A Little Anthology of Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings about Joy - Jewish Outlook

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A Little Anthology of Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings about Joy

What is joy?

What is the difference between sadness and joy? Joy really fills you; whatever you have becomes fuller. Sadness empties you out; “I don’t have this, I don’t have that,” So… even what you have, you don’t have.

Don’t be sad about the future

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 also know what to do the next minute.

What is G-d giving you? He is giving you this minute. He hasn’t given you tomorrow: He promised He will give tomorrow. So of course I don’t know what to do tomorrow, because I didn’t receive it yet!

Sadness is being overly concerned with what I don’t have – and I really don’t have tomorrow yet.

Completely ‘being’

Why are you filled with sadness if somebody dies, G-d forbid? Because that somebody is no longer there, right? The depths of joy is ‘being’ and the depths of sadness is ‘not being.’ If you get something, you are happy. The more you get it, the deeper you get it, the deeper your joy is.

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 this woman is sick, then her mother has something to say to her.
There are certain parts of a person that only react to ‘not being.’ We have to wipe that out.

There are some people who say, “I am just happy.”

There are some people who say, “I am just happy.” Have you ever seen a woman coming out of a 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,” why? Because instead of the beauty parlor charging you $35 they only charged $29 and you gave a tip of $2 so you saved $4?

Rebbe 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 five minutes later you will be knocked down low.

If you can be happy just because you are alive, then you have something – if you really feel it.

Everyone says that they are happy that 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, “schar mitzvah: mitzvah [the reward for a good deed is another good deed].” The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward for joy is joy.

How does G-d pay you for being happy? He gives you another minute of happiness. So if this one minute of happiness is real, the next minute also will be. But if you say, “I’m so happy to be alive,” and the next minute you are walking around downcast, then there was something wrong.


The truth is I am always standing before nothingness, because the next minute has not yet been created, so 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 yet been created. 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 happens to anybody. Imagine, suddenly you don’t have a hand. What a horrible feeling. Imagine if you are there, and then suddenly you see that you are not there. You would see yourself as actually 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 yet you are simultaneously 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. But imagine if they would be sitting next to me and they won’t talk to me. That is a deep kind of ‘not being’ which really hurts. Hell is that I am there, but I am not there.

Sadness is a sickness

Sadness is a sickness, not an emotional problem. It is absolutely a sickness and you have to get rid of it.

The Bal 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 tefillin, and each time I do something good my heart is filled with joy, then I am serving G-d. If I am not on that level, then I am just doing mechanical things. Though even that is very holy, and I’ll be rewarded in Heaven for doing it, but it is heartbreaking.

If you are sad, you make G-d uncomfortable

If you look sad, what happens to the person sitting next to you? He feels a bit uncomfortable. In fact even if they love you a lot, they will just overcome those uncomfortable feelings and say, “I have got to stick it out and stay with him. He’s my friend, so I have to stick around while he is crying.” But this doesn’t go, right?

But imagine if you are sitting there and mamash laughing like the Ropshitzer Rebbe. Laughing your head off. Then, everyone will feel so comfortable. Why? It’s very simple. Imagine if you looked down into the abyss, to the abyss of the abyss; it would be very uncomfortable – frightening. The truth is, when you see someone sad, at that moment you are mamash confronted with nothingness. You see that this person is struggling between ‘being’ and ‘non-being.’

Imagine if you saw me standing on the roof with one foot hanging over the edge. You say, “Listen, do me a favor. You make me nervous, even if you are the greatest acrobat in the world. Put your foot back on the roof! I am afraid to see this. Or, if you want to do it, I just don’t want to see it.”

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 with you at Mt. Sinai and I will stick to it; I’ll be with you. But I really don’t feel comfortable with you when you are sad.”

When you smile with joy and you look at somebody, they look back at you; but, when you cry, they can’t really look back at you. Mamash, they try, but they can’t look back at you. You can’t say, “We cried eye to eye.” It just doesn’t go. You can smile eye to eye, but you can’t cry eye to eye.

We know this world is just a little mirror of Heaven. You have to realize that it’s very beautiful when you cry, but it’s not really so good. You make G-d feel uncomfortable about it. It is not so good.

Crying with ‘being’ or crying with ‘nothingness’

We’re not talking about crying in general, we’re talking about atzvut, this dead kind of sadness.
It depends on how you’re crying. You can cry with being, or you can cry with nothingness.

On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we are crying all the time. It’s the holiest tears.

Imagine if someone says to you, “I love you so much, I really want to be the greatest friend to you,” and he is crying while he’s saying it (crying with being), it would open up your heart in a thousand ways.

But if someone came crying and said, “I was in the beauty parlor, sniff, sniff, and they cheated me, sniff, sniff, and I overpaid five dollars, boo hoo hoo.” what would you feel then? Oy vey. And even if this woman was your mother, and you really love your mother, but you just can’t stand it. So you’d say, “Oy vey,” and you’d pat her on the back.

There is a very deep difference between crying before somebody and crying about something. If you’re crying before G-d, it is the holiest thing. Maybe He is crying with you. But if you’re crying about something and you’re telling it to G-d and complaining, it’s not so good. You have to cry before G-d.

The most important thing you have to know is:

If you are shining here below, then G-d is shining too.

If you smile down here below, then G-d smiles back at you from above.

Something very holy is going on between you and G-d.

The difference between marirut and atzvut

The word sadness is not a good translation. The word atzvut means you are sitting there moping away.

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 is: “I wish I could do better. Gevalt, why didn’t I do better? I didn’t do it right. Why didn’t I do better?” I’m sad just knowing that I didn’t do it good enough. This is a living sadness. And then I go out from there, and I want to do better.

The Bal Shem Tov says that the difference between marirut and atzvut is very simple: If you see another person after you cry, do you feel love for them or do you hate them? If you cry in the living kind of crying, then every person looks beautiful to you. You think, “I’m not so beautiful, but they are so beautiful. You are so happy for them.” But if you have a dead kind of sadness, atzvut, then everyone 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 crying, G-d can’t look at you either.

If a person wants to know at 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, “I am filled with joy,” but you can’t stand people. That means it is not G-d joy.

The higher it is coming from, the deeper it goes.

If the joy is really coming from a high place, then it doesn’t make you stupid. Some people think, “I am in such a good mood today, I have to tell you a dirty joke.” Is this how deep the joy touched you? It brought out all the garbage you had piled up for the last few years? Then it is not the joy we are talking about.

The higher place from which the joy is coming, the deeper it goes. If it doesn’t reach you that deep, it doesn’t come from that high.

How do you know how deep the joy reaches? If it mamash makes you get up and dance like mad, then it reached all the way through you, down to your feet. Otherwise it didn’t reach you completely yet.

Living kind of sadness or dead kind of sadness

How do you know if you are feeling this living kind of sadness or this dead kind of sadness? When you are in the dead kind of sadness, deep down you really think, “There is no G-d. I think the whole thing is a fake,” even if it is only for one split second. If you test yourself you’ll see that you are really thinking, “Achh, who needs G-d, who is G-d? The whole thing is a fake.” That means, at that moment, you really reached the bottom of dead sadness. Therefore, Rebbe Nachman says, keep as far away from this as you can.

Joy makes you strong

Joy is the strongest vitamin.

Joy makes you strong in a million ways, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

There are all kinds of strength. Imagine, I could eat dog food and be strong. That is also called strong. But the highest level of strength that a person needs in order to live in this world is joy.

The whole world is filled with joy, the highest level of joy.

What makes you happy

What does it mean to be happy with what you are doing? Everyone says “I’m happy with what I’m doing.” What does ‘happy’ mean? Happy means: If you would be willing to be born, and hang around this world for 80 years just for this one thing, without ever doing anything else again after that – that is called being happy with this thing.

If you can be on this level with every mitzvah you do, that you feel: “If I were only born to put on tefillin this one morning, if I were born just for this one Shabbos, it would have been enough,” – that is called joy.

Real joy is a combination of truth and believing

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 are both working strongly inside of you, if you believe what you know, and you know what you believe, then you are filled with joy.

If your joy comes from emet and emuna, from truth and believing, then it’s called Jewish joy, holy joy. Otherwise it is just called pagan joy.


Rebbe Nachman always talks about imagination. He says that if you’re sad, it’s not that you have sad imagination. When you’re sad, your imagination isn’t real. Because imagination is flying, it soars, right? But if you’re sad, you’re so unhappy that you can’t fly.

You can imagine that you’re flying. But even imagining that you’re flying is impossible because you’re too heavy when you are sad. But if you’re filled with joy, then you mamash have wings, and you can fly.

Being in touch with yourself

The greatest joy in the world is when a person is really his own judge. If a person can sit down and really, like, ‘spy on himself,’ to know what he did, and what he has to do better, that means he is mamash in touch with himself.

Most of the time when you do things, you ‘live through them,’ then you ‘read in the newspaper’ that you did it. But you never tell yourself about it. It’s much better if you hear it from yourself. If something happens to you, and your best friend hears about it from someone else and not from you, then he may get angry; “Why didn’t you tell me?” Can you imagine how angry your soul is, that you never told your own soul what you are doing?

Suddenly unexplainably happy

Sometimes you walk along and suddenly you are so happy, yet you don’t know why. Rebbe Nachman says it is because, at that moment, they declared in Heaven to give you something, even if it might only arrive in a hundred years from now. But your soul heard of the gift and was happy.

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

Now Rebbe Nachman says something very crazy / amazing. If you are walking along in the street and suddenly you feel very happy, it’s because somewhere in the world a very holy soul was born. Way out / a very high concept.
When you tell stories about holy people, and you tell other people that there are holy people in the world, it fills you with joy.


What’s the utmost of a person’s own revelation? When do you reveal yourself the most? When is your honor shining from one corner of the world to the other? Rebbe Nachman says, the utmost of kavod [honor] is when you’re happy, when holy joy fills you.

There is something about a person, about the real holy honor surrounding him… because joy comes from such a high place, and also kavod comes from such a high place….


Rebbe Nachman says, if you don’t understand something, I guess you are sad deep, deep down.

The snake made Eve sad

What did the snake really do to Eve? How did the snake get through to her and convince her? Rebbe Nachman says, the snake made her sad. The snake said, “Wow, you can’t eat this tree.” And she started being so sad.

Rebbe Nachman says, at the end, 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 just begging you, be happy.


This is very deep… How can you understand what’s going on if you’re sad?


Imagination goes wild when you are sad. You know, when I am sad, I imagine that every person hates me, that every person wants to hurt my feelings. That everybody wants something from me.


Tears open the gates, but joy breaks down the walls!


Rebbe Nachman says, you are angry at HaShem that everything is upside down, and therefore you are sad, but everything is upside down only because you are sad, if only you were happy, everything would be good!



Daily Torah Quote

Joke of the day

How do you know which part of the service the congregation has reached? It’s very simple – if one third of the congregation is outside then they are davening (praying); if half the congregation is outside then they’re reading the Torah (Bible). Ah, but if everyone is outside then the Rabbi must be giving a speech!