Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Purim: The Joys of Simcha and Sasson
The days of Purim are called days of mishteh (festivity) and simcha (happiness). What is a mishteh, and what is a simcha?
The Gemara (Sukkah 56b) says that Sasson and Simcha (two kinds of happiness) had an argument about who comes first. Simcha said that it came before Sasson, because it is written, “To the Jews there was orah, simcha and sasson”; by Purim, the possuk writes “simcha” before “sasson.”
Sasson is associated with water. On the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, they would celebrate the nisuch hamayim, the one time of the year in which they would pour water on the Mizbeiach. About this there is a possuk, “And they draw water with sasson.”
Simcha is associated with wine – “And wine gladdens the heart of man.”
What was created first – water or wine? We know that water was created first. This shows us that normally, sasson comes before simcha. But on Purim, simcha came before sasson.
What is simcha, and what is sasson?
Intrinsic Happiness Before The Increase Of Happiness
This has to do with the difference between mishteh and simcha. There is a simcha which comes before a mishteh, and there is a simcha which comes after a mishteh.
Sasson is a joy upon completion. Sasson comes from the word sheish, “six.” When the world was finished being created on the sixth day, there was a joy in creation – a sasson. When creation became complete, there was a happiness just with the very existence of creation.
Simcha is a happiness that comes after that. When one has joy from existence, he has sasson. When one adds onto that happiness, he has simcha. Simcha is when we add onto our intrinsic happiness – when we increase our already existing happiness.
Simcha adds onto Sasson. The entire idea of Simcha is to add onto the happiness of our existence, which is Sasson. Thus, there has to first be Sasson in order to have Simcha.
In order for a person to increase his happiness, he first needs to be happy with the fact that he exists. On top of your intrinsic happiness you are able to add onto that more happiness, but there has to be first be a happiness in yourself in order for you to increase it.
If a person attempts to have simcha by trying to increase his happiness, but he isn’t yet happy with the fact that he exists, then he will not be able to have simcha. You can only add onto your happiness if there is a happiness already there to begin with! This is why sasson must come before simcha. First you have to be happy with the mere fact that you exist, and then you can increase your happiness.
When people just try to increase their happiness but they’re not happy with themselves to begin with, it is a foolish and superficial kind of happiness.
Purim – Above Your Existence
But on Purim, it is the other way around: simcha comes before sasson. On Purim, simcha is mentioned in the possuk before it mentions sasson; this shows us that on Purim we need to have something that comes even before sasson. On Purim, we need to find a simcha which comes even before sasson.
If sasson is the happiness of one’s very existence, what can come before this? What comes before your existence?
We know that there are certain creations which were created even before Hashem created the universe. One of them was the Torah. On Purim, when the Jewish people accepted the Torah again anew, it was really an acceptance of the Torah of before creation. This is an example of something that came before existence.
What is this power that is “before” your existence? How can anything else come before something exists?
One way we see this is in the future happiness, which is “The righteous rejoice in Hashem”. The happiness in Hashem alone is a kind of happiness that is before I exist; such a happiness existed before I exist, and this will be again revealed in the future.
There is another way to arrive at the simcha which comes before sasson. Purim is about totally nullifying one’s Daas – we can see this from the halachah that a person has to get drunk on Purim until he has no more Daas.
This is how one experiences a happiness that is above his existence – when one nullifies his very self to the Creator.