The Secret to Happiness
Said the student to his Rebbe: “I want happiness”. Replied the Rebbe: “First remove the “I” which is haughtiness. Then remove the “want” which is desire. After that, all that will be left is “happiness”.
Part 1: The Hidden Light of Creation.
The pasuk in the beginning of Bereishis says “And G-d saw that the light was good”. Our Sages say that G-d didn’t want the light to fall into the hands of those unworthy and so He hid it for the World to Come (therefore it is called the “Ohr Haganuz” – the Hidden Light). Where did He hide it? He hid it in the Torah.
We can probably assume that this great light, which is the purpose of creation, contains the ultimate happiness that we can ever hope to have… But what does it mean that the light is hidden in the Torah?
To try and answer this question, let us take a deeper look at the story of Kabbalas Hatorah. The Zohar in Parshas Balak brings down the story of how G-d approached (the heavenly minister angels of) each nation and asked them if they wanted the Torah or not. They replied by asking what it says there, and G-d showed each nation the one thing that was hardest for them to give up. For Esav he showed “Thou shall not murder” since the strength of Esav is achieved by way of the sword, as it says “On your sword you shall live”. Giving up murder would mean giving up the very essence of his strength and existence which “Seir” was not willing to do. For Yishmael G-d showed “Thou shall not commit Adultery”. The strength of Yishmael is through numbers, as it says (Breishis 14:20) “Behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princess shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation”. By forbidding promiscuity, Yishmael’s angel (Rahav) feared that it would not be able to maintain the strength of Yishmael's very essence, and so he too refused. And so it went for all the nations… G-d showed them all the thing that would be most difficult for them to give up, and they all ended up refusing the Torah. Not only did they refuse it, but they encouraged G-d to give the Torah to the Jewish people hoping that if the Jews would have all these restrictions they would never be able to prosper and would fade away. Indeed, the Zohar says, the nations even offered to give gifts from their own power, so that the Jews would agree to accept the Torah. Eisav gave some of his strength of the sword to the Jewish people, and that is why the Jews have been able to win wars (for example, during the reign of the Jewish Kings and today in Israel as well). And Yishmael gave some of its strength of “numbers” to the Jews, and that is why the Jewish people have been able to remain a nation against all odds. And this, says the Zohar, is the meaning of the Pasuk (Devarim 33:2): ה' מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו, הופיע מהר פארן ואתה מררבות קדש מימינו אשדת למו – “G-d came from Sinai and “shined” from Seir (Esav)… (He shined from the strength of Esav onto the Jewish people) and he bestowed from Har Paran (Yishmael)…
The Zohar provides a parable. A wealthy and wise doctor discovered the elixir of life and wanted to give it to his only son. But he was afraid that his many servants would be jealous and try to steal it. So what did he do? He placed precious potion inside a vial, and on the tip of the vial he placed a small amount of substance that had the smell of death. When he announced to his servants that he had discovered the elixir of life, they all wanted to partake of the incredible potion. But when they brought it close to their faces and got a whiff of the smell of death, they returned it to their master saying, “Master, this precious elixir of life is worthy only for your son!” And deep down they secretly hoped that the son would take the potion and die, and they would be the ones to inherit their master’s wealth. They even offered their master to give his son gifts from their hard-earned money so that he would be convinced to accept it.
This is a fascinating Zohar, but why is it that G-d asked of His creations to give up their most precious asset, their very essence, as a prerequisite to receiving the Torah? And what does the parable mean to tell us regarding the “smell of death” on the tip of the vial?
Perhaps the answer to these questions will also explain what our Sages meant by G-d hiding the great light of creation inside the Torah. It seems that the “smell of death” on the tip of the vial may very well be the method that G-d uses to hide the great light inside the Torah. Furthermore, the answer to these questions may reveal the path to this great light that G-d has in store for the Tzadikim, and which He has hidden in the Torah.