28 Feb Simcha – What Does it Mean? by Rabbi Noam Sendor
This week, the calls of joy and celebration reverberated throughout the school as we ushered in the month of Adar. Musical Hallel, singing and dancing, costume coordination and Purim learning punctuated the classroom experience. And of course, the school tradition of singing “MiShenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha” took centre stage. As the song suggests, when we enter into the month of Adar, we increase Simcha. But what exactly is Simcha? Is it is simply happiness, or is there something else, much deeper, that we are seeking?
Emily Esfahani Smith did all the right things that society told her to do. She worked hard, got good grades, went to a good University, got the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect life. The problem was, she wasn’t happy. Despite all her accomplishments, she felt something was missing. She entered into the study of clinical psychology, and after many years of research, she concluded that it is not happiness that we are looking for, but, rather meaning. As Esfahani points out, “Psychologists often define happiness as feeling good in the present moment, whereas meaning gets at something deeper. The psychologist Martin Seligman said meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself, and from developing something within you.”
Through her research, Esfahani Smith understood that meaning can be achieved through focusing on four pillars: Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence, and Story-telling. She develops these pillars in her bestselling book “The Power of Meaning,” as well as her very popular TED Talk, both of which I highly recommend. As I learned more about these pillars, I was struck by just how relevant these ideas are to Judaism in general, and Adar, in particular. These pillars become the focal points of the month of Adar, as we are challenged to increase “Simcha.”
Belonging – “Belonging comes from being in relationships where you are valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well,” Esfahani Smith writes. The very focus of Adar is ensuring that we strengthen our belonging to community and those around us—through the various mitzvot of the month that increase contact points with those around us, such as Mishloach Manot (food gifts given on Purim), the meal on Purim and even the very act of dressing up on Purim. One of the many reasons why we dress up on Purim is to reflect the awareness that our true identity is actually hidden all the time. On Purim, when we appear as an astronaut, the Cheshire cat or a time-travelling Chassidic master, we reveal the fact that our true identity is loved and cherished no matter how we appear.
Purpose – “This is not the same thing as a job that makes you happy. The key to purpose is using your strengths to serve others,” Esfahani Smith says. In Adar, we hone in on the awareness that we are here to serve. Beginning with the mitzvah of Machatzit HaShekel, which we read about last Shabbat, where everyone is asked to contribute half a shekel for communal purposes, to Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’Evyonim (gifts for the poor), or ensuring that everyone has a place to go on Shabbat or the Purim Seuda, we invest the gifts of our time, resources and focus in others, recognizing that this is the source of true Simcha.
Transcendence – “Transcendence is when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away and you feel connected to a higher reality.” This is an essential element of daily Jewish life, one which has unfortunately suffered much neglect in recent years. But you can’t escape the call of Transcendence in Adar or on Purim. The story and experience of Purim reminds us that there is something else going on, a deeper truth to reality. It is always here, we just need to tap in. And during Adar, we tap into transcendence through a bit of chaos and camaraderie.
Story-telling- “Creating a narrative about the things in your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you,” Esfahani Smith said. “But we don’t always realize that we’re the authors of our own stories and can change the way we’re telling them. Your life isn’t just a list of events. You can edit, interpret and retell your story even as you’re constrained by the facts.” This ideas is, in many ways, one of Judaism’s most important messages.
We are all story-tellers. But no, it is deeper than that. We are all part of a story, as old as time itself, from Adam and Chava to Avraham and Sara, Esther and Mordechai to Golda Meir and Rav Kook (with a few in between). You and I are part of a grand, sweeping story, and the words we write and chapters we contribute are essential. On Purim, we read one story of Kings and Queens and the triumph of good over evil, ever relevant. But every week we read this story too, and every day we add another chapter, word or letter.
So maybe we cheapen “Simcha” when we translate it as happiness. Simcha is something far more transformative than momentary, fleeting happiness. Simcha is the deep satisfaction and all-encompassing joy that is the by-product of seeking meaning in our daily lives through its pillars. And so, with that, I want to bless all of us with a Chodesh Tov, a good month, a month filled with belonging, purpose, transcendence and the awareness that we are part of the greatest story ever told. A month of Simcha, for us, and the whole world.
Read more from last weeks Kesher here!