Rabbi Nachman on Joy
by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, San Francisco, 5734.
Transcribed by Rabbi Elana Rappaport Schachter Rabbeinu
This is a little anthology of Reb Nachman’s teachings about joy. What is the difference between sadness and joy? Joy really fills you; whatever you have is fuller, and sadness empties you out. “I don’t have this, I don’t have that,” so even what you have you don’t have. People walk around sad because they don’t know what to do with their future. You have this minute right now. What are you doing with it? The difference between sadness and joy is very simple. Sadness always tells you, “Oy Vey! What are you going to do in ten minutes?
What will you do ten years from now?” If you are really filled with joy for one minute, then you will know what to do the next minute also. What is G-d giving you? He is giving you this minute. He hasn’t given tomorrow, He promised He will give tomorrow. Of course I don’t know what to do tomorrow, because I didn’t receive it yet. Sadness is very much concerned with what I don’t have, and I really don’t have tomorrow yet. Why, if somebody dies, G-d forbid, are you filled with sadness? Because somebody isn’t there, right? The depths of joy and sadness are ‘being” and “not being”. If you get something you are happy. The more you get it, the deeper you get it, the deeper is your joy.
Have you ever seen people who are so happy when they have an excuse to be sad? One woman said to me, “I can’t talk to my mother unless I am sick.” When she is sick then her mother has something to say. There are certain parts of a person which react only to “not being”. We have to wipe them out. There are some people who say, “I am just happy.” Have you ever seen women when they come out of the beauty parlor saying, “It is a beautiful day, and I am happy”? What are you happy about? What did you get? You got today, but what are you doing with it?
Don’t kid yourself. You cannot be happy unless you have something. If you say, “I’m just happy happy why? Because the beauty parlor instead of charging you $35 only charged $29 and you give a tip of $2 so you saved $4? Reb Nachman says if you are happy for no reason, without doing something good, you are just kidding yourself. On the contrary, the reaction to this kind of joy will be that you will be knocked down low five minutes later. If you can be happy just because you are alive then you have something, if you really feel it. Everyone says they are happy they are alive, but the question is, are you really receiving life?
That is the highest level there is. Most people don’t realize that life is a gift from G-d, and most people are not happy. It says, skhar mitzva mitzva, the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva, and the reward oi joy is joy. How does G-d pay you off for being happy? He gives you another minute of hapiness, so if this one minute of happiness is real, the next minute will be also. But if you say, “I’m so happy to be alive”, and the next minute you are walking around like a dope, there was something wrong.
The truth is, I am always standing before nothingness, because I am non-existent yet for the next minute. I’m not there yet. Time isn’t there. The world isn’t there. The world is here right now. One split second, one billionth of a split second in the future has not been created yet. I am always standing between “being” and “not being”, between Heaven and Hell. Hell is the utmost of not being.
What is happening in Hell? I am not burning like a hamburger. In Hell I realize that I was non-existent. Do you know how it feels if you are suddenly non-existent? G-d forbid, that it ever happen to anybody. Imagine, suddenly you don’t have a hand. What a horrible feeling. Imagine if suddenly you are there, and you see that you are not there; you would see yourself not being. It is unbearable. There are two kinds of “not being”. One way of not being is when you are just physically not there, but imagine if you are there and you are not there. That is what really hurts. If I love somebody very much, and they are not here, so they are not here. It is sad.
Imagine they would be sitting next to me and they won’t talk to me. That is a deep kind of “not being” which hurts. Hell is that I am there, but I am not there. Sadness is a sickness, not an emotional problem. It is absolutelya sickness and you have to get rid of it. The Baal Shem Tov says if you want to know whether you are really serving G-d, it is simple. If my heart is filled with joy each time I put on tfillin, and each time I do something good my heart is filled with joy, I am serving G-d. If I amnot on that level, then I am just doing mechanical things. That is very holy, I’ll be rewarded in Heaven for it, but it is heartbreaking.
If I look sad when I walk in a room, what happens to the person sitting next to me? He feels a bit uncomfortable. If he loves me a lot he will overcome those uncomfortable feelings and say, “I got to stick it out, he’s my friend, so I have to stick around while he is crying.” This.is not good. If I am sitting here and laughing like the Ropshitzer Rebbe, laughing my head off, suddenly everyone will feel comfortable. It is very simple. You feel uncomfortable when someone laughs hysterically if it is stupid laughter, but not if it is holy laughter.
If you could look into the abyss it would be very uncomfortable, frightening. The truth is, when you see someone sad, at that moment you are confronted with nothingness. You see that person is struggling between “being” and “non-being”. Imagine that I am standing on the roof with one foot on the roof, and the other hanging over the edge. You say, “Listen, do me a favour. You make me nervous, even if you are the greatest acrobat in the world. Put your foot back on the roof. I don’t have strength to watch that.” You have to realize it is the same way with G-d. When you walk around sad you make G-d uncomfortable. G-d says, “I love you. I’m your G-d. I signed a contract on Mt. Sinai and I will stick to it. I’ll be with you, but I reaIly don’t feel comfortable with you when you are sad.”
When you smile filled with joy, and you look at somebody, they look back at you, When you cry they can’t really look back at you. You can smile eye to eye, but you can’t cry eye to eye. We know this world is a little mirror of Heaven, so although it can be beautiful when you cry, G-d still feels a little uncomfortable about it. You can cry with being, or you can cry with nothingness, with this dead kind of sadness. If someone says, “Really I love you so much, I want to be the greatest friend to you,” and he cries while he says it, that can open your heart in a thousand ways.
But if someone cries, “I was in the beauty parlor, sniff sniff, and they cheated me, sniff sniff, and I paid five dollars” what do you feel then? Would you say it is a beautiful confrontation? You say okay, pat her on the back, and look away. There is a very deep difference between crying before somebody and crying about something. If I am crying before G-d it is the holiest thing. Maybe He is crying with me, If I am crying about something, am I telling it to G-d, it is not as good.
Anyway, the most important thing you have to know is that if you are shining below here, G-d is shining. If you smile below here, then G-d smiles back at you from above. Something very holy is going on between you and G-d. Tears open the gates, but joy breaks down the walls! The word sadness is really a bad translation. The word atzvut actually means to shut yourself off. There are two kinds of sadness. There is marirut, which is bitterness, which is living sadness, and there is atzvut, which is dead sadness. Bitterness says, “I wish I could do better. I didn’t do it right.
Gevalt! Why didn’t I do better?” Without regretting, I just know I didn’t do well enough. That is living sadness, because when I walk out of there, I want to do better. The Baal Shem Tov says you can tell the difference between marirut and atzvut very simply. If you see another person after you cry, do you love them or do you hate them? If you cry in the living kind of crying then every person looks beautiful to you afterward. “I’m not so good, but they are so beautiful.” If you have the dead kind of sadness, then everything looks ugly to you.
Sometimes you cry and you look out the window and say, “Oh, those disgusting creatures walking down the street.” With this kind of sadness G-d can’t look at you either. If you want to know if you have the living kind of sadness or the dead kind of sadness, this is the test. In the dead kind of sadness, deep down you think, “I really think there is no G-d, the whole thing is a fake.” Even if this is only for one split second, at that moment you really reached the botom of dead sadness.
Therefore Reb Nachman warns that you should keep as far away from it as you can. There is a deep kind of sadness coming from things that G-d caused. We are always accustomed to rattle off the prayers. The holy Trisker Maggid was so real that one Slichos he didn’t go to pray. Slichos are the special prayers for the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana. Some Chassidim asked why he didn’t go, and he replied, “in the beginning of Slichos we say lkha hashem hatzedaka G-d, you are right, vlanu boshet hapanim and we are ashamed. You are right, whatever you did, and we are ashamed of what we did.” That year there had been pogroms all over.
He said, “I just can’t say it G-d, I’m sorry, I just can’t say it.” Every word he uttered was real, and since he couldn’t say G-d was right he didn’t want to say anything. If a person wants to know what level his joy is, it is very simple. If you feel one with the world, it is because you feel the oneness of G-d. So if you walk around and say you are filled with joy, but you can’t stand people, it is not G-d joy. If the joy is coming from a very high place then it doesn’t make you stupid. Some people think, “Today I am in such a good mood, I have to tell a dirty joke.” Is this how deep the joy touched you? It brought out all the garbage you had piled up the last few years? Then it is not the joy we are talking about.
The higher it is coming from, the deeper it goes. How do you know how deep the joy reaches? If it makes you get up and dance, then it reached your feet. Reb Nachman always talks about imagination. He says if you are sad, it is not that you have sad imagination, your imagination isn’t real. Imagination is flying, and if you are sad you are so heavy you can’t fly. You could imagine you are flying, but even that is impossible if your sadness is too heavy.
If you are filled with joy then you really have wings, and you can fly. What does it mean to be happy with what you are doing? If you are willing to be born, and hang around this world just for this one thing, that is called being happy with this thing. If you can be on the level with every mitzva you do that you feel, “if I would only be born to put on tfillin this one morning, I I were born just for this one Shabbos, it would be enough” that is called joy. G-d is a merchant selling Shabbos.
If it is good to do business with you, he’ll make another deal. There is such a thing as emet , truth, and there is such a thing as emuna, believing. Real joy is a combination of truth and believing. If emet and emuna and are both working strongly inside of me, if I believe what I know, and I know what I believe, then I am filled with joy. If my job comes from truth and believing, emet and emuna, then it is called holy joy. Otherwise it is called pagan joy.
The greatest joy in the world is when a person is really his own judge. If a person can observe himself, know what he did, what he has to do better, that means he is really in touch with himself. Most of the time we live through doing things, then we read in the newspaper that we did it. If something happens to you, and your best friend hears about it from someone else he gets angry. Can you imagine how angry your soul is that you never told your own soul what you are doing?
Sometimes you walk along and suddenly you are so happy, and you don’t know why. At that moment they declared in Heaven to give you something, even if it might not be until a hundred years from now. Your soul heard of the gift and was happy. Joy is the strongest vitamin, because joy makes you strong in a million ways, physically, mentally and spiritually. There are all kinds of strength, and the highest level of strength which a person needs to live in the world is joy.
If someone asks you something, and you give them real true advice, it fills you with joy. If you are suddenly unexplainably happy, it could be because somewhere in the world a very holy soul was born. When you tell stories about holy people, and you tell other people there are holy people in the world, it fills you with joy. In the end Reb Nachman says, “I want you to know that all this talk is really meaningless, because how can I tell you to be happy? It is up to everyone himself, but I am begging you to be happy.”