Hasidic Tales of Joy

These following stories about joy are taken from Martin Buber’s collections of Hasidic tales:

On Simchat Torah [the Festival of Rejoicing in the Pentateuch, which marks the conclusion of one lectionary calendar with the end of Deuteronomy and the start of the next lectionary year with the beginning of Genesis], the disciples of the founder of Hasidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov, celebrated and made merry at his house. They danced and drank and had more and more wine brought up from the cellar. A number of hours later, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s wife went to his room and said, “If they don’t stop drinking, we won’t have any wine left for the Kiddush and Havdalah [the rites that begin and end the Sabbath with candles and wine]. He laughed and answered, “You are right. So go and tell them to stop.” When she opened the door to the large room where the students were celebrating, this is what she saw: the disciples were dancing around in a circle, and around the dancing circle twined a blazing ring of blue fire. Then she took a jug in each hand and, motioning the servant away, went into the cellar. Soon after she returned with vessels filled to the brim.



Once Rabbi Baruch was entertaining a distinguished guest from the Land of Israel. He was one of those who are forever mourning for Zion and Jerusalem, and cannot forget their sorrow for a single second. On the eve of the Sabbath, the rabbi sang: “He who sanctifies the seventh day…” in his usual manner. When he came of the words, “Beloved of Adonai, you who await the rebuilding…” he looked up and saw his guest sitting there as gloomy and sad as always. Then he interrupted himself and, vehemently and joyfully, shouted in the very face of the startled man, “Beloved of Adonai, you who await the rebuilding…, on this holy day of Shabbat, be joyful and happy!” After this, he sang the song to the end.



A Hasid told the rabbi of Lublin that he was tormented with evil desires and had become despondent over it. The rabbi said to him, “Guard yourself from despondency above all, for it is worse and more harmful than sin. When the Inclination to Do Evil awakens desires in a person, it is not concerned with plunging him into sin, but into despondency by way of his sinning.”



Once a simple man came to the maggid [storyteller and preacher] of Koznitz with his wife and said that he wanted to divorce her. “Why do you want a divorce?” asked the maggid. “I work very hard all week,” said the man, “and on the Sabbath I want to have some pleasure. At the Sabbath meal, my wife first serves the fish, and then the onions and the heavy main dish, and by the time she puts the pudding on the table, I have eaten all I want and have no appetite for it. All week I work for this pudding, but by the time it comes I cannot even taste it, so all my labor was for nothing! Time after time, I have asked my wife to put the pudding on the table right after the Kiddish [blessing over the wine to sanctify the Sabbath day], but no! She says that the way she does it, is according to custom.” The maggid turned to the woman. “From now on,” he said, “make two puddings. Serve one right after the Kiddish and the other after the main dish, as before.” Both husband and wife agreed to this and went away well-pleased. On the same day, the maggid said to his wife: “From now on, make two puddings on Friday. Serve one right after the Kiddish and the other after the main dish, as you have been doing.” From that time on, this was the custom in the maggid’s home and in the homes of his children and grandchildren. The second pudding was called the Shalom Bayit (Peace in the Home) pudding.



When asked which is the right way, that of sorrow or that of joy, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said: “There are two kinds of sorrow and two kinds of joy. When a person broods over his misfortunes, when he cowers in a corner and despairs of help – that is a bad kind of sorrow, concerning which it is said, ‘The Shechinah [Divine Presence] does not dwell in a place of dejection.’ The other kind [of sorrow] is the honest grief of a man who knows what he lacks. The same is true for joy. One who is devoid of inner substance and, in the midst of empty pleasures, neither feels that, nor tries to fill his lack, is a fool. [In contrast,] one who is truly joyful is like a man whose house has burned down, who feels his need deep in his soul and begins to build anew. Over every stone that is laid, his heart rejoices.”