Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Foundations of Faith
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

37. Torah Commandments: The Ultimate Joy

Human intellect says that the ideal servant is one who worships God through fasting and abstention. This, people believe, is how a righteous person ought to be. The Torah, however, says that the perfect service is that which is carried out joyfully.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

The foundation of the faith of Israel was not created by the People of Israel, but by the Almighty himself. It was the Almighty that revealed Himself to us and drew us near to perform his service. He chose us from among all of the nations. He chose us - and, as a result, we chose Him. He initiated things. And just as the faith begins with Him, so the service of God begins with him. Service of God is not built upon human rationale; it is based upon Heavenly instruction.

Human intellect dictates that the ideal servant is one who worships God through fasts, self-mortification, and abstention from the pleasures of the world. This, people believe, is how a righteous person ought to appear. The Torah, however, does not emphasize these actions. Rather, the perfect service of God is that service which is carried out joyfully.

For example, the obligation to keep the Sabbath, a commandment which is equal to the entire Torah and is a sign and covenant between God and Israel, must be observed joyfully. We are obligated to delight in the Sabbath. The honor of the Sabbath and the delight and joy of the Sabbath are an indication of the value of the this sacred day, a day which serves as remembrance of the creation of the world and the Exodus from Egypt. We can see, then, that one who keeps the Sabbath properly with honor and delight demonstrates that he is thankful that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Such a person also expresses thanks to God for taking us out of Egypt.

The Torah commands us to perform the commandments joyfully, and if we do not perform the commandments joyfully, the Torah reprimands us, "Because you did not serve God your Lord joyfully and good heartedly."

Rabbi Chaim Vital, the disciple of the Holy Ari, in his work "Shaarei Kedusha," explains that one who serves God sorrowfully resembles a servant who serves his master with a downcast and sulking face. How can one possibly serve God in such a manner? Even if a person carries out his service to the letter, a downcast facial expression ruins everything. The Divine Presence and prophetic inspiration rest only upon one who is joyful.

It is told of the Vilna Gaon (in the introduction to the work "Peat HaShulchan") that he would praise the discipline of music and would say that most of the Torah's cantillations as well as the secrets of the songs of the Levites and the "Tikkunei Zohar" cannot be grasped without understanding music theory. He would say that, with the help of music, a person can die pleasantly with the departure of the soul, and it is possible to bring the dead back to life by the secrets of music which are hidden in the Torah.

He would say, Moses brought a specific number of songs and measures down from Mount Sinai, and the rest are composites.

Sadness on the other hand, says Rabbi Chaim Vital, hinders the service of God and the performance of commandments. It hinders Torah study and focused attention in prayer, and eliminates good thoughts to serve God. It is the gateway to the stimulation of the evil inclination, for one sees that he has no benefit from his service of God being gripped by sadness and plagued by suffering.

Rather, one must serve God with joy, as it is written, "Serve God joyfully." And the service of commandments and prayer must be carried out with paramount joy, as we find in the case of the Sage Abaye who would become very happy before putting on his Tefillin, and R' Bruna who would smile for the whole day after reciting the prayer of redemption just prior to reciting the Amida prayer.

Therefore, in sum, one of the central foundations in the service of God is to perform the commandments with joy.

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