“You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.” — Isaiah 55:12
We begin a new year of devotional teachings from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein with a focus on joy, simcha — the joy found in the grateful acceptance and celebration of each day God has given to us. Join us as we explore Rabbi Eckstein’s teachings on the joy found in connecting with God and with others.
We invite you to dig deeper into the Jewish roots of Christianity with Rabbi Eckstein’s monthly teaching series, Limmud. Check it out here.
Most people go through life feeling as though happiness is a destination. It’s what we strive toward, what we hope to achieve one day. We tell ourselves that when this or that happens, we will be happy — only to find out that when one problem is solved, another arises. Sometimes it seems utterly impossible to get to a place of joy in our lives.
However, Judaism teaches that happiness is not a place, but a path. It’s not a destination, but a way. We don’t go to joy, rather, we go through joy.
In the book of Isaiah we read, “You will go out in joy.” The context of the verse is talking about the Jewish people leaving the exile and returning to the Promised Land. The exile is both a literal term which described the physical exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel, but it is also a figurative concept. Exile represents a state of mind or being that is less than ideal.
We are all striving to reach our own promised land, where we can be our true selves and live our best lives. The verse in Isaiah teaches us that the way to get from exile to redemption, from our broken lives to our redeemed lives, is through joy. Joy is the key that unlocks all doors.
This idea is so radically different than conventional thinking because it demands that we be joyful, not wait until circumstances line up so that we might feel joy. It implies that it’s possible to feel joy even when our lives are difficult. It requires us to make joy our way of life instead of spending our lives trying to attain it.
So how can we be happy and joyful no matter what our situation might be?
In 3,000 years, the Jewish tradition has been the same. We practice gratitude. In fact the very word yehudi, which means “Jew,” stems from the same word that means “thanks.” We celebrate with song and dance on the weekly Sabbath, on holidays, and in some circles, every single day. We experience joy by connecting to God through prayer, Bible study, and fulfilling His directives. In addition, the Jewish sages taught that doing something that brings us joy, even if it seems meaningless, is significant because it keeps us in the right state of mind.
Life can be tough, and God continually challenges us. But He also wants us to be happy, and we can be. Don’t underestimate the power of joy. The rabbis taught that joy enables closeness to God, success, and understanding.
Don’t wait to be happy – make up your mind to be happy every day, starting right now.
Check out Rabbi Eckstein’s study on Abraham, the father of our faiths, Abraham, in his Limmud (“study” in Hebrew) teaching, “Abraham: The Patriarch of Loving-kindness.”