We Must Always Be Happy

Friday, 9 February, 2024 - 2:04 pm

It is a Mitzvah to be happy.

That’s right. Just as we are commanded to keep the Kosher diet, light Shabbat candles, wrap Tefillin, and observe many other mitzvot, we are obligated to be happy all the time. Which begs the question, how is that even possible? Happiness is a mood and moods can heavily depend on circumstances that are often out of our control. Are we meant to ignore reality in order to keep our happiness barometer in check?

This Shabbat will be the first day of the month of Adar, the month in which we celebrate the epic holiday of Purim, commemorating our salvation from Haman’s genocidal plot approximately 2,500 years ago. Due to the unique machinations of the Jewish calendar, this year we will have two months of Adar. (Purim is celebrated in the second Adar, this year on March 23-24). In the context of Jewish celebrations and holidays, Purim is placed on the highest pedestal, as evidenced by the fact that the one-day celebration transforms the entire Adar into a joyous month.

In order to appreciate how the joy of Adar works without ignoring reality, we must preface that in Judaism we unfortunately have times of sadness and mourning. Tisha B’Av - the ninth day of the month of Av - is an intense fast day commemorating the destruction of both Holy Temples as well as several other national calamities we have never recovered from yet.

In the Talmudic tractate of Taanit which delineates the laws of communal fasting and supplication in times of drought, plague, or tragedy we find the following instruction: Just as when the month of Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.

On the surface this line is puzzling. If the Talmud wished to communicate that the month of Adar must be extra joyous, linking it to the sadness of Av and its tragedies is a real damper. Perhaps the Talmud could have simply written in the tractate Megillah, which deals with the laws of Purim and the story of our salvation from Haman, “When the month of Adar begins, increase in rejoicing.” 

When we appreciate how G-d, the creator of the universe, is in control of everything that happens and has our best interest in mind, it is possible to be truly happy - all the time. Because even the greatest tragedy is somehow integral to a grand master plan that will lead to the best results. Although we often don’t understand how it works, knowing that Divine Providence is at work allows us to keep our spirits high. 

Through the placement of the instruction about increasing joy during Adar and its literary syntax our sages teach us that joy in life is not limited to circumstances that are clearly joyful. They linked the increased joy we should experience in Adar because of our historic salvation to the decreased joy we experience in Av because of our historic tragedies, to express that even the most tragic of circumstances can and will one day be understood in a joyful context. And by investing tremendous effort to “increase in joy during the month of Adar” we set the stage for the month of Av with its historic tragedies and all other sad circumstances in our lives to be transformed into joyful moments, through the arrival of Moshiach, and the blessed era of redemption when peace and tranquility will reign for all.


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