There is a Jewish expression “Only simchas!” or “Oif simchas!” in Yiddish. It is a wish– a blessing, really – that we should bump into one another only on happy occasions.
Folks use it as a parting phrase when they leave a wedding or a bris. They also offer it up as a balm upon hearing or sharing sad news, or when leaving a funeral or a shiva house.
I hope it isn’t heresy to say so, but this popular saying has always flummoxed me.
The optimist in me wishes that our calendars were filled with nothing but happy occasions. But the realist in me knows better. It’s just not the way of the world. “Only simchas!” can never be true.
We are mortals swept up in the circle of life. We don’t get to live forever. G-d willing, our time here on earth will offer up its share of joyous occasions and hours of blessing. But the human experience also includes inevitable moments of loss, disappointment, failure, rejection, pain, and illness, times we’d never refer to as happy ones.
So why set ourselves up for the impossible by uttering the phrase “Only simchas!” when we have the language to say something more apt?
However well-meant, why do we wish a friend something none us can ever have?
These were among the questions running through my head this past week while my husband sat shiva for his father. Luckily, I found an alternative to the old phrase in a quick look around the house.
Someone had brought over the Torah and siddurim. Men made minyan each day. Friends, family, patients, and colleagues came from near and far to be menachem avel – to comfort the mourner and show us their love. They listened as my husband shared memories. They offered words of Torah, dropped off meals, ran errands, and filled our pushkas with tzedakah (charity) that will be donated to help people in need.
So many mitzvot (good deeds) were performed in that short period of time, all to help my husband grieve and to buoy our family as we faced a monumental loss.
Rising from our sorrow was an enormous sense of gratitude for all those acts of kindness and the wisdom of the Jewish rituals of mourning, which carve out spaces in time, lines in the calendar that help us process our pain. Even when we feel most steeped in sadness, our community reminds us that we are not to bear it alone.
It’s best, then, to dispense with “Only simchas!” On both happy occasions and during periods of mourning, let’s instead say, “I am here for you, whatever life brings.” Because life will, inevitably, bring at the very least a little bit of everything. And there’s no greater joy, and no greater comfort, in knowing we have one another, come what may.
As we enter Shabbos this week, I am most looking forward to its island of peace and calm, and the opportunity for reflection as we find our way back to normal. May it provide all of us with the chance to regroup and recharge our minds, bodies, and souls, and may the week ahead be filled with love and kindness. Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!