Consider and Converse: A Guide to Simcha
Sh’ma Now curates conversations on a single theme rooted in Jewish tradition and the contemporary moment. At the heart of this issue of Sh’ma Now is the theme of “simcha“—”Finding joy in a complicated world.” The perspectives shared in these pages are meant to be expansive — to inspire reflections on Judaism and possibility in ways you may not have considered before. They aim to hold discord. We hope that the richness and diversity of these essays will show you new perspectives that are personally meaningful and edifying.
Sh’ma Now has never viewed learning or “meaning-making” as solely an individual activity. That’s why we have included this guide, that is specifically designed to help you consider the idea of going forth independently or with others, formally and informally.
How to Begin
This guide offers a variety of suggestions, including activities and conversation prompts for individual contemplation and informal or more structured conversations. We suggest that you use this guide to share reflections and thoughts over a Shabbat meal, or else, for those who are more adventurous, to lead a planned, structured conversation, inviting a small group of friends and family to your home or to a coffee shop. To support your conversation, you can print out a PDF of the entire issue focusing on “simcha” from https://forward.com/shma-now/or email Susan Berrin, Sh’ma Now editor-in-chief, at SBerrin@shma.com.
Guidelines for Discussion
If you wish to hold a structured conversation, the following guidelines may help you to create a space that allows for honest personal exploration through sharing:
- Create a sense of shared purpose that can foster the kind of internal reflection that happens through group conversation.
- Remind participants of simple ground rules for conversations. For example: Avoid commenting on and critiquing each other’s comments. Make room for everyone to speak. Step into or away from the conversation appropriately. No one participant should dominate the conversation. Let silence sit, allowing participants to gather their thoughts.
- For each of the questions below, we recommend you print out the article in question, or provide the link to it, and ask people to take a moment to read it in print or on screen, before the conversation begins.
- Allow people a few minutes to absorb the article, perhaps even to read it a second time, before moving into the discussion.
Interpretive Questions can focus the reader on the ideas in the articles.
- Rabbi Margie Jacobs (p. 1) writes that while we can’t force ourselves to be happy, we can “incline the mind” toward joy through dedicated spiritual practice.When you have you felt despair or sadness, have you been able to also experience joy? Under what conditions? Does the “joy” feel different?
Susan Berrin’s essay [p. 2] describes the aftermath of mourning her mother. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s taught, “It’s a great mitzvah to be in joy (simcha) always”? But the talmudic sage Rav said, “Where there is rejoicing, there should also be trembling.” (Brachot 30b, Rav commenting on Psalm 2:11, “Serve God with awe, rejoice with trembling.”) How do you understand these two—somewhat contradictory—statements, especially as they pertain to Jewish mourning customs?
In NiSh’ma, [p. 4] four writers explore the idea that the “joining of opposites produces joy.” Look specifically at Rabbi Justin Goldstein’s commentary where he says, “when we become aware of our own internal opposites, we gain the potential to produce joy…” Do you agree with the way he links this to the fluid nature of day and night? Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman examines how joy runs through three spring holidays (Purim, Pesach, and Shavuot). But something “unexpected” courses through and ties these holidays together. What?
Reflective Questions can help integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.
- In Yiscah Smith’s essay [p. 2] , she shares her pursuit of living a more authentic life—one where she will not seek constant distraction. What part of that process did you identify with, and how does striving toward authenticity intersect with living a life of joy?
- Rabbi Alan Abrams [p. 3] recently moved with his wife to Israel in pursuit of joy. How does living in a specific place influence our emotional states? Where—to what place—do you go to find joy?