Of Grace and Happiness

The last passuk of this week’s parashah reveals that despite the wickedness of his generation, “Noach found chein in the Eyes of Hashem.” (Chein, usually translated as “grace,” is one of the many lashon kodesh words without a precise counterpart in a foreign language.)

Chazal (Sanhedrin 108a) tell us that since the world is judged according to the deeds of the majority, Noach was originally included in the decree of destruction; but he merited to be saved because he found chein.

How does one acquire such distinction?

Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that one merits chein through performing good deeds with simchah, with great joy in the knowledge that doing right is what life is all about. Performing mitzvos and learning Torah with simchah leaves no room for the middas hadin to lodge a complaint; it evokes chein in the Eyes of Hashem and results in sins being forgiven.

Simchah in itself is not a mitzvah, but it leads to the greatest mitzvos. Atzvus (depression) in itself is not a sin, but it leads to the worst sins,” said the Rebbe of Karlin, zy”a.

The question is: In times of turmoil, tension and constant distractions, how does one manage to achieve simchah in the performance of mitzvos?

One key element is strengthening our emunah and bitachon. The greater our level of trust in Hashem, the easier it is for us to banish fear and worry from our minds and hearts. The Shevet Mussar (14:17) states that one should never worry about what the day will bring and always have a smile on his lips, for this exhibition of good cheer indicates our bitachon in Hashem.

* * *

Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles (which many read last Shabbos): “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting.”

This seems to contradict the exhortation to fill our hearts and lips with joy.

Harav Menachem Nachum, the Rebbe of Tolna, zy”a, explains this passuk according to Rambam, who says that when one wishes to eradicate an improper trait he should first “lean over backwards” and accustom himself to the opposite extreme.

Some people are a bit too exuberant and don’t take life seriously enough. Those people are advised to go to a house of mourning and take the lessons of mortality to heart.

All too often, however, people are suffering from the opposite challenge: bogged down by the tests and tribulations of life, they find themselves unhappy, even depressed. Those people are told to go to a beis hamishteh, a place of joy and feasting, in order to raise their spirits.

Though neither of these extremes is recommended, Shlomo Hamelech teaches us that it is still preferable to suffer from too much exuberance — and therefore have to go to a house of mourning — than from too little happiness — which would call for a visit to house of feasting.

* * *

Happiness is invariably linked to humility. The smaller one’s ego, the less obsessed he is with himself and the happier he is. We have only ourselves to blame for much of the emotional baggage that weighs us down.

The Torah first refers to both the sun and the moon as hame’oros hagedolim, “the great lights,” but then describes them as the “greater” and the “lesser” lights.

Chazal teach us that originally the sun and the moon were equal in size. However, the moon complained to Hashem, saying, “It is impossible for two kings to use the same crown.”

The Ribbono shel Olam responded by instructing the moon to “go and make yourself smaller.”

What was so wrong with what the moon said? The claim it made regarding two kings using the same crown appears to be legitimate.

Harav Nesanel Quinn, zt”l, longtime menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaas, suggested an answer, pointing out that this was only a problem for the moon. The sun saw its role very differently. The letters of the Hebrew word for sun, shemesh, are the same ones that spell the word shamash, servant. The sun viewed itself simply as a servant whose job it was to warm and light up the world, so it had no problem sharing the sky with the moon, which could serve a similar purpose. The moon, however, saw itself as a king, and that is why Hashem reduced it in response to its complaint.

“A person should always go through life seeing his role as akin to the sun’s — that of a shamash created to serve the world rather than that of a king,” Rav Quinn would say.

We can view the world through the eyes of a king and suffer all the disappointments that invariably follow or we can choose to act the part of the sun, lighting up and warming the world with a delightful smile. The choice is ours.

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