For most people, the vacation is well and truly over. The relaxed atmosphere of the summer has been replaced by the challenge of a new season, whether in academic study, business, or simple daily life. At this point people sometimes ask themselves: am I really happy? Wouldn't I always prefer the carefree atmosphere of the vacation, traveling, doing as I please, being free...?

Indeed there are many for whom the summer months themselves were tense and problematic, for whatever reason. How do they look towards the coming months of the autumn? With joy or with foreboding?

At this point our Torah portion is enlightening. It reveals that joy and gloom are not, as we might suppose, a kind of thermometer of our general situation in life: if everything is alright, the person is happy; if not, he feels miserable.

The Torah suggests that joyfulness is a state of mind which we should aspire to achieve in virtually every situation, especially when things are going well, but even if unfortunately there are set-backs.

A long section of the Torah describes the terrible suffering which will come to the Jewish people if, when they are in the Land of Israel, they do not properly serve G‑d. The Torah speaks of destruction, famine, war, illness, exile. The sins which provoke this terrible punishment seem to be those of idolatry and general rebellion against G‑d's law.

Yet then comes a surprising statement. Why have these terrible things happened? "Because you did not serve G‑d with joy and a happy heart, when you had everything" (Deuteronomy 28:47).

Maimonides writes that this verse shows that one must serve G‑d with joy. The same comment is made by the great kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, and this is a central theme of the Chassidic movement. Our lives as Jews should be joyful; keeping Commandments should be joyful. Even when we have done wrong, perhaps something seriously wrong, and we regret the past and attempt to mend our ways for the future — we should at the same time be joyful that G‑d grants us this possibility of change.1

The Chassidic masters ask us to be joyful also when we have serious problems! Rabbi Schneur Zalman gives advice in his Tanya how to achieve a state of joy even if, G‑d forbid, a person has grave worries concerning health, children or lack of livelihood; or if one has distressing guilt feelings about the past; or if one regards oneself as a terrible person in the present. In each case he presents a path towards a balanced and joyful state of mind, despite all. That joy, he says, is the key to inner mastery. It enables the person to win as a human being and as a Jew, despite the pain.

Paradoxically, a person can experience grief and at the same time feel a sense of joy.2