In the heart of Brooklyn, steps from the arch at Grand Army Plaza, right in front of the Museum of Art, there's a great big Oy. It's a large, yellow Oy - or Yo if you read it from the other side - that was designed by Deborah Kass. The great yellow Oy has become a Brooklyn landmark since it arrived at the museum in 2018.

In Yiddish, Oy is the ultimate expression of, well, 'kvetching'. Nothing conveys a feeling of frustration better than Oy. And Oy has an antonym: Ahh. If you order your favorite latte and it's served just right, it's Ahh. If the milk in the latte is spoiled, it's Oy. And it goes far beyond lattes. Life itself can perhaps be divided between Ahh's and Oy's, the Ups and the Downs.

In fact, many things in life have both Ahh's and Oy's - the question is only what comes first. Instant gratification usually usually brings an instant Ahh - but is often followed by an Oy when we realize the consequences of not thinking it through. On the flip side, sometimes doing the right thing can feel like 'Oy' at first, but the satisfaction at having pushed ourselves to do what's right leads to a great feeling of Ahh later on.

In truth, however, doing the right thing should never have a feeling of Oy. Doing Mitzvahs, learning Torah and helping people should be purely positive experiences. It's only due to the flawed human condition that a positive action can still feel 'Oy'. That said, with enough effort and self-refinement, it is possible for a human being to elevate themselves to the point where they truly enjoy doing good things, and experience only 'Ahh's' when doing so.

But what if I haven't yet reached that point, and doing the right thing is still often accompanied by an Oy feeling? Do we just keep up plowing along (it did snow this morning!) feeling like a dud?

Two thousand years ago in Israel, there where two great Torah schools which debated this very point. They were the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. Hillel's school was of the opinion that life is not about feeling Ahh - feelings didn't matter that much at all, in fact. It's about doing the right thing; nothing else matters. If we feel Oy every time we do a Mitzvah? As another Yiddish expression goes, 'Nu Nu', it could be worse. Just keep on trucking.

Shammai's school felt very differently. They taught that without the feeling of Ahh, life is just not right. What's life without feeling, without spiritual inspiration? They felt that Torah and Mitzvahs are so thoroughly enjoyable that if someone doesn't feel elated when doing them, something is wrong. Shammai taught that spiritual inspiration and enjoyment in practicing Judaism are just as important, if not more important, than the good deeds themselves. (The Talmudic terms for Shammai and Hillel's opinion are 'Po'el' (actual good deeds) for Hillel, and 'Koach' (inspiration) for Shammai.)

Ultimately, Shammai was right. Judaism should be enjoyable, and should never feel Oy. But with us human beings there are just always going to be the 'Oy' days. So while acknowledging that Shammai was right, Jewish law generally follows Hillel, and their 'just do it' approach. That said, Shammai was still right. If we dig deep enough, we all have an innate pleasure when doing a Mitzvah or learning Torah.

It's almost as if Hillel 'just do it' approach is meant as a sort of bridge to help us weather the 'Oy' days, making sure that we'll still put in effort to do the best we can even when we might be feeling down. But we should always aim for Shammai - living life in a way that every Mitzvah, smile and minute spent learning Torah should be one big Ahh, and leave the Oy for the Brooklyn Museum. 

Maybe Deborah Kass could even design a great big yellow Ahh to remind us of just that.

Rabbi Avrohom