if a family member passed away, would you leave work for the funeral?” “Of course!” this person replied. I then asked, “Why is it that people are so quick to leave work to attend a funeral, which mourns the end of life, yet make a bris, which celebrates the beginning of life, less important?” “I never thought of it that way” responded this individual. “I’ll have to think about it.” In the end, this congregant did attend the bris.

Take a moment and think about it: we always find the time to attend a funeral or a shiva minyan. We literally drop what we are doing to be there to comfort mourners. It is a mitzvah to perform nichum aveilim, comforting mourners. But in doing so, so many of us prioritize death above the celebration of life. Whether it is a bris, a baby naming, a birthday, or a wedding anniversary, these joyous events do not reach the same level of priority, even though honoring a fellow human being is also a mitzvah. I do not think that there is anyone who would complain that they have too much joy in their lives. Alas, there are many who might state that there is too much sadness in their lives.

We should never feel guilty that there is joy in our lives, as there is no statement in the Bible that we should limit joy. It should not come at the expense of others however, nor should it lead us into a direction that might be a path towards sin. We all need joy in our lives, even if that joy comes through others involved in something joyous. The vicarious thrill of someone else’s joy can also be quite satisfying. Since we cannot bank joy, saving it for another occasion, it would do all of us well not to find reasons to avoid a simcha. Rather we should prioritize it to the top of our list, and revel in it, for each of us will only experience a finite amount. May your cup not be half full; may it overflow with joy.

Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783