Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Unmitigated Joy

 

Some people are foolish enough to search for what they call joy just about anywhere: amusement parks, movie comedies, shopping at the mall. We go to places where thrills and laughter abound so we can not only forget our sorrows but have a fun time.

But what is joy, and why do we so desire it? Words like bliss, happiness, delight, pleasure, satisfaction all appear in the dictionary as synonyms. But in Judaism, joy, called simcha, has a specific meaning. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book on Deuteronomy makes this distinction between happiness and joy:

There are fundamental differences between happiness and joy. Happiness is a calm feeling, joy an exuberant one. One can feel happiness alone, but joy in the Torah is always something shared with others…. Happiness depends on things going well, but one can experience joy even in the midst of adversity.

These distinctions between joy and happiness were new to me; yet, I often experience happiness when I am writing, or when I am reflecting on life’s blessings, or reading a satisfying book. I experience joy when my husband and I are laughing at ourselves about our latest bouts of forgetfulness, reminders that we are equally imperfect and also love each other. Joy is present when I talk about ideas with others or discuss beautiful photos taken by gifted friends.

In a recent conversation, our friend @iwe shared his understanding of joy, reminding me of a time when joy was absent, and when it was present, as described in his book, The Torah Manifesto:

Lavan, the manipulative father-in-law of Jacob, protested when Jacob left without telling him, and said:

‘Why did you flee away secretly and steal away from me; and did not tell me, that I might have sent you away with simcha, and with songs, with tambourines, and with harp.’

Lavan and Jacob had a strained relationship (to say the least), and Jacob had no interest in being gracious with Lavan, nor bringing him joy. Then @iwe explained,

And the second time the Torah uses the word simcha is when G-d tells Moshe,

‘. . . Behold [Aaron] comes forth to meet you; and when he sees you, he will be samach (joyful) in his heart’

With Moses and Aaron, we finally see two brothers who not only are not interested in killing each other, but who love each other and experience great joy from their relationship. @iwe adds:

So here we have it. For people such as Lavan, it is a source of simcha, joy, when people separate. And for Jews, it is an occasion for simcha when people reunite.

Although many of us practice our religions primarily alone, there is richness in sharing our practice with others. When we go to synagogue together, when we study Torah with others, when we rejoice at Simhat Torah for the receiving of the Torah, we delight in the joy in these dynamic and loving encounters with others. And of course, we share our lives with others to experience the joy of simply being together. Celebrating together, laughing together, dancing together—in those moments we have the blessings of unmitigated joy. As @iwe says in his book,

The greatest joys in Judaism come from unification, of the coming together of dualisms. Just as holiness is achieved when the physical and the spiritual are joined, when heaven and earth are united, so too do we delight when people come together.

When you reflect on your own life, which situations bring you happiness? Which ones bring you joy?

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 33 comments.

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  1. The Great Adventure! Member

    Okay that was weird. I just tried to post this and it went off into neverland.

    This post brought to mind a recent book review I read on NRO. By Joseph Laconte. The book is called C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction (I’ve ordered it and it’s supposed to be here next week. The paragraph that jumped to mind:

    Joy was the subject of probably his most famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Preached on June 8, 1941, in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford, it must rank as one of the most profound and poignant messages about divine love ever delivered from any modern pulpit:

    At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

    I realize I’m coming from a slightly different faith base than you, Susan, but I’m sure you get the drift.

    And another paragraph from the review that pertains directly to me:

    Like no one else, Lewis could transform dry religious dogma into something plausible and appealing. Not only has Mere Christianity been bought, translated, and quoted more than any of his other works but, Como says, it “has catalyzed many conversions.”

    • #1
    • September 4, 2019, at 7:38 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Stad Thatcher

    I wouldn’t call it unmitigated joy, but we’re having the joy of watching oldest daughter move out of our house this week. Now, you might think it would be a sad occasion, and there is a melancholy aspect to it. However, I look at it as joyous overall in the sense she graduated from college, got a great job, and now she’s going out on her own.

    • #2
    • September 4, 2019, at 7:57 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):

    Okay that was weird. I just tried to post this and it went off into neverland.

    This post brought to mind a recent book review I read on NRO. By Joseph Laconte. The book is called C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction (I’ve ordered it and it’s supposed to be here next week. The paragraph that jumped to mind:

    Joy was the subject of probably his most famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Preached on June 8, 1941, in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford, it must rank as one of the most profound and poignant messages about divine love ever delivered from any modern pulpit:

    At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

    I realize I’m coming from a slightly different faith base than you, Susan, but I’m sure you get the drift.

    And another paragraph from the review that pertains directly to me:

    Like no one else, Lewis could transform dry religious dogma into something plausible and appealing. Not only has Mere Christianity been bought, translated, and quoted more than any of his other works but, Como says, it “has catalyzed many conversions.”

    Beautiful, @thegreatadventure, whether it falls into my faith base or not. BTW, I had to delete the post and re-post it, because the first time it went up, about 1/3 of it was cut off! Sorry about the inconvenience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts–and persisting!

    • #3
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:35 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Stad (View Comment):

    I wouldn’t call it unmitigated joy, but we’re having the joy of watching oldest daughter move out of our house this week. Now, you might think it would be a sad occasion, and there is a melancholy aspect to it. However, I look at it as joyous overall in the sense she graduated from college, got a great job, and now she’s going out on her own.

    Rabbi Sacks explains that we can in fact experience joy in the face of loss. Sound about right to me, @stad. Good for her and you must be delighted!

    • #4
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. MarciN Member

    The highest “highs” :-) I’ve experienced have been when I tried to help someone and succeeded. :-) 

    Helping someone can be extremely empowering. I wish that the psychologists promoted volunteerism more often in their toolbox of helping strategies for people who are lost, confused, and depressed. 

    • #5
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:37 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  6. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I thought this post tied beautifully into your other post – the joy at greeting your mother at the airport. That was precisely what I think the word simcha tries to capture.

    • #6
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:37 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):

    The highest “highs” :-) I’ve experienced have been when I tried to help someone and succeeded. :-)

    Helping someone can be extremely empowering. I wish that the psychologists promoted volunteerism more often in their toolbox of helping strategies for people who are lost, confused, and depressed.

    You are absolutely right, @marcin! It offers all that you say, and especially gets us out of our self-centeredness, focusing on others.

    • #7
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:39 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    iWe (View Comment):

    I thought this post tied beautifully into your other post – the joy at greeting your mother at the airport. That was precisely what I think the word simcha tries to capture.

    You’re right, @iwe! I hadn’t thought of that. I must be on a joy journey at the moment!

    • #8
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:40 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. The Great Adventure! Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I wouldn’t call it unmitigated joy, but we’re having the joy of watching oldest daughter move out of our house this week. Now, you might think it would be a sad occasion, and there is a melancholy aspect to it. However, I look at it as joyous overall in the sense she graduated from college, got a great job, and now she’s going out on her own.

    Rabbi Sacks explains that we can in fact experience joy in the face of loss. Sound about right to me, @stad. Good for her and you must be delighted!

    I would go so far as to say there are times when grief feeds my soul. But yes, watching your kids succeed is truly joyful! Watched my son being awarded his Masters of Divinity back in June – there have not been many times my heart was swollen so.

    • #9
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:45 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. Old Bathos Member

    Happiness is bringing the family to a ball game, being together, educating grandchildren in the arcana of score-keeping in a program and contentment just to be there then. Joy is a 3-run homer in the ninth.

    • #10
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:52 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Happiness is bringing the family to a ball game, being together, educating grandchildren in the arcana of score-keeping in a program and contentment just to be there then. Joy is a 3-run homer in the ninth.

    All very special examples, @oldbathos. Life doesn’t get much better than those moments, does it?

    • #11
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:57 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. Arahant Member

    Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

    • #12
    • September 4, 2019, at 11:23 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  13. Stad Thatcher

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I wouldn’t call it unmitigated joy, but we’re having the joy of watching oldest daughter move out of our house this week. Now, you might think it would be a sad occasion, and there is a melancholy aspect to it. However, I look at it as joyous overall in the sense she graduated from college, got a great job, and now she’s going out on her own.

    Rabbi Sacks explains that we can in fact experience joy in the face of loss. Sound about right to me, @stad. Good for her and you must be delighted!

    I would go so far as to say there are times when grief feeds my soul. But yes, watching your kids succeed is truly joyful! Watched my son being awarded his Masters of Divinity back in June – there have not been many times my heart was swollen so.

    And when oldest daughter told us she bought a washer and dryer – with her own money – well, it was hard for us to hold back tears . . .

    • #13
    • September 4, 2019, at 1:28 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  14. Stad Thatcher

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Joy is a 3-run homer in the ninth.

    For your team, I hope . . .

    • #14
    • September 4, 2019, at 1:29 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. Samuel Block Member

    My favorite film critic, Armond White, at National Review, had an excellent line that I’ve never forgotten. When reviewing Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, he said the movie displayed the fact that “joy is grace.”

    As always, Susan, thanks for a great read!

    • #15
    • September 4, 2019, at 4:36 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  16. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    With the rapidly approaching Jewish new year, we wish everyone shana tova, meaning have a good year. When the secular new year comes, we wish people a happy new year. The religious new year, fittingly, emphasizes goodness over happiness because what makes you happy is not necessarily good for you.

    • #16
    • September 4, 2019, at 5:15 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  17. EJHill Podcaster

    I have experienced great joy, but never unmitigated. Being human there is always that doubt that creeps into every situation. Take birth. My joy was always met with various stages of doubt.

    Daughter: Am I going to be a good dad?

    Son: Can I teach this one what it means to be a man?

    Son #2: Holy crap, can we afford three?

    Son #3: Four!?! Mother Mary and Joseph, grab the K-Bar and just cut the damn thing off already!

    I have, however, witnessed it in animals. Until our present pup came into our lives I had never seen any living creature so caught up in the joy of a stick. Not just any stick. The best stick. Better than the one we found yesterday. Way better than the one we found last week. No, probably the best stick of all time. A stick that deserves to be danced with.

    • #17
    • September 4, 2019, at 6:56 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  18. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    The happiest people I know live in Israel. Imagine being in a family of millions. That’s what it’s like in Israel. No one is really a stranger. You sit down next to someone on a bus, start a conversation, and it’s like you’ve known each other for years. We are enjoined to both fear and love G-d but I once heard someone say, “I have a really hard time fearing G-d. Life has been so good to me all I can do is love Him.” Under such circumstances, it’s difficult to be anything but happy.

    • #18
    • September 4, 2019, at 9:22 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  19. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    Lag B’omer is a holiday that celebrates brotherly love. Kids build bonfires and play bows and arrows.

    The words of this song were composed by a woman who said ,“I know I am supposed to fear G-d but I have a really hard time doing that. Life has been so good to me that all I can do is love Him.”

    lyrics: Hamotel Ben Ze’ev

    music: Effi Shoshani

    All of Israel’s children walk together

    Joy is great and hearts are open

    Lag B’Omer is light

    And every child remembers

    One people has one heart

    All of us in the parade together

    My holiday is your holiday

    A beloved and special holiday

    With all the hearts of everyone

    All of Israel’s children are joyful together

    Each is different but all are brothers

    Giving and unity

    Are the beginning of friendship

    “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself”

    Give a blessing and say hello

    A good fire, an abundance of warmth

    We will increase the joy in our hearts

    It’s good to march in a parade

    • #19
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:15 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):
    My joy was always met with various stages of doubt.

    That’s not my experience, @ejhill. They may not last long, but I have had extended moments where I am so fully engaged in a joyful situation that doubt is not present. Those moments, though short, are very special.

    • #20
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:53 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Old Bathos Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Joy is a 3-run homer in the ninth.

    For your team, I hope . . .

    I left that part out as an exercise for the student. Congrats on detecting the correct answer.

    • #21
    • September 5, 2019, at 6:03 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  22. SkipSul Moderator

    There is a popular akathist hymn (akathist hymns are a particular form and style with origins in Syria in the 5th century) in the Orthodox church which has a surprising origin. It is known as the Akathist of Thanksgiving, and as its name suggests it is one popularly recited / chanted / sung in the US around Thanksgiving every year. It is a beautiful service extolling the marvel of creation and Gd’s gift of life. These are the opening kontakion and ikos:

    Kontakion 1

    Incorruptible King of all ages, holding in your hand every path of human life through the power of your saving Providence. We thank you for all the good things You do, those we know and those we don’t know, for earthly life and the heavenly joy of Your Kingdom to come. Hold us in Your mercy now and ever, we who sing:

    Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.

    Ikos 1

    Into the world I was born as a weak, helpless child, but Your Angel spread wings of light over me, guarding my crib. Ever since then, Your love lights all my paths, wonderfully guiding me towards the light of eternity. Gloriously, the generous gifts of Your Providence have been manifest from the very first day. I am thankful to You and with all who have come to know You, call out:

    Glory to You, Who called me to life,
    Glory to You, Who have shown me the beauty of the universe,
    Glory to You, Who have opened before me the sky and the earth as an eternal book of wisdom,
    Glory to the eternity of You in the midst of the world of time,
    Glory to You for Your hidden and evident goodness,
    Glory to You for every sigh of my sadness,
    Glory to You for every step of my life, for every moment of joy, Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.

    The author wrote that while dying in a Soviet gulag in the 1930s, imprisoned (and very likely tortured) for the crime of being an Orthodox monk.

    Somehow, before his death, he passed it on to another imprisoned priest, and it was found tucked into that 2nd priest’s rags when he died, and then smuggled out of the gulag, passed around and copied in secret, and eventually brought to America and translated into English.

    That is a sign of unmitigated joy, being able to praise our Creator while a dying prisoner of one of the worst and most murderous and blasphemous regimes of the 20th century.

    • #22
    • September 5, 2019, at 6:54 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  23. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה

    “Then our mouths with be filled with laughter and our tongues will sing for joy” (Psalm 126:2)

    The key here is the word “then.” In Hebrew, it has a numerical equivalent of 8, a number which represents going beyond the natural order that is based on the number 7 (days of the week).

    Only with redemption, which welcomes in a new era previously unknown on earth, King David is saying, when the Holy Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem, will we experience unmitigated joy.

    Today, in the Land of Israel, we have merited to experience the beginnings of such joy.

    • #23
    • September 5, 2019, at 7:31 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    That is a sign of unmitigated joy, being able to praise our Creator while a dying prisoner of one of the worst and most murderous and blasphemous regimes of the 20th century.

    This is so beautiful. It shows, as we’ve been discussing, that within the horrors that some experience in life, they can find joy. We should honor them as examples of courage and love. Thanks, @skipsul.

    • #24
    • September 5, 2019, at 7:55 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. The Great Adventure! Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    That is a sign of unmitigated joy, being able to praise our Creator while a dying prisoner of one of the worst and most murderous and blasphemous regimes of the 20th century.

    This is so beautiful. It shows, as we’ve been discussing, that within the horrors that some experience in life, they can find joy. We should honor them as examples of courage and love. Thanks, @skipsul.

    It was truly beautiful. I shared it with my family but I have to confess to a little vanity. Whenever I run across something that seems a little obscure in terms of Christian theology ( the concept of an Akathist hymn in this case) I can’t resist running it by my Theologian son – just to show him that I’m not ENTIRELY ignorant. 

    Okay, we both know that I am. But I still know more about transportation management than him!

    • #25
    • September 5, 2019, at 8:00 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  26. Tennessee Patriot Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    I thought this post tied beautifully into your other post – the joy at greeting your mother at the airport. That was precisely what I think the word simcha tries to capture.

    You’re right, @iwe! I hadn’t thought of that. I must be on a joy journey at the moment!

    Or, is this something that happens during the manic phase? :-)

    • #26
    • September 5, 2019, at 11:43 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Tennessee Patriot (View Comment):
    Or, is this something that happens during the manic phase? :-)

    Oh no! I’ve been found out! Curses!!!!

    • #27
    • September 5, 2019, at 11:46 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. Samuel Block Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    My joy was always met with various stages of doubt.

    That’s not my experience, @ejhill. They may not last long, but I have had extended moments where I am so fully engaged in a joyful situation that doubt is not present. Those moments, though short, are very special.

    I’m with Sue, but I know what you mean. I used to feel that their was something deceiving in it all; right around the corner was the real, bitter truth waiting for me. But their is a difference between joy and gaiety. My problem was that I used to be unable to distinguish the two, and I hate feeling stupid.

    @ejhill, never forget:

    • #28
    • September 6, 2019, at 8:27 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    I’m with Sue, but I know what you mean. I used to feel that their was something deceiving in it all; right around the corner was the real, bitter truth waiting for me. But their is a difference between joy and gaiety. My problem was that I used to be unable to distinguish the two, and I hate feeling stupid.

    Well, you can tell the difference now, @samuelblock, and that’s what is important. I think, too, that we give our thoughts an incredible amount of power, like they are who we are. So we think we’re stuck with them. But I’ve learned through meditation that although there are times when we are simply overwhelmed, we also have choices about the thoughts we indulge; there’s nothing tangible or impermanent about them, they come and go. Most of the time in my daily life, I don’t indulge my fears or concerns; I note them and move on to the next thing. This can be done by anyone, but most of us think we are victims of our thoughts and must submit to them and suffer by them. It’s simply not true.

    • #29
    • September 6, 2019, at 9:50 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  30. Samuel Block Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    I’m with Sue, but I know what you mean. I used to feel that their was something deceiving in it all; right around the corner was the real, bitter truth waiting for me. But their is a difference between joy and gaiety. My problem was that I used to be unable to distinguish the two, and I hate feeling stupid.

    Well, you can tell the difference now, @samuelblock, and that’s what is important. I think, too, that we give our thoughts an incredible amount of power, like they are who we are. So we think we’re stuck with them. But I’ve learned through meditation that although there are times when we are simply overwhelmed, we also have choices about the thoughts we indulge; there’s nothing tangible or impermanent about them, they come and go. Most of the time in my daily life, I don’t indulge my fears or concerns; I note them and move on to the next thing. This can be done by anyone, but most of us think we are victims of our thoughts and must submit to them and suffer by them. It’s simply not true.

    Yes! Carl Jung once wrote that wholeness is typically “paid for with a neurosis in advance.”

    • #30
    • September 6, 2019, at 10:35 AM PST
    • 1 like
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