As a member of the Jewish faith, I have been doing a lot of praying in the past few weeks. The High Holiday rituals include many prayers, most of them recited in Synagogue with the community. Some of the prayers express our repentance, some our commitments. Some prayers express our relationships, some our yearnings. Some prayers are solemn, some are informal. No matter what prayer I am reciting, no matter what emotion I am expressing, there is always a common thread to all my readings: The privilege of having a relationship with G-d. That privilege fills me up with Joy.
Joy can express itself in many channels. There is external joy that is very visual and easy for others to observe. When I dance, when I sing, when I laugh, when I smile -- I am producing tangible actions that accompany my joy, external cues to my inner happiness. Unfortunately, I can also be sad on the inside, and still be able to fake these external motions of joy. I also sometimes believe that I am happy, and act accordingly when in reality I am miserable.
Often I hear from recovering addicts who talk about artificial joy that comes from mood altering substances. The allusion that a plant, a drink or a pill can change my inner emotions from sadness to joy. In reality, only the most external layers of emotion can be altered so easily. Our inner feelings require hard work in order to be modified.
The inner joy, that comes from commitment and self improvement, doesn't necessarily express itself so easily. The inner satisfaction of doing the right thing is not always accompanied by a dance or a song. But when done right inner work produces inner joy.
As I share this with you, the High Holidays are right behind us, and we are entering the Holiday of Sukkot. This week we celebrate externally by dancing and singing, by sharing meals in the outdoors, and by carrying a bundle of plants around. At this time it is easier for us to feel the joy, but in reality the joy is available to us only because we did the hard work of repenting and recommitting during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This year I hope to achieve inner joy in my everyday life by doing the leg work that creates such joy. This year I will remind myself that prayer includes both the work and the reward. By praying right I get to celebrate right. By connecting my inner self with G-d during prayer, I also awaken my inner joy.
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson