From the dawn of history, people have been searching for a sense of joy, which is as elusive as it is desirable.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden in a state of tranquility and spiritual enlightenment, free of worry and hardship, they were unsatisfied, and therefore susceptible to the temptation of the forbidden fruit:

The woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise. So she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.1

According to the Kabbalah, what Eve wanted more than anything was not the fruit per se, but rather a feeling of the subjective self. In Eden there was no feeling of self, only an awareness of the Divine Presence. The serpent showed Eve that one could experience a sense of self, which created desire. Fulfilling one’s own desire and pleasure, argued the serpent, is the way joy can be achieved. Unfortunately, experiencing the sense of ego resulted in tragic consequences. In a matter of a few generations humanity had deteriorated, the world was filled with moral corruption, and G‑d brought the Flood upon the earth.

As soon as Noah disembarked from the ark, we read:

Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.2

Noah was not some simple drunk who was finally able to get back to the bottle after a full year in the ark. Drinking wine was Noah’s attempt to correct the spiritual effect of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, which brought about the moral depravity that ultimately led to the Flood. Noah understood that ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, mankind possessed the feeling of self, which among other things focused their attention on their own needs. This led to selfishness, which robbed them of happiness. For the ego is never satisfied with what it has: however much it has, it always desires more.

Noah wanted to reverse the course of human psychology. He desired to break free of the confines of the ego, and at least temporarily escape the feeling of self. He hoped that getting drunk would suspend the sense of self and would bring about bliss and joy.

Very quickly, however, Noah learned that the route to joy is not the suspension of consciousness through consuming alcohol. That episode did not end well.

And then came Sarah our matriarch. According to the Kabbalists, Sarah was the first person to achieve the wholesome experience of a joyous life. She was the first to “correct” the negative behaviors of Eve and of Noah. Sarah understood that the path to joy does not run through the experience of self, like the pleasure of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, nor can it be achieved by escaping self-awareness, as Noah attempted to do. Sarah understood that while we cannot go back in time and return to Eden, and while we cannot liberate ourselves from the sense of self, we can achieve joy by devoting ourselves to something greater than us. When our sense of self is part of a transcendent experience, we are able to escape the ego without destroying awareness.

As a consequence of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, G‑d told Eve, “In sadness you shall bear children.”3 For in a world where people perceive themselves, there is pleasure but also sadness. Yet many generations later Sarah understood that devoting oneself to raising a child, devoting oneself to a purpose beyond one’s own self, is a model for becoming holy and achieving joy. Indeed, when Sarah gave birth, her son was named Isaac, which means “joy” and “laughter.” She modeled the transformation from pain to joy, not only for herself but also for everyone around her, as the Torah relates, “Sarah said, ‘G‑d has made joy for me; whoever hears will rejoice over me.’”4

Sarah teaches us that in order to transcend the ego, which stifles joy, one must transcend oneself by becoming part of a greater story and a greater mission, a mission to make the world a better place by carrying out the divine purpose of creation.5