There is an old Jewish saying “Mitzvah Gedolah Leeyot B’Simcha,” meaning “It is a big Mitzvah to be happy.” Where is this Mitzvah found in the Torah? Is in fact one of the 613 Mitzvot to be happy?
Perhaps the most explicit Torah source commanding us to be happy is found in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Ki Tavo, and it is found in a most unusual place. As the Torah delivers sharp rebuke to those generations that will disregard the Torah, the Torah states that the reason this will come about it “because you did not serve Hashem, your God, amid gladness and a good heart, when everything was abundant” (Devarim 28:47).
Here the Torah is teaching us how to ensure that our spiritual service and performance of Mitzvos will remain strong and that evil will not befall us. It isn’t just about doing it. It is about how you do it.
We often meet Jews who are meticulous about Jewish law and performance of Mitzvot, but they do it sluggishly with a chip on their shoulder, with no joy. Does this kind of service to Hashem last? Will they be able to pass this on to their children?
Our Sages teach us “Make his desire, your desire, in order that he’ll make your desire his desire” (Avos 2:4). When we are performing Mitzvos, it should be evident that this is something that is enjoyable and desirable for us, that we are thrilled that we have the opportunity.
Now, perhaps you are wondering, what if I don’t enjoy performing Mitzvos? What if I feel disconnected and even burdened by them?
The Talmud addresses that question and tells us to “Do the Mitzvah for alternative reasons, and you will end up doing it for the sake of the Mitzvah itself”. In other words, “Fake it till you make it”!
You see, like all great things in life, to really appreciate the full pleasure of the Mitzvah itself we must develop a taste for it, which does in fact take time. But there is a certain sweetness in Mitzvos that one can access without reaching saintly levels or lofty sensitivities. Metaphorically speaking, it is a way of biting into the chocolate coating until you get to the peanut butter filling. Allow me to illustrate.
A good L’Chaim, a lively Niggun, a pot of cholent, a beautiful Mezuzah case, Kiddush cup, or Tallis bag, silver Candlesticks, even a good laugh, these are just some of the things that make the Mitzvos so much more special. The more we beautify the Mitzvah for ourselves, the closer we’ll get to experiencing the true pleasure hidden within. We might even come to realize that it was this pleasure that was really driving us all along.
With this appreciation we can understand another statement by our Sages, “the payment for a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah”. What kind of payment is that? Isn’t payment for our Mitzvot supposed to be in the World to Come? The answer is, of course there is a World to Come, but there is also a beautiful world of spirituality that is right before your eyes, waiting to unfold, where each Mitzvah itself becomes a pleasure, a delight, a reward! And when we perform a Mitzvah with proper enthusiasm it opens up the door to a new one, until we develop a new taste for the Mitzvah, and it becomes… rewarding!