The Mitzvos as Tachlis: Enthusiasm in Avodas Hashem
When Yanki was asked by his Rebbe to say a brocha
before eating an apple, Yanki obliged, but his brocha was barely audible.
The Rebbe called Yanki over and urged him to say the brocha next time
with more enthusiasm.
One of the older boys, who had overheard the conversation,
responded by saying that even without enthusiasm Yanki had fulfilled his
The Rebbe, seeing that the other boy was apparently unaware
of a vital element in the fulfillment of mitzvos, (the Ari Zal
said that his accomplishments in avodas Hashem was due to the great
simcha he had when performing the mitzvos) called him over to discuss the
“You know, Shmulik,” said the Rebbe, “we find a disturbing
posuk in our Parsha. After a long list of terrible קללות (tragic punishments) to
be meted out to Bnei Yisroel, the Torah reveals to us the reason why they were
sent: "תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’ … בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל." (“Because you did
not serve G-d with happiness (enthusiasm) and a wanting heart while you had an
abundance of good”).
“Shmulik, does it make sense to mete out such horrible
punishments just because the mitzvos weren’t done with simcha?”
Shmulik was confounded.
“Don’t worry, Shmulik,” continued the Rebbe. “Rav Simcha
Zissel of Kelm was also bothered by our question and he gave us an answer as
“In preparation of his answer, Rav Simcha Zissel asked
another question: ‘How did Kayin fall to the lowly level of a murderer? Was he
not a great man who brought korbonos to Hashem?’
“Rav Simcha Zissel answers that Kayin did not do mitzvos
with simcha, as he brought only from ordinary (or his worst [Rashi]) crop, while
Hevel brought from the best of his flock. Why? Because Kayin did not see the
mitzvah as a tachlis (purpose) in itself. Therefore, he was unwilling
to put in the effort needed to properly fulfill it. The great demands of the
mitzvah unsettled him to the point of total breakdown until he became a
murderer of his own brother!
So too, anyone who does mitzvos without simcha and a
wanting heart for he does not see the mitzvah as a tachlis in
itself, feels strangled by the efforts required of him. He eventually loses
desire to perform mitzvos and begins to rebel and slowly dismantles his
connection to Hashem and His mitzvos. Therefore, concludes Rav Simcha
Zissel, the Torah inflicts such terrible suffering on Bnei Yisroel for doing
avodas Hashem without simcha and a wanting heart.
“According to the above, when Dovid Hamelech, in Tehillim
100:2, instructs us to “Serve Hashem with simcha,” he is actually imploring us
to see avodas Hashem as a tachlis in itself, so that we don’t feel
burdened when fulfilling mitzvos with all their particulars. See the
Radak (ibid) who says directly that we should not feel burdened by our
avodas Hashem but do it with שמחה וטוב לבב and thereby avoid the
קללות written in our Parsha.
“While the seeing of mitzvos as tachlis brings
to avodas Hashem with simcha, the reverse is true as well. One who
develops a strong desire and simcha to perform mitzvos will be filled
with a knowledge of Hashem, as the posuk immediately following "עבדו בשמחה" is "ודעו
כי ה’ אלקים" (“And you will know…”). Thus, simcha is the vessel which
allows man to understand and fulfill Hashem’s Will. And this simcha, we learn,
is man’s main protection against difficult and painful times.”
Shmulik interjected and asked, “Did not the person do
mitzvos; did he not, at least to some degree, do G-d’s Will? Why does he
deserve such punishment?”
“Excellent question,” remarked the Rebbe, “however Rav Simcha
Zissel explains (in a different essay) that one who does mitzvos without
simcha and a wanting heart is actually not doing avodas Hashem at all,
but ‘avodas atzmo’ (self-worship). His mitzvos are only acts of
self-aggrandizement; for honor, money, position, etc.
“One who does avodas Hashem with a heavy heart, as
though a demon forced him to do so, is ignoring the beautiful rewards of
avodas Hashem, while interested only in fulfilling his own needs. This can
lead to destruction, continues Rav Simcha Zissel, as we see that the second Beis
Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred (Gemorah Yoma 9b).
Why? For instead of focusing on Hashem’s Will, they focused on their own
personal benefit. They loved themselves, and thereby hated others, for one who
loves himself, hates others. Thus, Hashem sent powerful afflictions in hope of
awakening people to their ways, so that they would do teshuvah.
“In order to help open up a person’s eyes to the centricity
of mitzvos and their unequaled value in this world, as the posuk states:
"הנחמדים מזהב ומפז רב…" ("More valuable than gold…") [Tehillim 19:11], Hashem
promised great reward for those who fulfill them [see Rashi].
“Even though knowledge of reward gives a person a feeling of
simcha when doing avodas Hashem, a higher level of simcha can be obtained
when a person appreciates that his very fulfillment of the mitzvah is a
tachlis in itself [Malbim]. (Similar to Rav Simcha Zissel above.)
“This, combined with the knowledge that the reward for
performing a mitzvah in the next world is incomprehensively great, will
give a person a tremendous sense of simcha, which will lead him higher and
higher in his own personal avodas Hashem.
“Shmulik, let me ask you a question! If Hashem wanted us to
use simcha to perform His mitzvos, why did He give us the ability to
receive pleasure from mundane activities as well?
“Allow me to explain! From this world we learn the concept of
pleasure, and can, therefore, by comparison, appreciate the loftiness of the
pleasure of Torah & mitzvos. In addition, we have the choice to enjoy
Torah and mitzvos and push off earthly pleasures. The Torah, therefore,
does not prohibit us from enjoying earthly pleasures, as they are a means to
contemplating and appreciating spiritual pleasures. (See the Sefas Emes
פ’ תבוא תרמ"ג ד"ה "בפסוק" that Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Will is that we do His
avodah with רב כל.) Rather, it enjoins us to put simchas haTorah
and avodas Hashem above earthly pleasures. This is alluded to
in our posuk: "תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’…בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל". The Torah
reveals to us that Bnei Yisroel’s lacking was that they did not put avodas
Hashem above their mundane affairs and pleasures-מרב כל-with
the letter מ"ם representing above and beyond. (Sefas Emes, ibid, in the
name of Ari Zal).
“This follows suit with the explanation of Rav Simcha Zissel
above, who says that their sin was that they did not see avodas Hashem as
the highest goal (tachlis) in their lives, but as a necessary chore. This
causes a Jew to lose interest and eventually rebel.
“Our goal as parents and educators is to instill in our
children / students the awareness
(שמחה) and feeling (טוב לבב) that Torah and avodas Hashem is of primary
importance. This approach will not only protect them from the punishments
mentioned in our Parsha, but will give then the framework within which to direct
their energies to avodas Hashem!”
Sometimes a child has a difficult year at school. Sometimes
he has a difficult month, week or even day. Inevitably, poor performance leads
to a depressed feeling and a lessened desire to succeed in school.
While we, as parents, have the obligation to investigate why
our child is having a difficult time, it’s just as important to constantly give
our childrenחיזוק and
assurance that if they apply themselves, Hashem will help them overcome their
We see the corrective, yet supportive hand of Hashem in the
very meaning of the Chag of Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of freedom, a time of renewal, a time
of cleansing, and purification. It has the power to free us from our strayward
ways and get us back on the path of righteous behavior. This power and purpose
of Rosh Hashanah is what causes us to celebrate as in other
We recite twice each day the psalm of
"לדוד ה’ אורי וישעי". Chazal
say אורי refers to Rosh
Hashanah and ישעי to
Yom Kippur. Would it not make more sense for
אורי to represent יו"כ,
for through Teshuva and atonement we see things in a new, truer perspective?
However Hashem, in His ultimate kindness, does not leave us
on our own to search for ישועה
or atonement. Instead, on Rosh Hashanah, 10 days before the
sealing of the Din on Yom Kippur, he unleashes a tremendous spiritual "light"
which induces us to reassess our ways and ignites in us a yearning to do Teshuva
and to reattach ourselves to our pre-sin existence. Only with this new awakening
can we begin to hope for the ישועה
of Yom Kippur.
in our posuk is hinting to theאור
of creation, meaning the
אור, which teaches us that the
light of Rosh Hashanah reconnects us with the original untainted
אור which has the power to
free us of our unacceptable actions and give us a new start.
The Sefas Emes (Rosh Hashanah p.138) explains the word Rosh
Hashanah to read as Rosh = in the beginning or beforehand,
Hashanah = the change (שינוי),
meaning Rosh Hashanah is the source and beginning before the changes which
occurred when Hashem created a physical world. So too we can say that Rosh
Hashanah is a time of purity before man’s sins punctured this purity and changed
the way man related to his role on earth.
Actually, just as Shabbos is the source and purifier of each
week, so too, Rosh Hashanah is the source and purifier of each year.
Rosh Hashanah is not only the beginning of the year, but the
beginning of the month as well, teaching us that just as the new month signifies
our mastery over nature, so too Rosh Hashanah signifies our mastery over nature
in its full cycle of events. This elevation over and beyond our nature gives us
an "ariel view" of our life situation, allowing us to repent and free ourselves
of our wrongdoings.
This idea of freeing oneself from the bonds of the previous
years’ actions can also be seen in the Radak’s explanation of why we blow the
Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The Radak says that the shofar-blowing is a reminder of
freedom, similar to the Shofar of Yovel. This is also the meaning of Tashlich –
casting away our sins.
Rosh Hashanah gives us the strength to stand up to our Yetzer
and tell him, "Enough of you and your advice! I’m going to rid myself of your
influence and from now on Hashem’s light is going to be my guide". And so the
prophet Yechezkel, in teaching us the path to successful Teshuva, said
(18:30-31): "Turn yourselves and others away from all your sins … and develop …
a freshness of mind and spirit." The Rabeinu Yona in Yesod HaTeshuva explains
that in order to do Teshuva, one need to cast off all his sins and consider
himself newly born. Begin anew!
The strength to begin anew is relayed to us on Rosh Hashanah.
It’s light helps us cast off our sins, reacclaim Hashem as King and work toward
developing a new perspective on life.
Children who have had a difficult year or even a difficult
episode, can be confident that each new year (even day) Hashem shines on a
person to help him defray his difficult past and gives him strength to pick
himself up and work toward a better future. Just as Hashem gives us great
חיזוק, its our duty to give to
our children great and continual חיזוק
to help them succeed in battling the ups and downs of childhood.