Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy

The Code of Jewish Law instructs us that upon entering the month of Adar we should increase in joy. In other words, it is a Jewish obligation to be joyous during Adar. In truth, joy and happiness are elemental to serving God all year round, because joy and happiness motivate us and bring vitality to our service and the mitzvot that we do. In Psalm 100, King David sums this up with a succinct exhortation, “Serve God with Joy!” But Adar is different from the rest of the year in two ways. First, in Adar we are told to serve God with greater joy. Second, in Adar we are told that not only should our service to God in all matters be suffused with greater joy, but joy and happiness themselves become a service. In Adar, joy and happiness are not only means to an end, they are ends in themselves.

Adar is also a month that brings good fortune to the Jewish people. The Code of Jewish Law therefore advises us to postpone to the month of Adar any litigation we might have.

This year we have the good fortune to be celebrating a Jewish leap year, which has two Adars. Unlike the secular calendar, in a Jewish leap year we add an entire month to the year, not just a single day. And what better month to duplicate than the joyous month of Adar?

A double Adar does not merely double the number of extra-joyous days in the year, but rather it creates a whole new paradigm: “60 days of joy.” The number 60 is significant. In Jewish law, an undesirable thing becomes nullified and transformed when outnumbered by a ratio of 60:1 – in Hebrew, “bitul bishishim [nullity with 60].” In oversimplified terms, this means for example, if a non-kosher meatball were to fall accidentally into a pot that contains at least 60 kosher meatballs and the non-kosher meatball cannot be identified, then the entire contents of the pot, including the meatball that had fallen in, are kosher and may be eaten. Accordingly, through the rule of “nullity with 60,” not only do the undesirable aspects of a thing become nullified, but the thing itself is transformed into good – something previously non-kosher is transformed into kosher. (In an actual case, a rabbi should be consulted because the rules are complex and beyond the scope of this article.)

The Lubavitcher rebbe tells us that the 60 joyous days of Adar in a leap year have the awesome power of “nullity with 60.” The period of 60 days of Adar/joy has the power to nullify the negative or “unkosher” aspects in our life and even transform them into good. All we have to do is to tap into the joyous energy found during the months of Adar.

One may wonder what all of this means in practical terms. Can happiness be legislated? Can a sad person really become happy on command?

A story is told that someone once accused the first Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, of having students and followers who were charlatans. The man insisted “Outwardly they pretend to be pious, but inwardly their hearts are not pious.” The rebbe thought for a moment and replied with the following. At the conclusion of the tractate Peah, the Mishna says that if a person, in order to garner sympathy, pretends to be poor, lame, or blind, then, as a punishment, that person will at some point be inflicted by Heaven with that which he pretended to have been inflicted. The rebbe concluded, if ill-intentioned pretending causes negative consequences, then how much more so it must be that good-intentioned pretending causes positive consequences, for we have a rule in Jewish thought that positive forces have a much greater impact than negative forces. The rebbe conceded to the complainer that perhaps his followers were not yet fully pious in their hearts, but insisted that if they pretended to themselves to be pious and actually acted piously to others, it would not be long before they actually became genuinely permeated with piousness.

The Code of Jewish Law tells us to act happy, and even if all we can do is act, don’t worry, be happy.