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What Are We Supposed To Be Joyful About?

Posted on 10/05/2012 @ 08:11 PM

What are we supposed to be joyful about?

In the biblical book of Devarim 16 (Deuteronomy), we read a long passage describing when and how the Jewish harvest festivals should be celebrated. In the description of Sukkot, verse 15 reads:

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תָּחֹג לַה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה': כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ. You shall hold a festival for Adonai your God seven days, in the place that the Lord will choose; for Adonai your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

What can this agrarian-based message of hope and joy offer us urban folk? As my teacher Rabbi David Hartman has written, joy is not solely expressed in the celebration of Sukkot, but is a fundamental aspect of living a full, Jewish life. Rabbi Hartman describes three types of joy:

· Joy as the feeling of dignity and of adequacy, when you feel someone responds to you and accepts you as the person you actually are. · Joy as the product of complete actions, fulfilling tasks which have obvious and meaningful ends. · Joy as the feeling of expansion, going beyond one’s self and feeling that another has become part of your own consciousness.

For Hartman, these three types of joy are essential to human beings feeling as though they are in nurturing and stable relationships, with other people, and with God.

For us, as stewards of the experiences which are helping build the hearts and minds of young Jews, are we providing our teens with moments of true joy, as Hartman defines it? What might be the differences between ‘having fun’ during programs and experiencing joy?

May you all have a Shabbat Sukkot of true simcha!

(This Shabbat message was written by Rabbi Zac Johnson, DJE of the Western States Hub)

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