Monday, September 27, 2021

The Pursuit of Happiness

Image from Chabad
Is the pursuit of happiness an inalienable right? This is one of three rights mentioned by the Declaration of Independence that is endowed to mankind by our Creator. The other two being life and liberty.

One of my earliest memories in elementary school was when a Rebbe told me that the idea of pursuing happiness is a false notion. One cannot pursue happiness. Money cannot buy happiness. There are a lot of wealthy people that can buy anything they want – live any lifestyle they choose, and yet are very unhappy with their lives. Especially if their wealth is inherited. If they don’t somehow contribute to society all their possessions are meaningless. Their lives are empty.  In some cases they become so depressed by their empty lives they end up on drugs.

And yet we seem to have a contradiction. The Torah commands us to ‘pursue’ happiness. during the Shalosh Regalim, the 3 Yomim Tovim of Pesach, Shevuos, and especially Sukkos. With Sukkos technically ending tonight as we enter Shemini Atzeres - we are again specifically commanded to pursue happiness. ‘Vehayisa Ach Someach’- but you should be joyful! The Gemarah interprets the exclusionary word ‘Ach’ (but) in an inclusionary sense in this instance. In the diaspora we add a day called Simchas Torah - the joy of Torah. (In Israel they are combined as a single day).

But how does one ‘pursue’ happiness?

The very name Simchas Torah gives us a clue. Fulfilling the word of God as dictated in the Torah is the ultimate pursuit of happiness. All the physical pleasure that money can buy is simply a form of self gratification. It is temporal and short lived. True happiness is best achieved outside of oneself. Fulfilling the Mitzvos of Bein Adam Lechavero (man and man) and the Mitzvos Bain  Adam LeMakom (Man and God) is what achieves eternal happiness - transcending both time and space.   

Chag Someach