Serving God Joyfully
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Last week’s parasha ended with Joseph demanding his brothers that Benjamin (the youngest among the brothers) remain a slave in Egypt while the other brothers return to their father, Jacob. That was because a silver goblet had been found in Benjamin’s bag. Parashat Vayigash begins with Judah’s plea to Joseph, “if I come home and the youngest lad is not with us, and the soul of the one is bound up with the soul of the other, then it shall come to pass that he (Jacob) shall die in sorrow. Please take me as your slave instead of Benjamin” (from Genesis 44).
At this point, Joseph can no longer control himself. He releases all his servants so that he can be alone with his brothers. “I am Joseph,” he says, crying so loudly the whole palace can hear. “Is my father still well?” (Genesis 45:3).
Joseph continues, “…I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.” (Genesis 45:4-5).
Joseph, now a very powerful Egyptian minister, reveals himself to his brothers. Right after that, he immediately reminds them that he still remembers that they sold him into Egypt! We could have expected his brothers to be concerned, afraid and even guilty. However, Joseph tells them not to be sad. Why would the brothers be sad at that moment?
A chassidic interpretation notices the connection between Joseph’s request to his brothers not to be sad and the way Joseph justifies his request. Joseph tells his brothers that everything was part of a divine plan so he could preserve his family. If you read this connection between not being sad and realizing God’s plans, the verse seems to imply that only if the brothers were able to avoid sadness they would be able to appreciate God’s intentions.
This is exactly one of the main principles of Chassidic philosophy: Avodat Hashem Besimcha or serving God with happiness. According to this principle, sadness undermines man’s ability to know his Creator. A sad person will find it more difficult to understand the reasons and consequences of how God leads the world. That is why we should try to remain happy and fulfill the mitzvot with joy, if we are willing to connect with God and understand him.
Regarding the value of happiness and its connection to Jewish religious practice, Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin (Karlin, Belarus, 1736-1772) said, “happiness in itself is not a mitzvah, but is nevertheless capable of leading a person to fulfill all the mitzvot of the Torah. On the contrary, sadness is not a transgression, but has the power to lead a person to violate all transgressions of the Torah.”
May we find happiness in our lives, in our relationship with other people and with God. May we be able to understand that the mitzvot are a source of happiness, and not a burden. May we be able to find meaning to our lives through happiness.