The Pursuit of Happiness

In the Declaration of Independence the Founding Fathers of the United States declare, “all men are created equal.” It further states that all men “are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.” This document lists among these rights, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I don’t want to treat the Declaration of Independence as if it were a sefer. Nonetheless, it is interesting that the Founding Fathers did not say, “life, liberty and happiness.” They obviously realized that the pursuit of happiness is all one can guarantee — achievement of happiness is an entirely different story.

In fact, usually, when one does pursue something that he thinks will lead to “happiness,” he finds that often it doesn’t lead to the happiness that he desired. On the contrary, it very often leads to depression. When one realizes that the physical pleasures that one thought would make him happy, leave him unfulfilled, it can have the opposite effect.

Shlomo Hamelech already taught us in Koheles that “Ohev kesef lo yisba kesef — one who loves money is never satisfied with money.” Chazal reformulate this thought and put it as “Yesh lo maneh rotzeh masayim — one who has one hundred wants two hundred.” A person who pursues money or physical pleasures finds that he is never satisfied.

But is it any different in regard to spiritual pursuits? The mefarshim actually say that Shlomo Hamelech’s statement was a mashal for Torah. If one loves Torah then he is never satisfied with Torah. How then does the pursuit of the Torah and spiritual heights bring to simchah?

I had this question when reading the Introduction that Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz wrote to his sefer Shir Chadash that he published in honor of his daughter’s wedding. He was publishing his chiddushei Torah on Perek Hakones in Bava Kama to express a message: People think that because Hakadosh Baruch Hu blessed him with wealth that he is able to share with others or, as he expressed it in his speech at the Torah Umesorah President’s Conference in Florida, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu was mezakeh him to distribute Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s wealth, that he must have gained much simchah.

Reb Shlomo Yehudah wanted everyone to know that the ultimate simchah cannot come from wealth or physical pleasures. The greatest simchah is what one gets from sitting down and learning Torah b’iyun. The question is, why?

A number of years ago, at a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, a proposal was presented to encourage ArtScroll Mesorah Publications to undertake the elucidation of the Yerushalmi in the manner in which they had so successfully completed the Talmud Bavli. The proposal suggested that the Agudah undertake a campaign to publicize the Daf Yomi Yerushalmi as they do the Bavli. After all, by then many people had already completed Shas three, four or even five times, and were looking for new challenges.

The proposal was soundly defeated. One of the strongest voices against the proposal was the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, Harav Aharon Schechter, shlita. It was thus somewhat surprising to see that the very first fruit of the Schottenstein Yerushalmi included a letter of approbation from, none other than Harav Schechter. But the letter was self-explanatory and I learned a very important lesson.

After first explaining that the ArtScroll edition will serve to open the Yerushalmi to the general public, something which was once the exclusive domain of exceptional talmidei chachamim, Harav Schechter explains an essential difference between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. He further explains why our primary learning is and must always remain the Bavli.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 24a) applies the passukBemachashakim hoshevaini k’maysa olam. He has placed me in darkness like the eternally dead” (Eichah 3:6), as referring to Talmud Bavli. The Maharal explains that Bavel is a land of darkness and therefore in order to understand the Torah there is extensive pilpul — questions posed upon questions.

Don’t consider that a negative, though.

On the contrary, the sages of Bavel had to struggle with questions and exert great mental effort in order to clarify the truth in the teachings of the Torah. It is that very effort and struggle which makes the Talmud Bavli our primary learning source.

The Talmud Yerushalmi which was written in the brightening atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael gives us the advantage to open up for us the laws of Eretz Yisrael which have become real for us for the first time in many centuries. It cannot replace though, any of our learning in Bavli whose clarity comes through struggle of finding light in the darkness.

We teach that the joy of learning cannot come when it is easy and immediate. It must come from great effort and struggle. In Torah, it is not the reaching of the goal that we dream will lead us to happiness. In the study of Torah the effort to understand Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Torah is itself what leads to the true happiness.


 

The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com