On Sunday evening, February 18, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, South African Orthodox rabbi, inspirational speaker and writer involved in Jewish outreach, and world-renowned expert in Jewish medical ethics, spoke on behalf of Emet Outreach at the Young Israel of Queens Valley. His topic was “Happiness in a Sad World.”

Rabbi Tatz began by sharing that we have a mitzvah to be happy on a festival, while on Shabbos we have a different mindset. On Shabbos, the work is to rest; and on a festival, the work is to be happy. He posed the question of why there are two different modes for both. Also, why do we need Shabbos every week? This suggests that it is far more important than any other message in Judaism. In addition, the punishment for breaking Shabbos is a life and death question. We can only break Shabbos to save a life so that person can keep Shabbos in the future. Another question he noted is that we keep Shabbos by refraining from doing things.

He then explained that there are three dimensions to the world. These are space, time, and spirit. Yerushalayim is space and Shabbos is time. We keep Shabbos by not doing creative activities that were performed to build the Beis HaMikdash. Why are non-Jews not permitted to keep Shabbos? Also, why are non-Jews not permitted to learn Torah? What is the commonality between Shabbos and learning Torah? Rav Moshe Shapiro used to ask why Shabbos has the meaning of sitting. On Shabbos you cannot travel beyond city limits. The problem is that we sit at times of sadness like sitting shiv’ah. Jewish law is called halachah, which means walking. Life is about growth and development and moving forward, so sitting is static, so sitting is sad. Why does Shabbos have a name of non-progression and sadness? Also, why is a place of Torah study called a yeshivah, which means a place to sit? Rabbi Tatz shared that every nuance of Jewish expression has depth.

Shabbos is a fantastic psychological time. It’s a time to renew our relationships with family and to commune with nature. “Every journey is given meaning by its destination.” He explained that journey needs destination. Every process is given meaning by the result of the process. Every step of the journey must lead to a destination. “There has to be an endpoint that gives meaning to the journey.”

Therefore, if you are running a business, the destination is to make money. Destination is not negotiable. “Our vision of life is that it’s a journey to a destination that we call Olam HaBa.”

He noted that you can’t hold onto a moment in the journey. All you can ever have is what you export on to eternity. He emphasized that “The fact that you’re going somewhere that has meaning is the main message in Judaism. That is the secret of Shabbos.”

The fact that you have an endpoint gives meaning to the journey.

In the next world, you move with the momentum you built up here in this life. Our concept is that life is an arduous journey towards a destination, and that destination is composed of our work that we put into it. That is why the Gemara teaches us that the ecstasy of the Next World is experiencing it. Every Shabbos you enter a zone for being. You’re experiencing a premonition of another world when you can no longer construct.

There are two things you do in life that are endpoints in themselves. Shabbos presents a mitzvah to be. You exist in the moment. Learning Torah lishmah for the pure joy of learning is also an endpoint in itself. You’re learning to see how Hashem thinks and you revel in wisdom. You do it for the sake of doing it.

He pointed out that non-Jews are not allowed to do both of these mitzvos. Eisav was meant to master this world and make it a beautiful place. Yaakov was meant to take that beauty and connect it to the spiritual world. Non-Jews work to build this world. The whole week prepares for Shabbos. It’s the time to come face to face with who you would be in the Next World. Each Shabbos, you need to be better than the week before.

On Yom Tov, the main focus is joy. We are supposed to serve Hashem with simchah. Chasidus teaches that the work is in the joy. So, how do you achieve happiness in a sad world? It’s an obligation in Adar to increase joy, and in Av to diminish it. So, we see that we always need to feel joy.

The Chazon Ish taught that for the one who knows what life is all about, there is no sadness. Rabbi Tatz explained that we enjoy work that yields progress. Pain is tolerated because we enjoy anticipation of the destination. If we have emunah, we know that every difficulty is being exported to eternity. When we reach the destination, we enjoy the pleasure of how hard the journey was. “You can’t be depressed when you are productive.”

The cycle of the year includes the joy of festivals, and each one is a step in our journey. The Hebrew word for festivals is r’galim, which means moving. They move.

This shiur can be viewed on TorahAnytime.com.

By Susie Garber


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