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Today is Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Chodesh Nissan 5773

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National Council of Young Israel is proud to present a series of Divrei Torah from the Rebbetzins of the National Young Israel Movement by women for women.  This endeavor will spotlight their thoughts of the season from the heritage of our Torah.  Look forward to this special addition to our Divrei Torah Bulletin series, each Rosh Chodesh.


Guest Rebbetzin:
Rebbetzin Elana Weinberg

Young Israel of West Hartford, CT

As we enter into the Jewish month of Nisan, and the stress and hustle and bustle of Pesach preparations emerges, it is very easy for many of us to lose sight of a fundamental value of life and of Judaism-the value of simcha, or joy. While many people believe that the Jewish month of Adar is the paradigm of happiness-sighting the oft-referenced quote from Mesechet Ta’anit “Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha,” when the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness; Adar does not have a monopoly on this trait. In truth, the Biblical origins of the concept of simcha, most accurately align to the Jewish months of Nisan, Sivan and Tishrei.

Language experts will tell you that the number of synonyms a given language has for a single word reflects the significance of that concept in the culture where the language is spoken. For example, some linguists say that the Inuit population, have at least fifteen different ways to say the word “snow.” This makes sense considering that they live in arctic climates, where snow significantly impacts their daily life. In Hebrew, we have seven synonyms for the word simcha. Clearly, joy and happiness are values that play an important role in Judaism.

We know that happiness is an important element in so many different realms of Jewish life. For example, the Gemarah in Mesechet Shabbat teaches us that a person is only able to experience prophecy when he or she is happy. But why is happiness so important in Judaism? Perhaps, the answer to this question lies in another question-how does Judaism believe we achieve happiness?

In order to answer this question, I would like to look at a mitzvah that is very apropos to this time of year, as we approach Pesach. There is a well-known biblical commandment to be happy on the Shalosh Regalim, the three Pilgrimage holidays,-the law of “V’Samachta B’Chagecha.” We are taught that as we approach the Beit HaMikdash to confront HaShem, we should celebrate and be joyous. Rav Soloveitchik explains that simcha and being in the presence of G-d are interconnected. Our happiness is caused by having the opportunity to stand lifnei HaShem, directly before G-d, and it is being in His presence which obligates us to rejoice. In fact, the Gemarah in Mesechet Chagiga teaches us that “Ein Atzvut Lifeni HaKadosh Baruch Hu” there is no sadness when one is standing before G-d. Judaism believes that we achieve happiness by clinging closely to G-d.

Perhaps this idea is evident even in the word itself. Dr. David Pelcovitz, a well-known psychologist with whom I studied in graduate school at Yeshiva University, points out that the Hebrew word for joy, simcha, is really a composite of two words-sham moach, loosely translated as “where your thoughts are.” Judaism believes that an individual has the ability to create happiness by channeling one’s thoughts in a positive direction. This is a powerful message for us because it teaches us that our personal happiness is in our hands . . . we can create it; it is not something that occurs by chance to the lucky few, and the way we create it, is by channeling our thoughts in a way that brings us closer to G-d. And now it is clear why we have so many words for happiness in Hebrew-because being close to G-d is a pillar of our faith.

Although today we do not have the ability to encounter G-d over Pesach at the Beit HaMikdash, the holiday is replete with opportunities for us to connect with Him. Throughout the month of Nisan, we are given countless opportunities to connect with G-d by connecting with others and reaching out to those in need. This can be seen in the custom of Ma’ot Chittim and the seder itself.

The custom of Ma’ot Chittim, or Kimcha D’Pischa is already mentioned in the Talmud Yerushalmi in Mesechet Baba Batra and continues to this day. This custom originally developed in order to help poor people purchase flour to bake matzah for the holiday, as well as other needs for the holiday. As we all know, Pesach is a very expensive holiday, and participating in this custom to the best of one’s ability ensures that those less fortunate are able to enjoy the holiday as well. Aiding another to perform a mitzvah and to enjoy the holiday is certainly considered “lifeni HaShem” or confronting G-d. Each person is created B’Tzelem Elokim, in the image of HaShem, therefore reaching out to another individual is reaching out to the Divine. This will subsequently generate happiness.

Additionally, the maggid section of the Pesach seder commences with the idea of reaching out to those less fortunate. As we recite the words of “Ha Lachma Anya,” this is our poor bread, we make sure to welcome anyone in need to join us, with the word “kol dichfin yeiti v’yachol; kol ditzrich yeiti v’yiphsach.” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments on this section in his hagadah that by “reaching out to others, giving help to the needy and companionship to those who are alone, we bring freedom into the world, and with freedom, G-d.” Through acts of kindness and tzedakah we are able to encounter G-d - the ultimate fulfillment of “V’Samachta B’Chag-echa.”

As Pesach approaches it is critical for each of us to be thankful for all of the blessings that we are granted each day, and to share our blessings with those in need. It is one of the simplest and most meaningful ways for us to enrich our families and our communities. Additionally, it will connect us directly to HaShem, cultivating enormous simcha for each of us.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Rebbetzin Elana Weinberg lives in West Hartford, Connecticut where her husband serves as the Rabbi of the Young Israel of West Hartford. She teaches Talmud and Halacha at the Hebrew High School of New England. She is the mother of Joseph Weinberg to increase her simcha everyday. She can reached by email at


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