Written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Co-Director of Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at UCLA
This Jewish month of Adar is a time of extreme happiness! The miracle of the Purim story, taken place in Adar, and the enormous salvation that occurred is so significant that it characterizes this time of year, annually, as one charged with positive energy and celebration.
What is happiness? Etymologically the word is related to other words with a similar root — such as “happen”, “haphazard” and “happenstance” — seemingly implying that happiness is generated by some external stimulus. We do not have to look further than the classic “happy hour” as the commonly held indicator that fortuitously encountering a lucky, chance occurrence is all that is needed to ignite happiness in an individual. After all, who does not get excited about half-price drinks?!?
Yet, Judaism teaches that happiness is deeper. The Hebrew word for happiness, simcha, is the contraction of two words “sham” (meaning ‘there’) and “moach” (meaning ‘mind’), indicating that happiness is a cerebral experience rather than an emotional one. Happiness is not dependent on external factors or chance encounters but rather is a state of being developed from within an individual. The Jewish experience of happiness is rooted in a sense of security that stems from perspective, personal value, meta-connection and individual direction. This is what the Jews in the city of Shushan, the characters of the Purim story, experienced and what so many strive to achieve, in the ever-elusive search for happiness, today.
This year, when we are blessed with two consecutive months of Adar, let’s embrace the opportunity to deepen our simcha and nurture it. Owning the empowerment that comes from the recognition that simcha is in our control is truly what makes happiness happen!
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.