Purim 5778: Crying with Joy

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 02/28/18

We all aspire to attain it. We exert much energy and time in pursuit of it. Most of us never achieve it.  It’s happiness.

What defines happiness? Is it wealth, fame, family, health or success? There are many healthy and famously rich entrepreneurs with families, who aren’t very happy.

Perhaps we can determine what this elusive goal is by examining its antonym.

Is sadness the opposite of happiness? There are many people who aren’t sad, yet wouldn’t claim to be happy. Is worry the polar end of joy? Go ask the many resigned homeless, who wander about without any apparent worry in the world, if they are truly happy.

At a wedding we bless the bride and groom to be as joyous as Adam and Chava were in the Garden of Eden. Seemingly the joy of a wedding approximates the epitome of happiness - life in paradise. What is there specifically that brings them such extreme delight?

A dear friend of mine whose celebrated a wedding for a child who divorced shortly afterwards, pondered about all the lost joy the family experienced at the wedding, that now came to be unrealized. Upon further contemplation he made a remarkable observation. Although the hoped for happy future for their child was suddenly quashed, nevertheless the closeness the family sensed at that time, having put aside for that night all the normal and natural contentions that develop within the family unit, choosing to focus that evening on the instinctive and deeply honest connection and love they felt for one another, will never fade.

The Targum translates שמחה, simcha/joy, as חדי, literally translating into ‘oneness’ from חד meaning one. 

Man craves connection. When we feel connected we sense bliss. The antonym to happiness is loneliness. When one feels isolated and disconnected from those around him, unhappiness sets in.

The elation we often experience at a wedding is not due solely to the joy in seeing two people hopefully meet their destiny together, but more so to the exquisite bond we sense expanding outward from the nucleus of the family that encompasses the wider circle of dear friends that are so integral to their lives, and beyond.

The first human report regarding the unfurling of the terrible events surrounding the worship of the Golden Calf  is given by Yehoshua to Moshe. The first thing he observes is how he hears the sound of the people בְּרֵעֹה, literally ‘rejoicing’ loudly. The word בְּרֵעֹה rooted in the notion ofרעות , joyful camaraderie of spirit. (רש"י)

Targum Unkelos, however, translates this word as מיבבן, crying, בְּרֵעֹה similar to the word תרועה, the staccato ‘crying’ sound of the Shofar. Evidently they expressed their frustration over Moshe’s delay by crying and eventually retreated to placate their loss by worshipping the Golden Calf in his stead. Alternatively, it may reflect on the tears of the righteous among them who cried over their brethren who rejoiced in their devotion to the Golden Calf.

The Targum Yehonoson ben Uziel, enigmatically, combines both interpretations by translating it as מיבבין בחדוא, crying with joy. How does one ‘cry’ through joy?

In man’s quest for happiness - connection, one often misplaces genuine bonding with artificial adhesives. When observing sport fans rooting excitedly for their team, there is clearly an intensified fervor knowing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of others are joining in their hoped for win. But the thrill is fleeting and only skin deep. The same is true when going to a concert and jointly rocking wildly to a common beat. But it too, is often fueled by a shallow desire to be distracted in the enjoyment of the moment, with no defined or purposeful goal that truly unites the audience.

We often pursue these types of venues, subconsciously seeking to nourish our innate quest for connection, and discover only temporal satisfaction that quickly fades, leaving us pining for something else to soothe our need to connect.

Might that be the deeper meaning in Targum Yehonoson’s reference of ‘crying with joy’? They are really crying within their souls for genuine connection but seek it in vacuous events that, to all outside observers, may seem like joy but is in truth desperate cries for meaningful belonging.

When the nation suddenly became despondent, mistakenly thinking that Moshe had abandoned them, they felt a profound sense of loneliness and isolation.

The Torah describes how in their anxious state they made the grievous error of ויקמו לצחק,  they got up to revel, frantically substituting contrived connection and joy for the real thing. As so often happens when attempting to create camaraderie on a foundation of superficial relationships, it quickly devolved into promiscuous behavior and a contentiousness that resulted in the murder of the innocent and righteous Chur. (שמות לב ו ורש"י שם)

They too, wined, dined and danced, rejoicing externally in a futile attempt to quell their despondence and loneliness. Despite their greatest efforts they couldn’t conceal the fact that they were really: מיבבין בחדוא, crying with joy - crying for connection under a facade of happiness.  

The process to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf began on the subsequent Yom Kippurim, Day of Atonement, when they once again received the Torah in the form of the Second Tablets. That set into motion the lengthy march towards the final remediation of this sin, that would take its journey through the various exiles our people would endure.

Purim we are taught by the Holy Zohar offers an even greater magnification of the atonement we achieve on Yom Kippurim, as its very name, יום כפורים indicates through an alternative vowelization, expressing a day which is כְּפּוּרִים, ‘like’ Purim, intimating Purim’s greater stature in that Yom Kippur is likened to it.

On Purim we attained pure undiluted joy. We opened our eyes to the deep connection that exists between us and G-d even amidst the darkest of times. That consciousness brought us to broaden that circle by creating an exquisite bond with all our fellow Jews.

The sentiment we recite joyously aloud: ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר, The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor, encapsulates this very lesson. The Jews radiated a reflection of the light of Torah that penetrates and unites them. That association thrilled them and brought them to the pinnacle of absolute joy. The core of the universe, Torah, as manifested through the Jewish people brought them honor, as the nations too, were drawn to this magnetic pull of the Divine that ultimately seeks to unify all of creation, bringing it to a blissful existence.

The first letters of each of these expressions, -שמחה-ששון-יקראורה , light-gladness-joy-honor, compose the word אָֹשִיֹש, alluding to the inspired words of the Prophet Yeshayahu who foretells of the final redemption as a time when: שוש אשיש בד' תגל נפשי באלקי (ישעיהו סא י),  I will rejoice with the Lord; my soul shall exult with my G-d.

The joy of Purim is in rediscovering our connectedness to our Creator, as He is expressed within each other and the world at large. It is in that bond that happiness erupts.

May we draw from the wells of pure joy on Purim, extending it to encompass each one of our days beyond, in a magnificent circle of genuinely bonded hands, bringing light, gladness and divined joy to the world.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן