Anyone who was present remembers the scene vividly. The setting was a frequent event. The Rebbe would sit with the chassidim at a farbrengen. In between his talks, as the chassidim sang, the Rebbe would clap and sway along with the melody.

This was a common occurrence. At times, however, without any previous indication, he would stand and clap his hands vigorously. As he proceeded, he would energetically rotate his arms, calling the chassidim to charge forward, as it were.

And they would. The room would explode in jubilant song, with thousands of chassidim dancing in their places.

In chassidic thought, there are lengthy treatises on the concept,1 “Happiness breaks through barriers.” Anyone who participated in the above scene was able to cut to the core of these abstractions, because the Rebbe’s eyes, his actions, and his entire demeanor communicated, in a tangible manner, what is meant by true joy.

The Rebbe was not merely sharing an experience; he was teaching. By demonstrating genuine happiness, he was urging the chassidim to reach inside and adopt a mindset that would enable them to live happily, not just for the moment, but continuously.

So Easy and Yet So Difficult

We all face an unanswered question: Why can’t a person always be happy? After all, we all seek happiness. Indeed, we desire it more than anything else.

Moreover, happiness depends neither on a person’s wealth, nor his level of intellectual advancement, nor, for that matter, on any other factor. There is nothing — not money, knowledge, or fame — that can ensure happiness. Rather, happiness wells up from within, from an internal potential that we all possess.

Amassing wealth, knowledge, or achieving other attainments requires effort, because one is acquiring something new. But happiness does not need anything of that kind. And so, seemingly, it should be constant, an ongoing state that can be effortlessly maintained.

And yet, this obviously is not so. No matter how much we want it, something always seems to be holding us back from attaining this state. These are the “barriers” referred to in the phrase, “Happiness breaks through barriers.” Yes, a happy person is uninhibited and breaks through the barriers of conventional behavior. But “happiness breaks through barriers” describes more than merely the conduct of a happy person; it points out the spiritual dynamic that enables happiness to well up from the inner core of our soul, from the spark of G‑d that is unlimited and unbounded, as He is,2 Within each of our personalities there exist barriers, both psychological and spiritual, that prevent the expression of this Divine potential. True happiness involves breaking through such barriers, enabling our souls’ G‑dly essence to surface and the infinity of its potential to be manifest.3

Molding the Mind

The Rebbe was able to motivate the powerful expression of joy described above by demonstrating how to bring this spiritual potential to the surface. For there is nothing more exhilarating, satisfying and joyous than enabling one’s inner spiritual potential to find free and open expression.

Through his teachings, which exemplified the Chabad approach of “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge,” the Rebbe provided an intellectual backdrop to these experiences, giving straightforward reasons for happiness. He communicated a thought system that explains how joy is natural and why it can and must encompass every aspect of our lives.4

The wisest of all men5 taught:6 “The more understanding, the more pain,” and, indeed, thinkers are often considered heavy and somber. But there is no inherent reason why thinking should lead to sadness. On the contrary, when one’s mind is motivated by his inner G‑dly potential that transcends intellect, his thoughts can serve as a tool to empower and maintain happiness. In line with the maxim shared by the Rebbeim,7 Tracht gut, vet zain gut, “Think positively and the outcome will be good,” the Rebbe showed how a person can use his mind to remind himself that he is always “in good hands.”8 Consequently:

He then feels that everything granted to him from Above is an expression of G‑d’s kindness. As a result, he feels no sorrow that he has not been granted more… because he realizes that what he does have was granted to him solely because of G‑d’s kindness.9

Moreover, he realizes that he has the potential to bond with G‑d through the Torah and its mitzvos. Even if his connection with G‑d was temporarily impaired, it can be reforged — and enhanced — through teshuvah, sincere repentance.10 This awareness calls forth the most satisfying happiness.

Seeing the Signposts

As important as the Rebbe’s message is in the individual sphere, its relevance is even more pronounced when applied to our people as a whole. Rarely in our nation’s spiritual history are there watershed moments — periods, events, or factors that serve as lines of demarcation between what came before and what comes afterwards. It would be presumptuous for an ordinary individual to attempt to identify such a moment. When, however, a Rebbe distinguishes such a turning point, it is incumbent on us to take heed and alter our conduct accordingly.

In that context, the maamar translated in the pages that follow, Margela bePumei deRava, delivered in the year 5746 (1986), serves as a manifesto for our generation. In it, the Rebbe declares:

Thus [when our people’s spiritual stature is seen in the context of their recent history, it is apparent] that the higher rung of teshuvahteshuvah characterized by joy — is relevant to them.

There is a further point. As explained in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, [it is desirable to experience] the lower rung of teshuvah, teshuvah that stems from bitterness, [at least] once a week, [and the optimum time for this experience is] before Shabbos, i.e., on Thursday night. Now, [within the context of the history of the world as a whole,] we are now close to the end of the sixth millennium. [Following the conception that “the day of the Holy One, blessed be He, is a millennium,”] we are drawing close to the end of Friday. It is not merely early on Friday — and it is [certainly] not Thursday night. It is late on Friday, near the end of the day, very close to Shabbos. If so, it is obvious that one’s Divine service in this era must be carried out in the spirit of happiness that accompanies the higher rung of teshuvah.

Happiness has always been an integral element of the chassidic tradition.3 With the above-quoted call, the Rebbe highlights how happiness lies at the very core of our Divine service. For Chassidus emphasizes11 that the meaning of teshuvah is “return,” coming back to one’s true inner self, identifying with the G‑dly spark that lies at the core of our being. Simchah brings a person into contact with that essential G‑dly potential and enables it to surface.

Towards a New Dawn

The Rebbe did more than highlight the potential for such an approach to teshuvah in our generation: he explained that doing so is connected with the ultimate purpose of our Divine service — to hasten the coming of Mashiach:

Simchah has a unique potential to bring about the Redemption.… In earlier generations, people surely experienced simchah when they observed mitzvos. For the experience of this simchah is a fundamental element of Divine service, as it is written,12 “Serve G‑d with happiness.” Thus, in previous generations, the emphasis was on joy in the individual’s service of G‑d. The suggestion to use simchah as a catalyst to bring Mashiach, by contrast, puts the emphasis on the simchah itself, simchah in its pure and consummate state.13

Evoking Sublime Joy

Happiness is infectious. Smile at a person; chances are that he or she will smile back. This motif does not apply only on the earthly plane. The Baal Shem Tov interprets the phrase,14 “G‑d is your shadow,” to mean that just as a person’s shadow follows all his motions, so too, G‑d shadows our actions, and the conduct of a person on this plane calls forth a corresponding Divine revelation.15 Thus, when a person breaks through his own barriers and brings out his inner G‑dly core, he motivates G‑d, so to speak, to break through the barriers of exile that conceal His Presence. As the Rebbe states:12

Simchah breaks through (poretzes in Hebrew) all barriers. This is also the nature of Mashiach, who is a descendant of Peretz,16 and is referred to as haporetz, “the one who breaks through,” as it is written,17 “The one who breaks through will ascend before them.” For Mashiach will break through all barriers and limi­tations.

In this manner, our simchah will lead to the ultimate simchah at the time of the Redemption, when “our mouths will be filled with joy.”18

Sichos In English

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5770 (2010)