Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” — Nehemiah 8:10
Happiness is a huge topic in our generation. Over 200 years after the Founding Fathers of America decided that it’s every person’s right to pursue happiness, much of the nation has not been able to find it. In fact, studies show that from 1999 to 2012, the nation went from 6.8 percent of Americans taking prescription anti-depressants to 13 percent – nearly doubling those in dire need of medical intervention.
It’s not surprising to find that much has been written about the topic. People want to be happy, but many are finding it hard to do so. There is no shortage of advice on how to be happy, ranging from being more grateful to being more giving. All are fantastic suggestions, and each has its place in the Jewish tradition.
I’d like to add one more. In the book of Nehemiah, we read, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” This phrase suggests two notions. The first is that we can find joy in God. The second is that this God-driven joy is also a great source of strength. Practically speaking, how does one find happiness through God? And what does that joy have to do with how strong we are?
A friend of mine recently went skydiving. As he described the ordeal of going up in the plane, getting ready for the jump, and then actually taking the plunge, I felt my own heart racing just imagining the scenario. And then he said something that really resonated with me. He said, “I was only able to enjoy the ride because I knew that an experienced instructor was on my back. If I had to rely on myself to make the jump successfully, I would have been too terrified to enjoy it. But knowing that someone who knew what he was doing was with me allowed it to be the best experience of my life.”
To me, what my friend said about his instructor and skydiving is the same as God in my life. How do we find joy in God? When we know that God literally has our back and is right beside us, taking care of us at all times, so we can sit back and enjoy the ride of life. Even when life seems difficult or scary, we know that a power greater than us is pulling the strings so that everything works out just right. This not only gives us joy, but also strength as we can face difficulties with confidence and peace.
Next time we begin to feel unhappy, remember that the Creator of the world is right there working out everything for our greatest possible good.
It’s going to be a fabulous ride – relax and enjoy it.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President