Many and diverse are the ways to experience the gamut of life within earth's biosphere, yet one creature chooses to spend its time here absorbed in an obsession with its own existence. Other creatures exhibit intelligence, but the intelligence of this one creature is so top heavy that it folds in upon itself, fixing its gaze upon its own being almost as though from another's eyes, and remarking, "I am." And that's where all the trouble begins.

"I am" lies at the root of all schism, jamming a wedge between the creatures and their experiences of life, between the created and the Creator. Once "I am," I am the center of all things. Once "I am," who are "they"? Once "I am," there is nothing quite as real as I am. In effect, I have become my own god, the measure of all things.

Rabbi Shalom Dovber, fifth rebbe in the succession of rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch, was a profoundly deep thinker, yet what interested him most was landing heavenly ideas down here on earth. In the midst of an intellectually challenging chassidic discourse, delivered in 1918, he grapples with a keenly practical challenge for the spiritual seeker: Keeping your spirits up while keeping your ego down.

We may be somewhat surprised to discover that not only is there no conflict between the two, but in truth happiness and humility make a marvelous pair.

Self Versus Joy

…Now, the channel for receiving joy from above is a sense of nothingness [original: bitul—trans.] before your Creator. Wherever there is that nothingness, joy shines from above. And wherever there is a keen feeling of self, there is no joy.

As the verse says, "The humble will increase joy in G‑d."1 So it seems that humility and joy are related. It's the humble in particular that can bring joy to G‑d.

Superficially, this is difficult to understand. Humility is a sense of lowliness and lack of self worth, while joy implies an uplifted spirit and a sense of self-esteem. If so, how could humility be a receiving channel for joy?

The answer is that humility is not the kind of lowliness that comes out of low self worth, in which a person finds nothing good about himself or that he is, G‑d forbid, on a path that isn't good. Rather the lowliness of humility is simply because he doesn't feel himself so much. He doesn't consider himself to be such a "somebody," despite all the good that he has. Even though he is good and upright in Torah and mitzvahs and in his service of G‑d with self-sacrifice, he is not so important in his eyes that he should be considered to have attained some certain spiritual level because of all this.

It's not that he doesn't know about his good, it's just that while he knows he is good and upright in everything, he doesn't make a big deal out of it. Basically, he has an essential sense of nothingness and all his attitude extends from there.

"He simply doesn't notice himself so much..."

You see, someone who has that essential sense of nothingness doesn't make a big deal out of any of his accomplishments. He simply doesn't notice himself so much, so therefore he doesn't think about his importance in any matter.

Especially when he contemplates that everything good he has—his faith, his love for G‑d—none of it is his own achievement, through his own cognizance. Rather it is an inheritance from Abraham our father who was the first believer and the head of all those who believe. Abraham's faith was through his own cognizance, for he came to recognize his Creator on his own. If so, his faith, too, was a cognitive one and he passed that faith down to his children after him. Similarly, the bond to G‑dliness which is the hidden love in every Jew is also an inheritance from our forefathers.

It's like a son who inherits great wealth from his father. He didn't get this through his own hard work. All he did was to partake of that prepared for him by his fathers…

Moses' Secret

This is what is written about Moses, "And the man Moses was very humble, more than any man on the face of the earth." Although Moses knew his own greatness, that he was on a higher level than any other person, nevertheless he remained the most humble of men. He was able to do this because he felt that all this was given to him from above. After all, when he was born his mother saw even then "that he was good." So Moses reckoned that if such abilities were given to someone else, that person would also be on such a level—and perhaps higher, since he may bring out these abilities even more.

This type of humility is a channel for joy. For as soon as you begin to feel your own existence, you have lost the opportunity for true joy. That sense of feeling oneself is the primordial snake and it's well known that a snake is by nature always depressed.

Superficially, it would seem quite the contrary, that a person who feels himself very strongly should also feel the good that he has received much more. If so, he should be happier than someone who doesn't feel himself so much. But no, his happiness is never complete, and this is for two reasons:

Firstly, because he believes the world owes it to him, so what's there to celebrate? A person is especially happy when he receives a gift, but for this person there are no gifts, since in his mind he is just getting his due reward. He takes into account how good and upright he is and figures that whatever he gets is owed to him, and so his happiness is never complete.

Secondly, because he feels himself so strongly, nothing is ever enough. "He who has one hundred desires two hundred…and no one dies with half his desire in his hand."2 If so, he is never able to fully rejoice. In truth, within whatever happiness he does achieve is buried a certain sadness, since he remains essentially dissatisfied. How much more so when he's not getting what he feels he deserves—then he is truly depressed.

The humble person feels he deserves nothing and so is always celebrating

The joy of a humble person, on the other hand, is complete. He is perpetually celebrating. After all, since he doesn't feel himself so keenly and he doesn't consider himself so important, he feels that he doesn't deserve anything at all. For him, whatever he receives is a gift, and so cause for great celebration. And if the influx of life is sometimes lacking, that doesn't sadden him either, since he feels he doesn't deserve anything anyways, so why should he be depressed?

Besides, since he is hardly an entity in his eyes, he lacks nothing, and whatever happens to him is justified. For that reason he is never depressed and on the contrary, he rejoices in his lacking as well.

Humility and a sense of nothingness, as it turns out, are the receiving channel and the cause for happiness.

Sefer Hamaamarim Ateret (5619), pp. 91Ð92