Devarim, 28:47: “Since you did not serve Hashem, your God, with joy and goodness of heart, from rov kol (the abundance of everything).1

The devastating rebuke makes up much of Ki Tavo. In the rebuke we are told that the reason for such terrible punishments, is that we did not serve God with simcha (joy). The question arises as where were we ever told in the Torah that there is an obligation to have simcha? The apparent answer is that it does not say it anywhere in the Torah. It does say in Psalms that we should serve God with joy, but that was written hundreds of years after this rebuke, so how could it be that such severe punishments are given for something that is not even commanded in the Torah?! One may try to answer that with regard to the festivals, the Torah tell us, ‘v'samachta bechagecha’, be joyful with your festivals. Yet, the Sages tell us that this instruction refers to eating meat and wine.

Accordingly, where is there a Mitzva of simcha in the Torah? Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits answers that it is found in the mitzvah of ahavat hashem – to love God. As he expresses it:

The mitzvah of ahavat HaShem is to walk around with a real feeling of joy to be alive, joy to have been created by the Master of the Universe and put into this beautiful world. It is of living a life where Divine Providence is leading you on a path to become bigger and more mature and wiser and closer to the Master of the Universe. This is the mitzvah of ahavat HaShem.

If a person loves God, then he sees the beauty of life, including the difficulties of life. He watches with excitement as another challenge approaches and he knows that God is sending this as another way to grow closer to him, and he happily serves God even in difficult times. This is such an important aspect of avodat HaShem (Divine Service), that the lack of joy that the people had was responsible for the terrible predictions of the Portion.

How does a person attain the ahavat HaShem that is the cause of joy? Rabbi Berkovits explains, based on the Rambam, that one comes to a love of God by contemplating the Torah and nature. With regard to nature, that first refers to the dramatic features of nature such as the heavens, great seas and so on. But it also refers to the smaller things – the wonderful, natural fruit that God created, that look nice, taste nice and even have a pleasant smell. Saying a blessing before we eat is supposed to help inculcate that feeling of appreciation which can lead to love.

Rabbi Berkovits adds that the human body is an incredible wonder of wonders. In his words:

“Digestion – do you know what goes on inside you? the breaking down of food. the enzymes at work. the food is broken down in a way that the various nutrients are sent to the parts of the body that need them. what's not needed is sent out. the blood is constantly being purified. this little kidney. it purifies the blood. When it doesn't work and they have to use a machine. it's not as good, and it's so much bigger. the heart. this muscle that pumps, and it has its own built in electrical system. this is not an analogy, but it produces electricity that keeps it going. in theory the heart does not need the brain to tell it to operate and make it work. it has its own electricity. the human eye. this lens, it focuses, gets bigger and smaller, focuses, takes in just the right amount of light, sensitizes the optic nerve which sends a message to the brain which gives us vision. the human body which is made of a trillion cells that are constantly replenishing themselves. it is just so perfect.

The other main way of coming to love of God is through learning Torah with contemplation of the unmatched wisdom of the Written and Oral Law. The experience of delving deeply into Torah topics and seeing the inherent truth in the words of the Torah is the ultimate way to bring a person closer to God.

Rabbi Berkovits concludes:

Between the infinite wisdom and kindness in the Creation, and the infinite wisdom and kindness in what the Master of the World gave us in Torah, the human being should feel ecstatic, and should want to feel closer and closer to God.

There is one more method of getting closer to God that the Rambam mentions: mesirut nefesh – self-sacrifice for God. On the highest level, this refers to being willing to give up one’s life for the sake of God, because when a person is prepared to go so far to serve God, that demonstrates an unparalleled closeness to God. Throughout Jewish history, Jews have had ample opportunity to risk their lives in order to keep the Torah, but nowadays, this is no longer a nisayon (test). The way to tap into the power of mesirut nefesh nowadays is to be willing to give something up for the sake of doing a Mitzva. Overcoming a natural desire, laziness, or materialism is the way a person can come close to God through self-sacrifice.

We have seen the seriousness of not serving God with joy and how this emanates from the Mitzva of ahavat HaShem. Through learning Torah, contemplating nature and mesirut nefesh, a person can strive to increase his love of God with the inevitable consequence of simcha.

NOTES

  1. Ki Savo, 28:47.