By HaRav Eliezer Berland, shlit”a
“And they did not listen to Moshe because of [their] shortness of breath and harsh labor.” (Shmos 6:9)
The whole world is mistaken; people think that in order to merit salvation and sweeten the judgment, they must fast and do strenuous labor…
When Moshe Rabenu came to Mitzrayim, he announced to the people, “My friends! Hashem has revealed Himself to me! There is soon going to be redemption. Be happy, rejoice, sing and play music, this is a time for dancing and singing, bring a band, bring some violins and start singing about the news of the upcoming redemption!” Yet, “And the people did not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and harsh labor.” Rabbenu says (Tora 86), “They had very little emunah (faith), in the aspect of ‘from shortness of breath’… Since the Jews were in the aspect of “from shortness of breath” and had very little emunah, they had to fast and work hard. Those that are in the aspect of “shortness of breath”, who lack the shleimus (completeness) of emunah have a tendency to take upon themselves sigufim (self affliction of suffering) and fasting. The Noam Elimelech said that this was the argument Moshe had with the tzadikim of that generation; Moshe said, ‘Stop with the fasting and sigufim, stop with all the arduous labor! Start rejoicing, play music, sing!” Indeed, since they were sent into slavery, Am Yisrael and the tzadikim did not remain silent for even one moment; they fasted, wept and sat upon the ground [in mourning]. Day by day, they watched how children were being thrown into the Nile, how babies were being slaughtered; the Egyptians used them to build their walls. Paroh bathed in the blood of the babies! Not one person remained silent; they fasted, mourned and wept in order to bring about the redemption. Moshe came and said to them, “Rabosay! This is not the way! This is a mistake! You want to fast? So fast! But that will not bring the redemption. You cannot bring about the redemption via sigufim and fasting. The redemption can only be brought through simcha! They replied, “What?! You are suggesting to us a different way of serving Hashem? You want to take away our fasting and sigufim after we have been doing this for years upon years?” They did not pay attention to Moshe ‘from a shortness of breath’ and ‘from their harsh labor’ –i.e. from despair and frustration. They were so involved in their harsh labor, they could not release their feelings of despair and gain emunah that there was hope and that they may be redeemed. Moshe declared, ‘it is time to start serving Hashem with simcha, from tremendous joy! Only simcha can surrender the klipa (outer spiritual peel of impurity and depression); only simcha can bring about the redemption.’ The Noam Elimelech explains that the tzaddikim who take upon themselves fasting and harsh labor have a very high neshama, not just any simple neshama, but they don’t see what greater tzaddikim, the likes of Moshe Rabenu see; because the tzadik ha’emes (the True Tzaddik) easily nullifies judgment and harsh decrees. He doesn’t require any effort at all; no sigufim, no fasting, he nullifies the decrees with pure simcha, with music and song. The world is mistaken; people think that in order to merit salvation and to sweeten the harsh judgment they must work strenuously and fast, etc. As a matter of fact, the Baal Shem Tov already cancelled the whole matter of fasting and harsh labor and this is what Rabbenu is referring to when he says that “the world doesn’t believe that one can merit salvation and mitigate the harsh judgment purely through simcha”.
There are several levels of Tzelem Elokim (the Image of Hashem). There is the first level, where the person lives in the present and is happy with the present. He’s always happy. That is the first level of Tzelem Elokim. Then there is a higher level, where one must know Torah and mitzvos and laws. First the person must attain the first level – he must start understanding what is the present; start learning how to live in the now, how to rejoice now, how to be happy every minute and every second, to sense the present and only the present and not think about anything else beyond. He shouldn’t worry himself at all with the future. You are here, now, alive, breathing and well, so be happy! Don’t worry yourself about what was or what will be. That is the aspect of “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his portion.” The person must be happy every moment and every second. No one is beating you; you have a nice cup of tea, what more do you need? What do you lack? You’re thirsty? Go drink! You’re hungry? Go make yourself a sandwich and you’ll feel better! Feel happy, rejoice! Don’t fret about what was in the past or what will be in the future; be as happy as you possibly can! That’s how you should see everything – with joy. When a person focuses on living the present, he is fulfilling, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his portion.” Through this simcha, man can achieve everything; every kind of salvation he needs. He can reach the highest levels in the world.
The nissayon (test) of a Jew is to always remain happy. That is the biggest test because every single person must go through nissyonos, ups and downs, throughout his entire lifetime. The most important time to strengthen ourselves in simcha is when we have fallen. In the midst of the nissayon, he must strengthen himself in simcha and have faith that this, too, will pass. There is a remarkable story in “Kochvei Or” about a man who was digging in the ground when he suddenly discovered a diamond worth a million dollars. He thought it was just a piece of glass, at first, but when he showed it to another man, the latter confirmed that that it was most certainly a real diamond! “It’s worth a fortune,” he said, “but you won’t find anyone in this village, or even in this land that can afford to buy it.” So he decided to travel to London. He sold his house and everything he owned; his broken furniture and torn clothes, but the money he earned afforded him only the ride to the harbor. At the harbor he ran into the captain of a boat who inquired what he was his business there? The man pulled the diamond out of his pocket and showed it to the captain. “I have a precious diamond,” he replied. The captain’s eyes popped out greedily. “With such a diamond you may come aboard my ship. You don’t have to pay me for the ride now.” The captain set him up in a comfortable room and gave him three good meals a day. One day, the man was sitting at his table, eating his meal when he suddenly decided to examine his precious diamond. He took it out and looked it over with glee. Feeling very tired then, he placed the diamond on the table and soon fell fast asleep. Meanwhile, the waiter entered into his room to clean up after the meal. Without paying any attention to the contents on the table, the waiter picked up the cloth with all the leftovers and diamond inside and shook it out of the window, into the sea. When the man awoke, you can imagine his horrible shock when he saw that the diamond was missing. He nearly fainted, his heart almost stopped beating. He knew that if the captain were to discover what had happened he would surely throw him into the sea to join his long lost diamond. The man decided that he had no choice but to be strong and remain happy. Using supernatural powers, he put a smile on his face and forced himself to appear happy. A few minutes later the captain came by to visit. The Yid gave him such a warm smile and began to dance about the room, laughing and rejoicing. The captain had never seen him so happy. Truthfully, though, the Yid knew that this burst of joy would not last long; soon his heart would start beating furiously once more. When the captain saw what a happy man he was, he said to him, “Let’s make a deal, you and I. Everyone thinks I am a pirate. When I arrive in London, everyone will inquire from where I have received the merchandise aboard my ship. You are a merciful Jew, please have mercy on me. Let’s sign a deal and put this entire ship, including all of the gold and diamonds in your name. I trust you. You are a great merchant, you are very successful, and you’ve got that huge diamond…” The captain then signed everything over to the Yid. Then, as the boat approached the harbor, the captain suddenly got a stroke and died. Now, the entire ship, with all of its priceless merchandise belonged to the Jew.
Rabbenu introduced the world to a completely new revelation: ‘You should know that there is no despair in the world at all.’ There is no such a thing as despair, even in the most difficult times, even with the greatest disasters. If the person would hold on to simcha for even five minutes, dance and sing, he would see how everything would turn around for the best. One must always come home with a smile on his face, always come home happy! At home, your family doesn’t need to know about your troubles and that you are going through hard times. If you can’t bring yourself to smiling and being happy, sit outside in the stairwell and practice forcefully smiling. Practice all sorts of gestures of happiness and when you’re ready, go inside with a happy face. If the person would remain strong and stay happy he could merit the most wondrous miracles in the world. The entire avodah (work) of a person is to remain happy, no matter what. He must constantly say, “Everything is for the best”. That is the main nissayon. If the person would say, “everything is for the best” about everything, he would find his way out of every type of suffering and difficulty in the world. He’ll see wonders and miracles. A person must be happy, sing and thank Hashem at all times, before the troubles befall him. Don’t wait around for the troubles to come and then have to work hard to get out of them. Then, when your troubles are over you’ll be forced to give thanks, sing and offer a korban Todah. We should just always be happy, always sing to Hashem and recognize the greatness of Hashem. “Every neshama shall praise Hashem”, with every breath we should praise Hashem. You’re breathing? Be happy! One must sing for every breath he breathes. Don’t wait around for the troubles to come. If you’ll be happy, sing to Hashem and thank Him constantly, the troubles won’t need to come at all.
The main avodah is to not be sad for even one second, because there is no reason at all to be sad or depressed. We must believe that every person has the chance to have everything good, materialistically and spiritually, to succeed in every aspect of his life. We should be happy that Hashem did not make us goyim, that he made us Jews: Baruch Hashem I merited keeping Shabbos, I merited putting on Tefillin… Be happy that you merited praying; it’s as though you found a diamond worth millions! One must constantly draw upon himself simcha, endless simcha. If you don’t know what to be happy about then be happy that Hashem created us as G-dly creations; that is the greatest joy! “Yisrael shall be happy with He who made them, the children of Tzion shall rejoice in their King.” We should be happy with Hashem, that He created us; “We are His nation and the sheep of His flock.” Hashem created us for His honor: “Blessed is He, our G-d, Who created us for His honor, and separated us from the wrongdoers.” We should rejoice in the fact that Hashem created us for His honor; so that we should learn and daven, so that the whole world will see - all the nations will see that the greatest weapon of the Jewish people is Torah and Tefilla, since Hashem sees that we have true simcha. He sees that we are happy with Him and will therefore nullify all the decrees and all the troubles. So, what is left for you to do? Start rejoicing in Hashem, be happy with Hashem, only Hashem, with Him you can be happy! He is the Omnipotent, Hashem is for all eternity, He loves you, He created you, Hashem believes in you, Hashem believes in your teshuva. He will never ever leave you and He will give you everything you need.