Reb Nachman On Joy

Reprinted from the Holy Beggars’ Gazette, Vol 2 No 3
Not for commercial redistribution.

San Francisco, 5734.
Rabbeinu speaking
Transcribed by (Rabbi) Elana Rappaport Schechter


This is a little anthology of Reb Nachman’s teachings about joy.
What is the difference between sadness and joy? Joy really fills
you; whatever you have is fuller, and sadness empties you out. “I
don’t have this, I don’t have that,” so even what you have you don’t
have. People walk around sad because they don’t know what to do
with their future. You have this minute right now. What are you
doing with it? The difference between sadness and joy is very simple.
Sadness always tells you, “Oy Vey! What are you going to do in ten
minutes? What will you do ten years from now?” If you are really
filled with joy for one minute, then you will know what to do the
next minute also.

    What is G-d giving you? He is giving you this minute. He hasn’t
given tomorrow, He promised He will give tomorrow. Of course I
don’t know what to do tomorrow, because I didn’t receive it yet.
Sadness is very much concerned with what I don’t have, and I really
don’t have tomorrow yet.

    Why, if somebody dies, G-d forbid, are you filled with sadness?
Because somebody isn’t there, right? The depths of joy and sadness
are ‘being” and “not being”. If you get something you are happy. The
more you get it, the deeper you get it, the deeper is your joy.

    Have you ever seen people who are so happy when they have an
excuse to be sad? One woman said to me, “I can’t talk to my mother
unless I am sick.” When she is sick then her mother has something to
say. There are certain parts of a person which react only to “not
being”. We have to wipe them out. There are some people who say, “I
am just happy.” Have you ever seen women when they come out of
the beauty parlor saying, “It is a beautiful day, and I am happy”?
What are you happy about? What did you get? You got today, but
what are you doing with it? Don’t kid yourself. You cannot be
happy unless you have something. If you say, “I’m just happy
happy why? Because the beauty parlor instead of charging you $35
only charged $29 and you give a tip of $2 so you saved $4? Reb
Nachman says if you are happy for no reason, without doing
something good, you are just kidding yourself. On the contrary, the
reaction to this kind of joy will be that you will be knocked down
low five minutes later. If you can be happy just because you are alive
then you have something, if you really feel it. Everyone says they are
happy they are alive, but the question is, are you really receiving life?
That is the highest level there is. Most people don’t realize that life is
a gift from G-d, and most people are not happy. It says,
skhar mitzva mitzva, the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva, and
the reward oi joy is joy. How does G-d pay you off for being happy?
He gives you another minute of hapiness, so if this one minute of
happiness is real, the next minute will be also. But if you say, “I’m so
happy to be alive”,  and the next minute you are walking around like
a dope, there was something wrong.

    The truth is, I am always standing before nothingness, because I
am non-existent yet for the next minute. I’m not there yet. Time
isn’t there. The world isn’t there. The world is here right now. One
split second, one billionth of a split second in the future has not
been created yet. I am always standing between “being” and “not
being”, between Heaven and Hell. Hell is the utmost of not being.
What is happening in Hell? I am not burning like a hamburger. In
Hell I realize that I was non-existent. Do you know how it feels if
you are suddenly non-existent? G-d forbid, that it ever happen to
anybody. Imagine, suddenly you don’t have a hand. What a horrible
feeling. Imagine if suddenly you are there, and you see that you are
not there; you would see yourself not being. It is unbearable. There
are two kinds of “not being”. One way of not being is when you are
just physically not there, but imagine if you are there and you are
not there. That is what really hurts. If I love somebody very much,
and they are not here, so they are not here. It is sad. Imagine they
would be sitting next to me and they won’t talk to me. That is a
deep kind of “not being” which hurts. Hell is that I am there, but I am
not there.

    Sadness is a sickness, not an emotional problem. It is absolutely a
sickness and you have to get rid of it. The Baal Shem Tov says if you
want to know whether you are really serving G-d, it is simple. If my
heart is filled with joy each time I put on tfillin, and each time I do
something good my heart is filled with joy, I am serving G-d. If I am
not on that level, then I am just doing mechanical things. That is very
holy, I’ll be rewarded in Heaven for it, but it is heartbreaking.

    If I look sad when I walk in a room, what happens to the person
sitting next to me? He feels a bit uncomfortable. If he loves me a lot
he will overcome those uncomfortable feelings and say, “I got to
stick it out, he’s my friend, so I have to stick around while he is
crying.” not good. If I am sitting here and laughing like the
Ropshitzer Rebbe, laughing my head off, suddenly everyone will feel
comfortable. It is very simple. You feel uncomfortable when
someone laughs hysterically if it is stupid laughter, but not if it is
holy laughter.

    If you could look into the abyss it would be very uncomfortable,
frightening. The truth is, when you see someone sad, at that moment
you are confronted with nothingness. You see that person is
struggling between “being” and “non-being”. Imagine that I am standing
on the roof with one foot on the roof, and the other hanging over
the edge. You say, “Listen, do me a favour. You make me nervous,
even if you are the greatest acrobat in the world. Put your foot back
on the roof. I don’t have strength to watch that.” You have to realize
it is the same way with G-d. When you walk around sad you make
G-d uncomfortable. G-d says, “I love you. I’m your G-d. I signed a
contract on Mt. Sinai and I will stick to it. I’ll be with you, but I
reaIly don’t feel comfortable with you when you are sad.”

    When you smile filled with joy, and you look at somebody, they
look back at you, When you cry they can’t really look back at you.
You can smile eye to eye, but you can’t cry eye to eye. We know this
world is a little mirror of Heaven, so although it can be beautiful
when you cry, G-d still feels a little uncomfortable about it. You can
cry with being, or you can cry with nothingness, with this
dead kind of sadness. If someone says, “Really I love you so much, I
want to be the greatest friend to you,” and he cries while he says it,
that can open your heart in a thousand ways. But if someone cries,
“I was in the beauty parlor, sniff sniff, and they cheated me, sniff
sniff, and I paid five dollars” what do you feel then? Would you say
it is a beautiful confrontation? You say okay, pat her on the back,
and look away. There is a very deep difference between crying before
somebody and crying about something. If I am crying before G-d it
is the holiest thing. Maybe He is crying with me, If I am crying about
something, am I telling it to G-d, it is not as good. Anyway, the
most important thing you have to know is that if you are shining
below here, G-d is shining. If you smile below here, then G-d smiles
back at you from above. Something very holy is going on between
you and G-d. Tears open the gates, but joy breaks down the walls!

    The word sadness is really a bad translation. The word atzvut
actually means to shut yourself off. There are two kinds of sadness.
There is marirut, which is bitterness, which is living sadness, and
there is atzvut, which is dead sadness. Bitterness says, “I wish I could
do better. I didn’t do it right. Gevalt! Why didn’t I do better?”
Without regretting, I just know I didn’t do well enough. That is living
sadness, because when I walk out of there, I want to do better. The
Baal Shem Tov says you can tell the difference between marirut and
atzvut very simply. If you see another person after you cry, do you
love them or do you hate them? If you cry in the living kind of
crying then every person looks beautiful to you afterward. “I’m not
so good, but they are so beautiful.” If you have the dead kind of
sadness, then everything looks ugly to you. Sometimes you cry and
you look out the window and say, “Oh, those disgusting creatures
walking down the street.” With this kind of sadness G-d can’t look
at you either.

  If you want to know if you have the living kind of sadness or the
dead kind of sadness, this is the test. In the dead kind of sadness,
deep down you think, “I really think there is no G-d, the whole
thing is a fake.” Even if this is only for one split second, at that
moment you really reached the botom of dead sadness. Therefore
Reb Nachman warns that you should keep as far away from it as you

    There is a deep kind of sadness coming from things that G-d
caused. We are always accustomed to rattle off the prayers. The holy
Trisker Maggid was so real that one Slichos he didn’t go to pray.
Slichos are the special prayers for the Saturday night before Rosh
Hashana. Some Chassidim asked why he didn’t go, and he replied,
“in the beginning of Slichos we say lkha hashem hatzedaka G-d, you are right,
vlanu boshet hapanim and we are ashamed. You are right, whatever you did,
and we are ashamed of what we did.” That year there had been
pogroms all over. He said, “I just can’t say it G-d, I’m sorry, I just
can’t say it.” Every word he uttered was real, and since he couldn’t
say G-d was right he didn’t want to say anything.

    If a person wants to know what level his joy is, it is very simple. If
you feel one with the world, it is because you feel the oneness of
G-d. So if you walk around and say you are filled with joy, but you
can’t stand people, it is not G-d joy. If the joy is coming from a very
high place then it doesn’t make you stupid. Some people think,
“Today I am in such a good mood, I have to tell a dirty joke.” Is this
how deep the joy touched you? It brought out all the garbage you
had piled up the last few years? Then it is not the joy we are talking
about. The higher it is coming from, the deeper it goes. How do you
know how deep the joy reaches? If it makes you get up and dance,
then it reached your feet. Reb Nachman always talks about
imagination. He says if you are sad, it is not that you have sad
imagination, your imagination isn’t real. Imagination is flying, and if
you are sad you are so heavy you can’t fly. You could imagine you
are flying, but even that is impossible if your sadness is too heavy. If
you are filled with joy then you really have wings, and you can fly.

    What does it mean to be happy with what you are doing? If you
are willing to be born, and hang around this world just for this one
thing, that is called being happy with this thing. If you can be on the
level with every mitzva you do that you feel, “if I would only be
born to put on tfillin this one morning, I I were born just for this
one Shabbos, it would be enough” that is called joy. G-d is a
merchant selling Shabbos. If it is good to do business with you, he’ll
make another deal.

    There is such a thing as emet , truth, and there is such a thing as
emuna,  believing. Real joy is a combination of truth and believing. If
emet and emuna and are both working strongly inside of me, if I believe
what I know, and I know what I believe, then I am filled with joy. If
my job comes from truth and believing, emet and emuna,  then it is
called holy joy. Otherwise it is called pagan joy.

    The greatest joy in the world is when a person is really his own
judge. If a person can observe himself, know what he did, what he
has to do better, that means he is really in touch with himself. Most
of the time we live through doing things, then we read in the
newspaper that we did it. If something happens to you, and your
best friend hears about it from someone else he gets angry. Can you
imagine how angry your soul is that you never told your own soul
what you are doing?

    Sometimes you walk along and suddenly you are so happy, and
you don’t know why. At that moment they declared in Heaven to
give you something, even if it might not be until a hundred years
from now. Your soul heard of the gift and was happy.

    Joy is the strongest vitamin, because joy makes you strong in a
million ways, physically, mentally and spiritually. There are all kinds
of strength, and the highest level of strength which a person needs to
live in the world is joy.

    If someone asks you something, and you give them real true
advice, it fills you with joy.

    If you are suddenly unexplainably happy, it could be because
somewhere in the world a very holy soul was born.

    When you tell stories about holy people, and you tell other people
there are holy people in the world, it fills you with joy.

    In the end Reb Nachman says, “I want you to know that all this
talk is really meaningless, because how can I tell you to be happy? It
is up to everyone himself, but I am begging you to be happy.”

by  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Posted in: Personal Growth