Reb Fishel of Strikov was known for a seemingly strange nighttime ritual. Every night before retiring to bed, the rebbe would pour himself a glass of vodka. He would say the blessing over the drink, take a sip from the glass, and then call aloud to God: “L’Chayyim (To Life!), Ribhono shel Olam (Master of the Universe), Source of Life and Life of all the living! A very good night to You, Ribbono shel Olam!” And then he would wash the glass and go to sleep.
As this practice became more widely rumored, his Hasidim came to him for an explanation.
Reb Fishel said, “Is God afflicted by human suffering?”
“Yes,” his students answered. “We are taught that God suffers when humans suffer.”
“So,” the rebbe said, “if God is pained by our pain, it stands to reason that God rejoices in our joy. Now if this is true, then if the suffering of the world were to have a night of peace, this would bring God a good night as well, yes?”
“Yes,” his disciples said.
“Nu (So?), when I wish God a good night, there is then only one way in which He can arrange for this. He must give a night’s rest and peace to all the afflicted of the world!”
L’Chayyim: “To Life!” A classic Jewish toast.
Ribbono shel Olam: Master of the Universe, a common Yiddish appellation for God.
Nu: Yiddish expression for “So?”
How can it be that God either suffers or rejoices? Isn’t God beyond such things? The answer to such questions depends, of course, on how you define God. If God is, as the Hasidim thought, the One Thing that manifests as all things, then God is not removed from joy or suffering. In fact, we are among the ways in which God experiences joy and suffering.
Just as a wave is the ocean manifest in a specific time and place, so you are God manifest in and of your unique situation. You are not, of course, all of God, but God is all of you. You are the way God raises your family, or walks your dog, or grooms your cat, or takes out the garbage. You are also the way God laughs and cries, celebrates and suffers. If God is all, then God is you. If God is you, and you know pleasure and pain, then God too — through you — knows pleasure and pain.
This is what Reb Fishel knew, and this is what he did about it. He sought to give God pleasure by doing something pleasurable. What a wonderful practice! Imagine that all you do either pleasures or pains God. Wouldn’t you do your best to maximize the former and minimize the latter? Wouldn’t you do your best to ensure that your actions are truly good and pleasurable and not merely expedient and titillating?
Follow the example of Reb Naftali, and find something to do each day that offers up pure pleasure to God. In this way you will spread joy throughout the world, for the more pleasure the world gives to God, the more pleasure the world receives from God.