Entering the Gate of Joy

Gates of Joy
שערי גילה – The Gates“, line 6

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav died in 1810 at 38, having suffered froshadow-gate-martin-fisch-cc-flickr-400m tuberculosis for several years. In his lifetime, he buried his wife and four children.

He knew great sorrow in his life, yet he taught that it is a mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot b’simhah tamid (a great commandment to always be happy). We should enter through the gates of joy, not just on the holidays, but every day.

That sounds nice, but it’s not so easy. It’s inevitable that, in the course of human life, we experience grief and sadness. Rebbe Nachman teaches, however, that to fulfill this mitzvah, it’s not enough to be happy. We have to transform our sadness to joy, our sackcloth into dancing shoes.

Rebbe Nachman teaches: “At times, when people are joyful and dance, they will seize one who sits apart in his sorrow. They drag him into their dancing round and compel him to be happy with them. This is also what happens in the heart of a person who is joyful. Sadness and sorrow withdraw on the sidelines, but it is reckoned as a special virtue to round them up boldly and to bring sadness along into joy, so that all the power of sorrow be changed to joy.” (Likutei Mohoran II 23)

Rebbe Nachman knew that for most people, most of the time, joy is an effort and a choice. Sorrow is always available, and we can transform it or let it govern us. There is nobody who does not know sorrow, and yet still Rebbe Nachman said, “it is a great mitzvah to be happy always.” In this coming year, may we always enter through the gate of joy‒both when circumstances open that gate for us, and at those moments when we have to open it ourselves.

This Elul Reflection was written by Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek, Beacon Hebrew Alliance. Rabbi Spodek was a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at BJ from 2006-2008.