One winter morning, I am sitting on an Egged bus in Jerusalem and hear laughter behind me. It is a relaxed woman's laughter and I am enjoying it completely. Only a Jew in Israel can laugh like that. Not hysterical laughter and not loud at all. Laughter that comes from a depth of inner peace. Rebbe Nachman says it's a mitzva to always be happy. Not to feel happy. To be happy. And this woman is clearly happy in the truest sense. After several minutes, I cannot help but turn around and see the source of the laughter. It's a young woman and she is talking with an acquaintance. She is casually coiffed, hair freely falling all around, bangs practically in her eyes. And of course she has such a care free smile. It occupies most of her face. Jewish beauty on an Egged bus.
Before saying the blessing after eating, the grace after meals, most people recite Psalm 137 on regular days and Psalm 126 on Shabbat and holidays. Psalm 137 laments our longing for Zion when we were in exile and Psalm 126 celebrates our joy upon returning to the Land of Israel. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the son of modern Israel's first chief rabbi, would always say Psalm 126 before reciting grace, regardless of which day it was, since he said the psalm about exile was no longer relevant. And Rabbi Zvi Yehuda was always happy, too.
Later that day, the day I heard the redemptive laughter on the bus, I am walking up Rivka Street in Talpiyot and see a lady sitting on a bench. She is just beaming. The glow radiating from her smile is almost palpable. I stop and say "It's a mitzva to always be happy, and I can see that you are very happy. I'll bet you are always happy, no?" She nods in agreement and then I ask what's your secret and she says "emunah," which means faith. Rivka is a busy street where noisy construction is in full swing on two large apartment buildings. But there is this happy lady sitting on a bench directly opposite the noise and the hubbub and she is as placid and content as anyone you will ever see.
Psalm 126 says that when we return from exile "laughter will fill our mouths and our tongues will dance with joy." What good fortune to be alive today in Eretz Yisrael and to witness, with eyes and ears, the beginning of our longed for redemption.