HAPPINESS IS. . .
Rabbi Mordechai Pollock
Happiness - that illusive goal that we all aspire to achieve in life. It is the emotion that makes all else worth it, those times when we are happy with ourselves, our family, our friends, and the world.
Happiness - that illusive goal that we all aspire to achieve in life. It is the emotion that makes all else worth it, those times when we are happy with ourselves, our family, our friends, and the world. Many volumes have been written to discuss Man's pursuit of happiness and how best to achieve it. In this week's Torah portion, the Jew is taken to task for not demonstrating a feeling of happiness. It seems that although he is performing the mitzvot, he is still held accountable for his lack of joy. He is told that all the terrible things that will befall the Jews will result because of this lacking. Death and destruction, disease and poverty will ensue, "Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness and a glad heart. . ." (Deuteronomy 28:47).
Rabbeinu Bachya, a famous medieval commentary on the Torah, comments on this verse: "This is because one is obligated to be happy when performing a mitzvah. Happiness during the course of fulfilling a mitzvah is a separate mitzvah in-and-of-itself. Therefore one is punished for a lack of happiness even if the mitzvah is fulfilled."
Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, rosh yeshiva (dean) and founder of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, explains that the reason for this phenomenon is quite simple. One who performs a mitzvah is doing something indescribably important. He is connecting himself with the Divine, acquiring a tremendous, unfathomable portion in the next world. Moreover he is bringing the world closer to its ultimate goal, that of exposing the will of Hashem to all.
For someone to participate in such an enormous task and not be happy while doing so is only possible if one is not fully aware of what he is doing. Certainly such an experience would excite anyone! It is when we lose sight of the gravity of the situation that we find it hard to be excited. When we lose sight of the significance of our actions and we are not excited, we are not achieving the same effects and results that we could otherwise be achieving. Certainly when one does a mitzvah they fulfill their obligation regardless of their level of excitement and glee. Nevertheless, the full power of the mitzvah does not come to bear on the mitzvah performer and on the world if a sense of happiness and appreciation of what is occurring is lacking.
Our sages tell us that this section of the Torah (known as the rebuke) is read before Rosh Hashanah for good reason. It is here to wake us up, to alert us to the fact that the holy and awesome day is coming, it will be here soon. Indeed, on Saturday night we begin our recitation of Selichot, the supplications for forgiveness that we say in preparation for our judgment.
The message of this rebuke is clear: Don't focus exclusively on the mitzvot that we are not doing and need to be doing. Focus on the mitzvot that we are already involved with, those mitzvot that we are doing "well."
Think, says Hashem, about how wonderful it is to do a mitzvah. Think about how lucky we are to be from the few people on Earth who understand and appreciate what mitzvah performance is all about. Don't lose the opportunity to connect yourself with the Divine by not thinking about what you are doing.
Rabbi Mordechai Pollock is an alumnus and teacher at Yeshiva Atlanta.
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