“Rabbi, my life is terrible,” Sally complained to me, “Why do some people have it so good? It’s not fair! I thought my golden years would be spent in utter bliss, but things haven’t quite worked out the way I thought they would. Why has G-d done this to me? Doesn’t He want me to be happy?”
Every day we recite nineteen blessings in the Amidah prayer, three introductory blessings of praise, thirteen blessings wherein we beseech G-d for our needs, and three concluding blessings of thanks. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, we recite the same introductory and concluding blessings, but we should not beseech G-d for our mundane needs on the holy day – therefore there is only one intermediate blessing which speaks of the holiness of the day.
The text on Shabbos is “Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies the Shabbos.” Rebbe teaches that on Yom Tov, the text is “Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.” Ravina explains that whereas Shabbos is independently holy, Yom Tov needs our sanctification.
When G-d created the world, he set up a system of six days of work and one day of rest, six days of work and one day of rest. This system continues forever, independent of what anyone does. In contrast, Yom Tov does not fall on a fixed day. In ancient times, the High Court in Jerusalem would determine when the new month would begin based upon the sighting of the new moon. Their determination of the beginning of the month would in turn determine the date of the festival. And so Yom Tov is in our hands, hence the text of the blessing “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”
The quintessential attribute of Shabbos is menucha – rest. The quintessential attribute of Yom Tov is simcha – joy. The Talmud teaches us that while the former is not in our hands, the latter is. We cannot control how much menucha we have in our lives. Some people’s lives are tranquil – things go smoothly, they are not encumbered with health difficulties, livelihood concerns or child-rearing challenges. Others have very rough lives; it seems that no sooner has one challenge been resolved when life throws them the next curveball.
Unfortunately, that’s life. We don’t know why G-d provides some people with easy lives and others with difficult lots. Menucha is not in your hands. Simcha, however, is in your hands. Simcha is the way you react to life’s challenges. Many people think that happiness is out there, you just need to find it. With such an attitude, you will never be happy.
Ravina teaches that you control your happiness. You get to decide whether or not your life will be filled with joy. You can’t control what life throws your way but you can control your attitude towards the vicissitudes of life. If you maintain a positive attitude, if you cultivate the wellspring of happiness inside of your essence, then your life will be wonderful, no matter what challenges the Almighty has bestowed your life with.
Happiness is your choice. Choose to live a life of joy!