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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

How important is 'being happy' in your theology? How is it different from joy?

To begin with the last part of your question, and for the sake of this discourse, we can assume the following distinction -- joy is an experience, and happiness a state of being. Good news brings us joy, but does not necessarily make us happy. This could be because the good news is fleeting, or because there is some bad news following the good news, or because one is in a state of unhappiness and the joy is merely an interlude in an otherwise unhappy life.

On the other hand, when one is happy, even bad news, however intrusive, does not change the fundamental state of being of the happy person. The happy person will realistically accept bad news, and even be sorry because of this news, but still remain fundamentally happy about life, about being alive and in the world.

Within Judaism, the state of being happy is a natural emanation from true faith. Belief in God goes beyond a spiritual awareness that God created the world and placed us in it. Concomitant with that awareness comes, or at least should come, a gratitude and appreciation for being in the world, and therefore able to fulfil God's wishes for us.

Once that gratitude and appreciation is entrenched, it almost automatically translates into being happy. It could not be otherwise.

Of course, this thesis could be challenged by the reality that there are many melancholy people who nevertheless are firm believers in God.

To this I would suggest that most people, religious or not, do not choose to be sad. Most people who are sad would love to be happy, but there is a block in the system that does not allow for happiness to burst through. These days we are inclined to see it as a chemical imbalance, not a deliberate choice.

Many of these melancholy people wrote most meaningful and inspirational poetry that has uplifted many a soul except their own.

The reality of melancholy is quite unfortunate, but does not negate the main point -- that Godliness and happiness are ineluctably linked to each other.


Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  March 10, 2007

Mon, July 22 2019 19 Tammuz 5779