By Karen Miller Jackson
There are a number of times in the Jewish year when we are actually commanded to be happy. How can the Torah command us to feel something? In particular today, when so many people are struggling with finding happiness and emotional wellness, what can the halakhic sources on the mitzvah of simcha teach about bringing more happiness into our lives and homes?
The month of Adar is strongly associated with simcha. The Mishna in masechet Ta’anit teaches that in the month of Av one must decrease the feeling of happiness. Rav Yehuda teaches in the gemara (Ta’anit 29a) that just as the month of Av is meant to be somber, the month of Adar serves as a counter to Av, and one must make effort to spread happiness:
“משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה כו'” אמר רב יהודה בריה דרב שמואל בר שילת משמיה דרב כשם שמשנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה כך משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה
“When the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing.” Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.
This gemara acknowledges the highs and lows which are a natural part of life, and that happiness comes about through making an effort. Rashi explains that the reason one should increase feelings of joy in Adar is because it marks a season of great miracles which happened to the Jewish people. Similarly, Purim day itself is associated with great joy based on Megillat Esther which states that the Jews of Shushan made it “a day of feasting and simcha.” (Esther 9:17) Remembering these events inspires a feeling of gratitude and happiness.
Besides the month of Adar, which is associated with rejoicing, the Torah commands that on the shalosh regalim: “ושמחת בחגיך” – “You should rejoice in your festival.” (Devarim 16:14) The Rosh draws a connection between the simcha of the regalim and the simcha of Purim. He states that if one was sitting shiva beforehand, Purim or one of the regalim would interrupt and cancel the shiva, due to the strength of simcha associated with these days.
How does one create a feeling or an environment of simcha? The Rambam gives practical guidelines for the chagim: eating and drinking and giving gifts to one’s family. However, the simcha is only complete when one also gives to those in need as well.
Giving is a crucial part of Purim simcha as well: matanot le’evyonim and mishloach manot. Inherent in the mitzvah of simcha is giving to others, including those less fortunate. The halakhic application of the mitzvah of simcha demonstrates that feeling happy is brought about through action, and the act of giving to others is one of the best ways to increase personal happiness.
 Rosh, Moed Katan, chapter 3, siman 85. Cited by Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah, Siman 401:11.
 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, hilchot Yom Tov, 6:18.