A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
but heartache crushes the spirit. — Proverbs 15:13
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.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies were legendary for their seemingly super-human fighting power. They were brave like lions and fought like they were invincible. Other generals tried to find out Napoleon’s secret. Did he train his soldiers harder? Was it their diet? Was it something he told them?
In fact, historians would conclude, Napoleon’s secret weapon was quite simple: joy.
Just as every army contained special officers who distributed food, uniforms, and ammunition, so did Napoleon’s. However, his army also included professional musicians, comedians, and entertainers, whose job was to keep the soldiers in good spirits. These entertainers were considered no less important than the officers who led the soldiers into battle. On the nights before a battle was to take place, when worry and fear threatened to take over a soldier’s heart, Napoleon’s entertainers would create a joyful atmosphere. The soldiers would go into battle strong and confident.
This is the power of joy.
In Proverbs we read: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” In other words, when we are happy inside, it shows outside. Moreover, unhappiness hurts our spirit.
When we are joyful, it shows. Everyone around us knows it. We give off a totally different vibe than when we are in a sour mood. We can lift up those around us. In addition, when we are joyful, we are stronger, inside and out. According to Jewish tradition, we are also more open to receiving God’s blessings.
In fact, during biblical times, a person had to be joyful in order to attain prophecy. In 2 Kings 3:15, the prophet Elisha requested a musician to play the harp so that he might become joyful and prophesize: “While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came on Elisha.” In contrast, the Jewish sages teach that the patriarch Jacob did not receive any prophecy from God during all the years that he was separated from Joseph due to his sadness. The message is clear: Our strength is our joy, and so we must do all we can to keep it.
Today and every day we are faced with many opportunities to let go of our joy. It could be a rude person or simply something not going the way we thought it would. It could be something as silly as misplacing our keys and having to spend a few minutes looking for them. Are we going to let little things and little people keep us from being our best?
Let’s all resolve to keep our joy – the joy that God naturally places in our hearts. The Talmud cautions: “Do not bring worry into your heart.” Instead, let’s bring more joy into our hearts, and with it, more strength to please and honor God.
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.”