The Torah seems overly stringent about the practice of the Mitzvos without joy, as stated: “All these curses shall befall you; they shall pursue you and overtake you, until you are wiped out, because you did not heed Hashem your God and keep the commandments and laws that He enjoined upon you. They shall serve as signs and proofs against you and your offspring for all time. Because you would not serve Hashem your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything, You shall have to serve—in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything—the enemies whom Hashem will let loose against you. He will put an iron yoke upon your neck until He has wiped you out.” (Devarim 28:45-49). The language is extremely tough, but clear. Happiness in serving Hashem is a must, otherwise the punishment is harsh. The language of the Verses is crystal clear, performing the Mitzvos without Joy amounts to not observing the commandments. Did King David not teach us in Psalms (2:11): “Serve Hashem with fear and rejoice with trembling”? It seems that awe is required in Hashem worship rather than joy, what are we then supposed to follow, the Verse of the Torah or the Psalms? Why practicing Mitzvos is not enough? Maimonides in the Kuzari writes: “And in general because our teachings are divided between awe, love and joy, it implies that each element enables closeness to Hashem. Our surrender during in the days of fasting is not generating a closer bond to Hashem than the joy on Sabbaths and festivals, when the joy is intentional and wholehearted. And just as supplications need thought and intention, so joy too requires thought and intention. One must rejoice in the practice of the Mitzvah and understand how fortunate we are to have been selected to serve Hashem, and that we are the true beneficiaries.” The Rambam implies that either awe, love, or joy in the service of Hashem enable a closer bound. However, each has a time and place. Awe is required during the fasting days, while joy is required during Sabbaths and festivals. One can question his source as the above Verses are adamant and require joy in the practice of all commandments. Besides, The Rambam is not suggesting any reasoning as why would one deserve such a harsh punishment for not instilling joy in his practice of the Mitzvos? The Gemara Archin [11a] explains the Verse: “Since you did not serve Hashem your God with joy and gladness” (Devarim 28:47). What is a service with joy and gladness? It is Singing. Rashi explains that a person can only sing out of joy as stated [Isaiah 65:14] “Behold, my servants will sing and praise in gladness.” The Alter of Kelem explains: “Serving Hashem without bliss is a sign that one true intention while performing a Mitzva is to serve himself, as if his intention was to serve Hashem, he would do it with contentment.” This implies that the severe punishment is due because the person committed a crime of lese majesty. He substituted himself in the stead of Hashem. To understand this concept, let us review the Zohar teachings about the Mitzva of Tzedakah. Two friends approached by a poor person and both give him $100, one will deserve the world to come while the other will be punished. To the naked eye there is strictly no difference between the friends. However, their intentions were on opposite sides of the spectrum. The first one was happy to help while the second one reluctantly gave only to avoid shame. The first one gets rewarded for both donations as his friend gave only because of him, while the other never performed the Mitzva of Tzedakah, his giving was out of worry for himself. Using the Mitzvos for self-aggrandizement is a sacrilege of the Holy Torah and its commandments. Despite that a mortal king would punish direly for such an affront, the Verse is merely informing us of the outcome of such behavior. When a Mitzva is performed the correct manner and with the right intent, it triggers blessings. Otherwise it prompts the curse, since a Godly sparkle, the Mitzva, was desecrated. The lesson is that joy during the observance of the mitzvah is not optional but obligatory. The following story illustrates it beautifully. The week leading up to Rosh Hashanah is a busy time for any Rabbi, and Rabbi Schapiro of Chabad of North Shore is no exception. His congregation, in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, is a thriving one and keeps him well occupied at the best of times, but that particular year, the week before the High Holidays found him especially busy. In the midst of his preparations, he received a phone call. “Rabbi Schapiro, we are not affiliated with any synagogue, but we need a rabbi. Maybe you can help us.” The Rabbi detected a sense of urgency in the woman’s voice. “Who am I speaking to? What can I help you with?” We want Dad to have a Jewish funeral; I have no idea whom to contact The woman introduced herself and explained: “It is my father-in-law, James. He is in the hospital, and the doctors say that he has only a short time left; they have requested permission to invoke a DNR order. We want Dad to have a Jewish funeral; I have no idea whom to contact.” “Which hospital is Dad in?” answered the rabbi, mentally re-juggling his busy schedule. “Is he able to have visitors?” The woman gave him the name of the hospital but added: “He is not really responding to anyone. His condition is a result of severe depression. He has refused to eat for the past four weeks. The doctors say that his organs are starting to shut down . . .” When Rabbi Schapiro arrived at the hospital, he was not sure what he would encounter in James’s room. He did not know the man; his family had a minimal connection to the Chabad House. Rabbi Schapiro found the hospital room. He approached the semi-conscious figure in the hospital bed. “James? It is Rabbi Schapiro. How are you? Would you like to put on tefillin?” James murmured his consent. Rabbi Schapiro gently wrapped the tefillin and helped James say the blessings and the Shema. As he put the tefillin away, James fell back on the pillow, exhausted; but the aura of death seemed to have lifted, ever so slightly. “Now tell me, what is this business of not eating? James, listen to me: you are in this world for a purpose. You are here to draw Godliness into the world by doing Mitzvahs, and to do that, you need to be healthy. And for that, you must eat. G-d says that you must eat! You cannot just choose to leave. G-d put you here to live! James, can I give you something to eat?” The Ange l of Death receded to a corner of the room, befuddled, as James agreed to eat. “The Rabbi’s strong personality reminded me of my late father,” James later recalled. Rabbi Schapiro looked around and found a bowl of cornflakes and soy milk. He rang for a nurse. “Can you please give this man some food to eat?” The Angel of Death receded to a corner of the room, befuddled. “Eat?” she asked, unconvinced. “The patient hasn’t eaten since he was admitted!” “Don’t ask questions; just give him something, anything. He told me that he will eat.” The Nurse replied, “And I tell you that he’s been delirious the past four weeks. I’ll come back in half an hour and try then.” “No! You must at least try now!” insisted the Rabbi. The nurse saw she had little choice but to sit down and try spooning a bit of cornflakes in the patient’s mouth. She was surprised when he actually swallowed a few spoonsful. After he would not eat anymore, she left. Rabbi Schapiro took the bowl, and began spoon-feeding James bit by bit, all the while speaking to him words of faith and words of encouragement. By the time the little box was emptied, the Angel of Death had left the room; apparently its services were no longer wanted there. Rabbi Schapiro too, left, promising to return soon. And so, he did. Each day that he came he spoon-fed James and nurtured his spirit as well. By the time Simchas Torah, the Festival of Rejoicing with the Torah, came around, James was well enough to come to shul. “Tell me, James,” Rabbi Schapiro asked, “what do you enjoy doing? You must have something that you can offer the world.” “What do I enjoy? Well, I do like to paint . . . I really enjoy it.” “Then you should paint. That is your mission now. G-d has given you a gift called life. You should stay healthy; you should paint and provide joy to others.” James took the Rabbi’s words to heart and set about painting. He painted and painted dozens of vibrant works, all Jewish content paintings full of joy and color, depth, and warmth, many of them are on display in the Chabad House. This uplifted James’s spirit and is now a vibrant member of the Chabad House. Life is Hashem’s gift to each of us. What we do with it is our gift to Him. The least we can do to show appreciation is to be happy and rejoice others. What sustains our body and health is our spirit. When it is uplifted miracles happen.
By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach
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