Dvar Torah – Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

This week‘s Torah portion describes the construction of the tabernacle with its many details. Living as desert nomads could not have been much fun, but these people could derive joy from seeing the manifestation of the Lord, ―for the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.‖
I was first introduced to the concept of the difference between fun versus joy by Rabbi Arnold Fink of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, and I‘d like to share what I learned.

Fun comes from what’s happening this moment. Joy is usually derived at some point in the future.
Fun puts a smile on your face but you probably aren’t smiling at all while doing what will later give you joy.
There’s no work involved in having fun. As you think back on the experiences that gave you joy, the word work probably comes to mind.

Fun typically appeals to one’s more base nature while joyful work will likely make you a better person.
Having fun means doing what you want when you want (it’s all about you) whereas there’s joy in turning outside oneself and doing something for others or for a higher cause.

Fun times leave pleasant memories. Remembering the joy you got from something is deeper than just a pleasant memory. It makes you feel good inside, going to the core of your self worth.
Children always want more fun. A sign of maturity is our willingness to undertake the work that will later bring us joy.
So which should we want more of? I think we need both. We need the veggies and the dessert because they’re both good for us. We shouldn’t indulge our immature side by avoiding the work required by a joyful cause. We also can’t be so driven that we forget how to relax, escape for a little while, and have fun.

We need joy to help give our lives meaning and we also need fun to make our difficulties bearable.
While we don’t want too much of either, we also don’t want too little of either. We don’t want to exist in the dull gray middle, not living life to its fullest, experiencing neither fun nor joy.
May all our lives and the life of this congregation be filled with much fun and much joy. Shabbat Shalom.

Paul McVinney