There’s television footage currently going viral on the web showing a group of Chabad yeshiva students dancing on Interstate Highway 80 during a traffic jam. “I’ve been covering weather stories for 20 years now and never have I seen what we are about to show you,” said WPXI-TV/ Channel 11 reporter Amy Marcinkiewicz. “A half an hour into an eight-mile back-up, and these guys didn’t care. With nowhere to go, they danced.”
While I’m not sure I’d personally go that route, you’ve got to admire their youthful spirit and positive attitude. Most drivers would kvetch and groan, but they cranked up the music and formed a circle dance, perhaps even putting a smile on the faces of the stranded truckers around them.
Openly expressed happiness and joy are a rare sight — and one might wonder why that is. One explanation is that we are living in a world where there is a great deal of anxiety within us that gets in the way of our happiness. Kabbalah maintains that the source of such anxiety is the “evil inclination” (yetzer hara). Its mission is to veer us away from the natural, happy disposition that would otherwise lead to a more productive life. Morbid thought is not a sin, goes the Hasidic saying, “but it can wreak havoc more so than the gravest of sins.”
Battling to counter-influence our emotions, and by extension enhance our productivity, is the “good inclination” (yetzer tov). Think of it as an ongoing wrestling match inside each of us. The only way to win the battle, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad, in his seminal work, the Tanya, is with “the zeal that comes out of joy and a wide open heart, free from any nuance of worry or anxiety in the world.”
Benzion Nader, a British author, was once asked by the Lubavitcher Rebbe if he knew what emunah meant. He replied that the word means faith and belief. The rebbe asked further, “Do you know the difference between that and bitachon [often translated as “trust”]?” Rader replied in the negative. The Rebbe said: “If one is confronted with a problem and one has emunah, then one has faith and belief that G-d will help him overcome whatever the problem. But if you have bitachon you don’t see that there is a problem in the first instance because G-d doesn’t send problems, only challenges!”
What we need in our lives is a little more joy that stems from the confidence in knowing that whatever it is that is causing anxiety we can overcome. Furthermore, the Zohar writes that the influences we receive from above are directly correlated to our disposition down below. When we are happy, then we evoke cheerfulness from above. Thus says the verse, “He who has bitachon in G-d, divine benevolence will encompass him.”
The Talmud writes that “when the month of Adar comes in, we should increase in joy.” As we now enter into this month (this year being a Jewish leap year means two Adars, and double the joy), a worthwhile exercise is to introspect and ask ourselves, “Do I appreciate all the blessings in my life? Have I got sufficient bitachon in the divine scheme of things? Am I as happy as I should be?” For indeed the sign of true bitachon is continuous joy that trumps everything.
Whatever the challenge in your life — whether stranded for hours on the I-80, or whatever else — dance like no one’s watching. Then watch that hurdle unravel as you navigate your way to a more fulfilling future.
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin is the outreach director for Chabad of Tucson and associate rabbi of Congregation Young Israel of Tucson.