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Simcha and Sasson


The Talmud (Taanis 29a) states, Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Bi’Simcha - when Adar begins, we increase our joy/happiness. FYI - Adar began on Wednesday, so we need to get with the program. 

Many times, the word sasson is used instead of simcha. For example, “U’sh’avtem mayim b’sason," - and you shall draw water with joy/happiness (Isaiah 12/3). Sometimes they’re used together. For example, "Simcha v’Sason la’y’hudim," - joy and happiness for the Jews (Esther 8/17).  

What’s the difference between the two? 

The Talmud (Succah 48b) relates a disagreement between the personified concepts of simcha and sasson

Simcha said to sasson, “I am better than you because it says, (regarding the resolution of the story of Purim) for the Jews… simcha and sasson (Esther 8/16)”. 

Sasson said back to simcha, “I am better than you because it says, (regarding the happiness of the Messianic Era) They will attain sasson and simcha (I Samuel 14/45)”. In the first verse, simcha is mentioned before sasson, which implies that simcha is superior; but, the second verse implies sasson’s superiority by mentioning it before simcha

So which one is a higher form of joy, sasson or simcha. 

Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (1809 – 1879) known as the Malbim, explains that simcha refers to internal gladness, which is continual, while sasson is the external expression of one's inner happiness. In other words, sasson denotes what a person does to show that he is happy, for example wearing special clothes for holidays or playing music at happy times, while simcha is the happy feeling inside of him.

We can highlight the differences between these two forms of happiness by pointing out what the Malbim says are their antonyms. The opposite of Simcha is yagon (despondency), which is the internal form of sadness. On the other hand, Sasson is the antonym for aveilut (mourning), the outward way of expressing sadness, as well as anachah (which literally means “a sigh”). 

Regarding the disagreement between simcha and sasson as to which is greater, it seems that both are correct, but their disagreement is reflective of a “chicken/egg” complex.

Sometimes simcha precedes sasson because sometimes the inner feeling of happiness arrives first and bursts forth outwards in joyous expressions; whereas at other times, outward expressions of happiness rouse one’s feelings of inner happiness, and positively influence his inner thoughts and mood.

The famous Gaon of Vilna (R. Eliyahu Kramer 1720-1797) explains the difference between simcha and sasson somewhat differently. 

He writes that simcha denotes the beginning of the process which leads to complete elation, while sasson refers to the realization of that happiness. He explains that both simcha and sasson are superior in different contexts, and that is why one is sometimes mentioned before the other, and the other is sometimes mentioned before the one. 

In “this world” simcha is more prominent because people first pursue happiness (simcha), and only then can eventually achieve the happiness that is their end goal (sasson). However, in the Messianic Era, one's ecstasy will begin with the experience of happiness (sasson), and afterwards open a person to the opportunity of attaining further happiness (simcha) depending on the merits he has accrued in this world.

Although there are no halachically mandated behavioral changes for Adar, the message in Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha is that we are entering a time of redemption and salvation beginning with Adar and Purim and carrying straight through Pesach. 

Therefore, this is an ideal time for each of us to seek out ways to enhance our own personal spiritual growth, which will lead to increasing our simcha and sasson.