Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sefer Hachinuch on simcha (happiness): A person's nature is such that he must rejoice on occasion (as opposed to constantly)

The previous post, on the proper Jewish attitude toward simcha, got much attention, ב"ה, thanks to a fellow writer online that linked to it. Thank you very much to him, and שפע ברכה והצלחה.

Not long after it appeared, a friend notified me that a writer in a prominent weekly publication (Yated Ne'eman magazine, 28 Cheshvan 5774), Rabbi Boruch Leff, had actually devoted a column of his (Growing with Passion) to the subject. Studying what he wrote, it seemed to be an attempt to rebut and refute what had been posted here. He labored mightily and made a good case for his opposition, but ultimately fell short.

Unfortunately, part of the piece muddied the waters and clouded the issue, making it appear as if the position expressed here was opposition to the very idea of simcha shel mitzvah, a fundamental part of our Torah. Chas veshalom! The points made here perhaps are too fine for some people to grasp, and, in the modern sound bite world, with short attention spans and epidemic attention deficit disorders, that we live in, are easily distorted and misunderstood. Nevertheless, we have to make our hishtadlus and try to elucidate the issues. Those who are open minded will hopefully read the words here and give the matter a fair hearing.

To attain some clarity and tap into classical Torah hashkafah on the subject, it would be a good idea to step back about three quarters of a millenium, and look and see what a great early Gaon, the renowned authority on mitzvos, the Sefer Hachinuch, writes about simcha, to show what this great Rishon, a giant among giants, had to say about it. And we can then decide if he agreed with the much more recent mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid saying.

Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 451, מצוה לשמוח ברגלים

 משרשי המצוה לפי שהאדם נכון על ענין שצריך טבעו לשמוח לפרקים, כמו שהוא צריך אל המזון על כל פנים ואל המנוחה ואל השינה, ורצה האל לזכותינו אנחנו עמו וצאן מרעיתו וציונו לעשות השמחה לשמו, למען נזכה לפניו בכל מעשינו. והנה קבע לנו זמנים בשנה למועדים, לזכור בהם הנסים והטובות אשר גמלנו, ואז, בעתים ההם, צונו לכלכל החומר בדבר השמחה הצריכה אליו וימצא לנו תרופה גדולה בהיות שובע השמחות לשמו ולזכרו, כי המחשבה הזאת תהיה לנו גדר לבל נצא מדרך היושר יותר מדאי. ואשר עמו התבוננות מבלי החפץ בקטרוג ימצא טעם בדברי

Translation - Of the roots of this mitzvah is that a person is set up in a way that his nature requires being happy at times, just like he needs food, and rest, and sleep. And Hashem wanted to refine us, His nation, and the sheep of His flock, and He commanded us to make the rejoicing for his name, so that we stand righteously before Him with all our actions. And behold He set for us specific times in the year as festivals, to remember in them the miracles and favors that he granted us, and then, in those times, He commanded us to nourish our physical side with the joy that it requires, through which we would attain great healing with the satiation of rejoicing for His name and remembrance. This state of mind would be for us a protective shield from veering off the proper path.

We learn a number of important points  from The Chinuch.

1) Simcha is a need, a requirement of life!

2) It is akin to eating, resting, and sleeping, a vital part of existence.

3) However, just like eating, resting, and sleeping, it is not something that is done every second.

It seems quite clear that he did not subscribe to the notion that there is a constant mitzvah to be besimcha. We would be wise to give his words the attention and respect they deserve.

No comments:

Post a Comment