Positive Approach to Happiness
On the face of it, much support can be found for the view of Richard Layard and others that human happiness should be our goal.In Psalms 100:2, we find the verse: ‘Serve God with happiness (simcha), come before him with joyous song.’ In synagogue, before returning the Sefer Torah to the ark, we recite a verse from Proverbs 3:18:
‘It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and its supporters are me’ushar.’
Although some prayer books translate ‘me’ushar’ as praiseworthy, most translate it as happiness and this is the interpretation of Havah Torsoh-Samuelson who brings this as a proof text for the understanding that the Torah is the best path to happiness.
In the same vein, we find in I Chronicles 16:10: ‘May the heart of those who seek God rejoice.’
Accordingly, the important role of simcha in Judaism has been emphasised by great Jewish scholars. To give one example, Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain in the introduction to his book, Eglei Tal counters the view of those who argue that no pleasure should be derived from Torah study. Rabbi Bornsztain writes that ‘this is a well-known mistake. On the contrary, the essence of the mitzvah (commandment) of Torah study is to rejoice and be happy and delight in one’s study.’
Given the importance of simcha in Judaism, it is not surprising that some educators, particularly those associated with outreach movements, have attempted to portray Judaism as a system that presents happiness as the goal of life – see here and here.
Does this mean that the approach found in Judaism is in accordance with that advanced by Richard Layard as discussed in the previous post? In the next post, I argue that this is hard to square with Jewish sources.
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