Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: Rejoicing and Bliss

After describing the rejoicing at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva during Chol Hamoed Sukkoth Rambam at the end of Hil Lulav writes –

יד מצוה, להרבות בשמחה זו. ולא היו עושין אותה עמי הארץ, וכל מי שירצה--אלא גדולי חכמי ישראל וראשי הישיבות והסנהדרין והחסידים והזקנים ואנשי מעשה, הם שהיו מרקדין ומספקין ומנגנין ושמחין במקדש בימי חג הסוכות; אבל כל העם, האנשים והנשים--כולן באין לראות, ולשמוע:
טו שהשמחה שישמח אדם בעשיית המצוות ובאהבת האל שציווה בהן, עבודה גדולה היא; וכל המונע עצמו משמחה זו, ראוי להיפרע ממנו, שנאמר "תחת, אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלוהיך, בשמחה, ובטוב לבב" (דברים כח,מז).

It is a commandment to rejoice a lot. Not the plain people, nor all persons that wanted to join in, were permitted to partake [literally: do it]. Only the greatest among the sages of Israel, the heads of the academies, the members of the Sanhedrin [Supreme Court in modern parlance], the Chassidim [perfectionists?], the elders and the accomplished [literally: men of deeds] danced, clapped, sang and rejoiced in the Temple the days of Sukkoth. The people – both men and women - came to watch and hear. It is so because the rejoicing that a person experiences while performing [literally: doing] the commandments and while loving the God that commanded them is a great worship [literally: service]. Whoever refrains from partaking in this rejoicing is worthy of punishment as it says, “Because you did not serve your God with joy and good heart … [you will serve your enemies…].

It is noteworthy that Rambam connects joy with the performance of mitzvoth and the love of God who commanded them. As we have seen, to Rambam, love of God means knowledge of God. The proper performance of a Mitzvah is to be aware of who commanded it. That makes one think about God which leads back to His creations and the great wisdom that is apparent in them. That in turn triggers a feeling of joy to the point that one cannot contain himself and breaks out in dance.

Let us just remember how Rambam describes the reaction of a person who apprehends the greatness of existence. “When a person contemplates these things [physics and metaphysics as they pertain to our existence] and gets to know all created things, angels, spheres, man and similar things, he sees the wisdom of HKBH in all creations. His love of God increases, his soul thirsts and his flesh pines to love HKBH. He becomes fearful and scared [realizing] his own relative lowness, poverty and lightness when compared to one of the great holy bodies. How much more will he see himself as a vessel full of shame, empty and lacking when compared to the pure matterless Forms that never attach themselves to matter.”

Now let us compare this to the description of those who rejoice –

טז וכל המשפיל עצמו, ומקל גופו במקומות אלו--הוא הגדול המכובד, העובד מאהבה

One who lowers himself and makes light of his self [literally: body] in such places – is the great and the honored one, a person who worships [serves] from love.

I find this a fascinating description of the different emotions the thinker experiences. He does a Mitzvah aware of God. As he thinks about Him, his only path is through His actions. In doing so, he develops an urge to love God the cause of all this great existence. The insight and apprehension he acquires triggers a feeling of elation, happiness, bliss which gives him the urge to rejoice. He starts to act on his feelings, dancing, singing and generally becoming uninhibited. He all of a sudden feels embarrassed. He is not acting according to his station. Is he not a leader? How can he debase himself to such an extent? He then realizes that his stature is nothing compared to HKBH. True humility kicks in. He is now “stateless”. That is great worship [service].

I wish you all Chag Sameach – True rejoicing.


  1. Think about this for a second...suppose an alien being, someone totally other, non human came into your house. The alien knew all your thought, conscious and unconscious. He knew you better than you know you. Would you be comfortable? Would you want to get as close as you can or would it be an unsettling, unpleasant experience.

    When it comes to the radical other, especially if they are infinitely more intelligent than us finite creatures, we generally prefer to maintain our distance.

    Is this example relevant?

    Chag sameach.

  2. EJ, but what happens if that other is really the cause of your existence? You reside within Him in a certain sense ? Hu mekomo shel olam ve'ein ha'olam mekomo!

    A psychiatrist once told me that to him God is a replacement of a father figure. He is an atheist but that is how he understood religion. I told him that God is closer than that. I am within Him or at least I try. He probably thought I wanted to get back into the womb.

    Chag Sameach to you too. please don't read what I wrote above literally just as a metaphor.

  3. Can you take a look at the following post, actually the entire blog is fascinating, and my comment. It is relevant to my earlier point in a way. BTW I am not totally confident my comment there is oisgehalten.Your thought on the theology involved would be appreciated. (10/7|

  4. EJ see my commnet there. You were on the money. It is the tosafot re iyun tefila.