What is the key to happiness? The answer: the key to your new Lexus.
This is what some people believe does the trick. But the Torah teaches us otherwise. עבדו את ה’ בשמחה” (תהילים ק’:ב’) means “Serve Hashem with joy.” Happiness is meant to come from serving Hashem. He is our Father and every father wants the best for his child, which is accomplished through serving Him with joy.
In the book The Alter of Novardok (published by Artscroll Mesorah), it states that he (the Alter) would say over and over, “the Torah isn’t here to make impossible demands from us; rather it is here to make us happy even in this world by telling us what to do at every turn.” On another occasion, he said, “I’ve only met one happy person in my life – Rav Yisroel Salanter,” the latter being the pioneer of the mussar movement.
From here, we understand that the Alter said that what makes a person happy is listening to what the Torah tells him to do at every turn. This implies that if we live our lives subjugated to Hashem’s will at all times, i.e. performing whatever He says to do, then that will bring us happiness. Furthermore, working on oneself also brings happiness, as the Alter said when referring to the only happy person he had ever met during his lifetime: the very same Rav Yisroel Salanter who pioneered the approach of working on oneself through mussar.
One might say: “Come on, this ‘fluff talk’ never works!” To this we can reply: Yes, you are 100% right on that. It will not work – because one needs to figure out how to achieve this ability to feel happiness while serving one’s Creator.
The Rosh Yeshiva of Midrash Shmuel, Rav Binyomin Moskovitz shlita would emphasize over and over again: “Real tefillah is talking to G-d and not merely mumbling out the words.” As an analogy, let’s say you are talking to a person in Chinese. You would not first say the Chinese word and then think to yourself, “Hey this is what the Chinese word means.” Rather, before you say the word you would already know what it means and while you are saying the word, you would understand what you are saying as you say it.
Similarly, when one davens, one is meant to talk to G-d in the very same manner as one would talk to another person in a foreign language (if Hebrew is not your mother tongue). When doing this, one starts to connect to Hashem, and then one starts to feel something. That something is called kedusha. When one practices this way of davening, one will slowly move up the ladder of kedusha and start to experience pleasure in one’s davening. Living life in this manner – by talking to G-d through davening – is the key to happiness in one’s life. By living life this way, one would be jumping for joy at being Jewish!
For one will then realize that when one does a mitzvah, an action of doing something because Hashem said so, it will bring feelings of pleasure and happiness. Why? Because once a person starts making Hashem real in his life by talking to Him during davening, then when he is given an opportunity to do a mitzvah he realizes that it is for his own good. And it is through this realization that it is for his own good that he becomes filled with happiness. For now he realizes – Hashem loves me! He created me for my spiritual pleasure’s sake! (This thought is also expressed in the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim.) And, as I was taught in Yeshiva, it all starts with our talking to G-d during davening. This process will lead a person to be happy throughout his life, by listening to what Hashem wants of him.
Shmuel Brodersen is a talmid of Rav Binyomin Moskovitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Midrash Shmuel, Yerushalayim.