Making the Case for Happiness

I am trying this on for Thanksgiving

Making the Case for Happiness
A Blessing
Part I,
I try to capture the elusive gratitude jinn
on a visit to the sculptor in Chicago

You shall be completely happy [Deut.16:15]

What if an animal
an insect for example
crawled up your shirt and bit you
say it was one of those bugs that can alter your life —

or what if it didn’t happen
but you were thinking that way
because something did bite you
drew blood
and you waited to see if you were sick?
You might think:
how fragile is this life
a bug can crawl up your shirt
alter your life
what is this a case for?
For happiness maybe
for gratitude
be grateful you might think
a human being is created for gratitude and happiness
not just for survival
but for survival with the bonus expectation of joy.

What if such a bug came to you
bit you then planted this idea:
here is the best case for gratitude —
the goal of life to be happy.

We might think as I once did
who has the right to be happy?
Life is soo messy
happiness is an unrealistic simplistic
fanciful kind of goal
but not for real thinkers.

A bug can crawl up your shirt and alter your life
that’s not reason enough to be happy?

Be grateful
celebrate the possibility of joy
make it a mitzvah
there’s some disagreement among our ancestors
whether joy can be considered a mitzvah
their problem not the expectation of joy but
how can it be required
it’s such an elusive quality
still there’s a line in Torah
v’hayita ach sameach [Deut. 16:15]
and you shall be —
it’s that ach that’s the key
you shall be ach sameach
you shall be ach happy
it’s a modifier
what’s ach?
Either you shall be mostly happy
or you shall be completely happy
unmixed unmitigated
you shall be entirely happy
that’s how most of the commentators
come down on it.
You shall be entirely happy
grateful beyond measure for life as it is lived
within our range
it’s necessary
it’s the Torah teaching us how to live
ach sameach
completely happy.
Sforno the Italian: unmixed.

Who thinks like this?
We turn the old teachings and turn them
shake them upside down to see what falls out
we are obsessed with life
not on life’s terms
but our dream of life
we are the world’s greatest dreamers
we are obsessed with life to the maximum
we are ach people
entirely extremist obsessive
completely engaged by the tinker with existence
to make the world beautiful
ach sameach
entirely happy
completely grateful.

How we got this way
and not negativists is a wonder to me.
I have lived both ways so I know the draw of the opposite
I am an achi person now
my expectation is be entirely happy
happiness is so daily
yom yom
entirely happy
completely grateful

I remember the day I realized I could be an achi person
I had permission to squeeze life for complete joy
it’s required of me
as taught by my obsessed
cracked ancestors
who stared into the basements of hell
and came up with this dream of life —

to be blessed with achiut

After I read this piece in his gallery
where many poems greater than mine have been read
from much darker places
the sculptor Jerzy tapped his head
and said to me
“it’s all so right in here”
as if it is now
but hadn’t always been.

jsg, usa


“Then I commended joyfulness,” Kohelet 8:15, this is the joy of the mitzvah. This teaches that the Shekhinah rests upon a person not through gloom, nor through laziness, nor through frivolity, nor through lightness, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, but only through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah, as it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of God came upon him.” (2 Kings 3:15) — Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 30b

LeDavid Mizmor
Mizmor LeDavid

The formulation, leDavid mizmor, shows that the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered the song, mizmor leDavid, shows that he lifted up his voice in song first, and then the Shekhinah descended upon him afterwards. This teaches that the Shekhinah rests upon a person neither when there is laziness, sadness, laughter, levity or idle talk, but where there is a thing of the joy of the mitzvah, for it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, the hand of G-d came upon him.” 2 Kings 3:15
— Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 117a