Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guess What? The Rama was not a Breslover Chasid! Is there a mitzvah obligation to incessantly, always be happy? No! :-)

Synopsis - In case you have no time or patience to read through the whole post, to save you from jumping to conclusions and saying this guy is crazy, he's advocating being sad always, atzvus, rather than being besimcha, happy, here is a synopsis

עבדו את ה' בשמחה - Serve G-d with joy - definitely yes, as stated in Tehillim 100:2
וטוב לב משתה תמיד - Definitely yes, as per Mishlei (Proverbs) 15:15
מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד - Not in my Tanach, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch

The Rama's two temidim and a recent competitor

There is an old vort, observing that in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, halacha aleph, the Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles, the great poseik, talks about Shivisi Hashem Linegdi Tamid, while at the end of Orach Chaim, almost seven hundred simanim later, he ends off his comments on that same sefer with another tamid, namely veTov Lev mishteh tamid. The old vort refers to these two hagohos of the Rama as the two temidim, as in the two daily korbanos (sacrifices) tamid that were brought in the Beis Hamikdash. In derush it was used to homiletically stress the importance of them both.

Recently, a new competitor has emerged to the Rama's two temidim. A new saying has become popular in some circles, which claims that
מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד.

However, unlike that two temidim of the Rama, which come from pesukim, the first from Tehillim and the second from Mishlei, the latter is neither seen in our holy scriptures, nor in the Mishna, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch. The Rama, our great halachic authority, when talking about simcha, in Hilchos Purim, as linked above, doesn't say mitzvah gedola lehiyod besimcha tamid - rather, he says vetov lev mishteh tamid.

An accident? I think not

The Rama was not a Breslov Hasid it seems, believe it or not. ;-) Surprise, surprise.

Apparently, the saying comes from Breslov circles, though Rav Nachman himself may not have said so exactly.

Simcha doesn't make the list of mitzvos temidios, constant mitzvos

And now a new twist. I could see it happening years ago. And now it has occurred, in a very public manner.

What do I mean? A Rabbi, a fine talmid chacham, asked, at the end of a recent newspaper article, why 'mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid' is not included in the list of mitzvos temidios (constant mitzvos). This shows how the relatively new Breslover saying 'mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid' has become so ubiquitous and taken for granted by many in recent years, that even a prominent and respected Rav, treats it as it if it were a halachic  statement from the Mishna, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch. When actually it does not appear in any of those places!

Years ago, a  fine article on the topic appeared online, questioning if the saying was indeed correct. Reading it is recommended. The answer to the Rabbi's question can be found that way.

I paste it below, with permission.

Is there a Mitzvah of Simcha


from (note: the url does not work at present)

Is There a Mitzva To Be B'simcha (happy) constantly ?

In recent years, a 'saying, "mitzva gedola lihiyos b'simcha tamid" (It
is a great mitzva to be always joyous) has become well known and oft -
quoted. It is not a new saying, but probably due to being put to music
in recent years and (an)other factor(s), it has become a very popular
saying. Some seem to think that it is an ancient Jewish teaching -
perhaps from the gemara (Talmud) or another unimpeachable classic
ancient Jewish source. That is not the case, however. The source of the
saying is, to my knowledge, the leader of the Breslov (or Bratzlav)
chassidic group, R. Nachman, who lived approximately 200 years ago. Such
a formulation does not appear earlier than that, to my knowledge. With
that in mind, I think it is appropriate and in order to try to examine
if this is an undisputed and indisputable teaching accepted by all
Jewish authorities, despite their not expressing such, or perhaps their
refraining from expressing such a belief for so long, indicates

Questions On 'Mitzva Gedola Lihiyos B'Simcha Tamid'

(1) What is the source of this supposed mitzvah?

Many would point to 'ivdu es Hashem b'simcha' (serve Hashem with
joy) of Tehillim (Psalms) 100:2 and similar verses. However, that /
those verse(s) speak(s) of serving Hashem with joy - not being joyous in
and of itself. This distinction, although seeming very fine, should not
be ignored, in my opinion. What may seem to be fine distinctions /
nuances in Torah verses can be of great import.

(2) If this is a mitzvah (commandment), why do the classic enumerators
of the 613 mitzvos not count this as such? There is a Biblical mitzvah
of Simcha on certain yomim tovim (holidays) that is enumerated, I
believe, but not such a mitzva that applies constantly. In fact, even
the mitzva of simcha on holidays is only fulfilled by action, e.g.eating
meat from karban shelamim (sacrifice), etc., and not just by being in a
certain state of mind. This is quite significant in that it shows that
(1) when there is a mitzva of simcha, it involves more than just thought
/ feelings / emotions and (2) there is no such mitzvah seemingly, at
other times.

Conflicting Statements / Sources

Karliner Rebbe takes opposing position

(1) Karlin vs. Breslov - One of the great early hassidic leaders, R. Aharon of Karlin, who was before Rav Nachman of Breslov, is reported to have stated 'there is no mitzvah to be b'simcha, but simcha
can bring one to the greatest mitzvos, and there is no aveira
(prohibition) to be be'atzvus (in a state of sadness), but atzvus can
bring one to the greatest aveiros' (or similar). Here one sees a great
hassidic leader, contemporary to (slightly earlier I believe) R.
Nachman, saying that there is no mitzvah to be b'simcha!

(2) Rav Yosef Gikatilla (a great Sephardic Rishon - early authority -
circa 1200's C.E.) says in his Sefer Hamishalim (book of Parables) the
following ( # 97) - He compares simcha to day and atzvus (sadness) to
night, saying that simcha's effect is to light up a person, similar to
the sun lighting up the day and atzvus darkens a person like darkness
darkens the night. He continues by saying that just as it is impossible
to have (only) (day) light always, with no periods of night (darkness),
so it is impossible to have (always) only simcha without atzvus

(3) Rabbenu Bachayay (a great early commentator) says in his classic
'Kad HaKemach' - There is Simcha that is assur (prohibited) min haTorah
(Biblically). Somewhat less than R.Nachman's unequivocal enthusiastic
advocacy of simcha. It is also written, I believe, that simcha tmidis
eina simcha - a constant simcha is not simcha! (I don't have the source
right now - help would be appreciated).

(4) Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon, wisest of men) says in Koheles
(Ecclesiastes) 2:2 "UliSimcha-ma zo osa?" - As for Happiness - what
(good) does it accomplish? Rashi comments - what good does it do, being
that letdown follows in it's wake. Here the wisest of all men,
questions the value of simcha. The gemara (Talmud) in Maseches Shabbos
30b explains this verse (in contrasting it to Koheles 8:15, where Simcha
is praised) as referring to Simcha sheaina shel mitzvah (non - mitzvah
related joy). In other words, Simcha (Joy / Happiness) of a mitzva is
praiseworthy - Simcha not of a mitzva is not.

Another statement critical of simcha is in Koheles 7:4 where it is
stated "Lev chachamim b'veis eivel v'lev ksilim b'veis simcha"- The
heart of the wise is in a house of mourning and the heart of the fool in
a house of happiness (simcha). We see clearly that the wisest of men
clearly does not consider simcha to be always and unequivocally
desirable / praiseworthy - rather he considers certain simcha
praiseworthy and other simcha worthy of criticism / disdain.

Another statement critical of simcha is found in Mishlei (Proverbs)
21:17 where Shlomo says "Ish machsor ohev simcha"- a deficient person
loves happiness.

Why There May Be No Mitzvah To Be B'simcha

Perhaps there may not be a mitzva to be b'simcha because (1) As shown
above, not all simcha is desirable (2) Simcha (joy / happiness) is not
considered a desirable end / goal in and of itself. Rather, it is
something that must go together with / be derived from mitzva
activity. Having an independent / stand alone mitzva to be b'simcha
might be interpreted as making simcha a goal / end in and of itself,
rather than an adjunct / by product to / of mitzva activity.

What Brings Desirable Simcha? Some Ways

Examination of Psukim (Biblical verses) that mention Simcha positively,
show that (1) Straightness - There is a connection between yashrus
(straightness) and simcha. Being straight / righteous brings simcha, as
is stated [Tehillim (Psalms) 97:11] "Uliyishrei lev simcha" - to the
straight of heart is joy. This is also evident in the pasuk (Tehillim
19:9) "pikudei hashem yesharim mesamchei lev" - the precepts of Hashem
are straight and heart gladdening. A straight person with a clear
conscience is naturally inclined to happiness.

(2) Proper Torah study (as per Tehillim 19:9, as above).

Conclusion - Summing Up

As it appears to me, the Jewish attitude to simcha (happiness) is
nuanced. Proper simcha, though not a mitzva, can be desirable /
praiseworthy. Other simcha is undesirable, even forbidden. One should
beware of overly exalting simcha and making / proclaiming 'simcha' a
major thrust of one's Judaism. Let us not forget the classic Rabbinic
dictum "Kol hamosif goreia" (whoever adds, actually subtracts). If
Hashem did not make something a mitzvah, it is presumed to have been for
good reason and we are forbidden to put it in that category.

P.S. Re a related subject - Some people who believe 'mitzvah gedola
lihiyos bisimcha tamid' seem to think as well, as a corollary of the
above perhaps, that sadness and shame are always viewed negatively and
as undesirable by Judaism. Re shame - That is incorrect, as classical
Jewish sources praise shame and bashfullness highly - though not
excessive shame / shyness.

Re atzvus (sadness) - some seem to think that it's always, totally
undesirable. However, we know that everything Hashem made was for a
purpose (see last statement in Pirkei Avos).There is a time for
everything (Koheles). Atzvus may have it's proper place in the world in
aiding a choteh (sinner) and spurring him to do teshuva
(repentance). Those who seem to want to banish it entirely remind me of
a Midrashic teaching where Chazal say that Dovid haMelech (King David)
wondered why Hashem created shigaon (insanity) - he wondered what useful
purpose it serves - who needs it? He was later shown that he would have
need for it - when 'L'Dovid bishanoso es taamo lifnei avimelech
vayigarishehu vayeloch' (Tehillim 34) - He was only able to escape
unharmed from the jaws of King Avimelech by feigning insanity
(parenthetically, this account is somewhat similar to a story related by
Chazal re Dovid hamelech o"h questioning why Hashem had created spiders
and the need for them in the world - which ends with him similarly shown
not to question G-d in that manner and being saved by Hashem from his
enemy via a spider [web]).

Similarly, in my opinion, those who think that atzvus has no proper
place in the world, are repeating the mistake of Dovid hamelech and
should realize that G-d created everything for a reason.

Wisdom of the Wise of the Nations re Simcha

I have come across the following quotes from general non - Jewish
literature, which I think are enlightening on the subject. In the spirit
of the Talmudic teaching that 'chochma bagoyim taamin' [if someone tells
you that there is wisdom among the nations, you should believe them] ),
I am mentioning them here.

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued is just beyond your grasp,
but if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you." - Nathaniel

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy we'd have a pretty good time." -
Edith Wharton.

Both of the above seem to express a realization that active pursuit of
and concentration on happiness can actually be counterproductive to it's
attainment. Perhaps because of the above reasons, some people have been
observed to change the lyrics when the songs were played to 'simcha
gedola lihiyos bimitzvah tomid' (it's a great joy to be always involved
in mitzvah[s])-a reformulation which seemingly avoids the objections
cited above.'

P.S. In the comments section, some important comments appear -

1) Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb of the O-U stated that R. Nachman's statement was given in the following context -

We are taught that 'mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha', as well as 'mishenichnas Av mamatin besimcha'. R. Nachman observed that both of those directives just tell one when to increase simcha and when to decrease it - but it is taken as a given that it always exists at some level.

On that basis he proceeded to state 'mitzvoh gedola lihiyos besimcha tomid'.

While the context is illuminating and makes the statement seem less extreme, the concerns about it raised in the essay above are still valid, IMHO.

2) A different commenter claims that R. Nachman is actually being misquoted, and that he didn't even say it!


Bottom line - We don't pasken from modern song lyrics. Don't believe everything you hear. If someone would show you this supposed mitzvah in the Sefer Hachinuch, that would be one thing. But if you can't find it there, that tells you that something is wrong. Buyer beware

עבדו את ה' בשמחה - פסוק בתהלים - כן!

וטוב לב משתה תמיד - פסוק במשלי - כן!

מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד - יצירה חדשה


  1. Clearly Rav Nachmon was referring to simcha in Avodas Hashem. The constant mitzvah to love Hashem (and even revere Hashem--vegilu bir'odoh) are augmented by the state of simcha shel mitzvah. In fact it is not possible to love Hashem with zero simcha. Said differently, the greater the love of Hashem the greater the inner simcha of being close to Hashem. It is also true that the more inner simcha one generates the closer one is to reaching ahavas Hashem. Thus the expression mitzvah gedolah to be besimcha. Always generating inner simcha is a great portal to the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem which it cultivates. Can you say that cultivating the love of Hashem is a fabrication and not a mitzvah? Can you say there one moment when cultivating simcha is not a mitzvah? Rav Nachman is not in control of songs misinterpreted and similar laments referenced in the article. Just in case more clarity is needed, is there any true inner simcha that is G-dless ch"v? So do yourself a spiritual favor and always be besimcha (simcha that is Torah simcha) so that you will always seek closeness with Hashem, which is the constant mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem.

  2. Some of what you said I can accept, but you didn't respond to all of the points made. So I am sticking to what I wrote. Focusing excessively on simcha can be counterproductive. If earlier generations didn't make such a sweeping statement, there was a reason for it.

    Some of the arguments and distinctions are fine, and easily misunderstood.

    אדר שמח

  3. My interpretation of Chochma Bagoyim Taamin - is that there are many brilliant people out there, who do painstakingly intricate work. But their motive is to ostentatiously show off their brilliance, or else to earn top dollar thereby attaining power, or else their motive is extreme competitiveness and one-upmanship. BUT they don't apply their brilliance toward compassion. Many brilliant people are narcissists, weaseling their way to positions of power (through their talents) for the motive of being authoritarian. (I.E. they talk AT people, instead of emotionally validating where they're at. The latter is called "Nosei B'Ol" - trying to understand where the other person is coming from, rather than projecting your own experiences onto others, and saying "I don't believe you based on MY experiences". Unfortunately, way too many "unzereh" act like the umot haolam in that respect. It's mind boggling to consider the billions or trillions of people who totally lack this trait, compared to just a handful who are pure at this trait.