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12 Tishrei 5761 - October 11, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Serving Hashem with Joy

by HaRav Chaim Walkin

The joy man feels when performing a mitzvah and loving G-d, Who commanded the mitzvos, is a great avodah. Whoever prevents himself from feeling this joy deserves retribution, as the Torah states, "Because you did not serve Hashem your G- d with joy and with gladness of heart! therefore you shall serve your enemies... (Devorim 28:47- 48) (Rambam, Hilchos Lulav 8:15).

The wording Rambam uses here is unusual for him. His treatise Mishneh Torah, where these words were written, is a halachic work. The word "deserves" is too ambiguous -- either the person is punished or not.

Furthermore, where is the basis of this halachic ruling in the verse he quotes?

The Maggid Mishnah explains:

The words of Rabbeinu [Rambam] are explained in the gemora, which states, "I have praised this joy of performing a mitzvah" (Shabbos 30b). The idea here is that it is not fitting for a person to perform a mitzvah only because he is obligated to do so. Rather, he should feel joy in performing the mitzvos, to do what is good simply because it is good. Similarly, he should choose truth for the sake of truth. The burden of the mitzvah will be lightened through his understanding that he was created just for this purpose -- to serve his Master. When he fulfills his purpose, he rejoices, because the joy of other things is dependent upon trivial things and does not last. It is the happiness that comes from performing the mitzvos and the study of Torah and its wisdom that is the true joy.

The joy a person feels when performing the mitzvos and studying Torah is a reflection of his genuine desire to serve Hashem. If that feeling of happiness is not there, it is an indication that he is doing it only because he must, because he is obligated.

Father and Son or Master and Servant?

Chazal define the relationship between Hashem and Yisroel in two ways -- as a relationship between a father and son and as that of master and servant. The difference between these two types of relationships manifests itself in several ways, which are illustrated in the following gemora:

This is the question Turnusrufus the wicked asked Rabbi Akiva: "If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't He provide for them?"

Rabbi Akiva answered, "So that through [helping the poor] we will be redeemed from the judgment of Gehinnom."

Said Turnusrufus: "On the contrary you deserve Gehinnom precisely for this reason. I will draw a parable: A king became angry at his servant and imprisoned him, decreeing that he must not be given food or drink. A person went and fed him and gave him to drink. Wasn't the king angry when he heard about this? You [too] are called servants, as the Torah states, `Bnei Yisrael are servants to Me' (Vayikra 25:55)."

Rabbi Akiva replied: "Allow me to draw a parable. A king became angry at his son and imprisoned him, decreeing that he was not to be fed or given to drink. Another person went and fed him and gave him to drink. When the king heard of this, did he not send a gift to that person? And they are called sons, as the Torah states, `You are sons of Hashem your G-d' (Devorim 141)."

Turnusrufus said to him, "You are called sons and servants -- when you do His will, you are called sons, and when you do not do His will, you are called servants. Now you are not doing His will."

Rabbi Akiva said: "The Torah states, `You shall break your bread with the needy and bring the destitute into your home . . . ' (Yeshayahu 58:7). When does one bring the destitute into his home? Now, today and therefore the rest of the passage also relates to our time. Even though bnei Yisrael are not doing Hashem's will, they are like sons, whom we are required to feed and help" (Baba Basra 10a).

At times Yisrael is referred to as a servant and at times as a son. What is the difference between the two relationships?

A son does not just fulfill his responsibilities toward his father. He goes even further - - he seeks to know his father's wishes and needs and will fulfill his obligations above and beyond what is expected of him. A servant, on the other hand, will not necessarily do more than what his duty demands of him.

Performing Mitzvos as a Son to a Father

The difference between the two forms of relationships manifests itself in the way one performs the mitzvos. The son will do a mitzvah with joy, with a genuine desire not only to fulfill his own responsibilities but also to satisfy his father's wishes. A servant will do as he has been commanded. He certainly does not do it out of joy and the goodness of his heart -- he does it out of necessity, with a distinct lack of interest.

The way a father relates to a son also differs from the manner in which a master treats a servant. A father would never allow his son to be harmed or saddened, even if the son is in the wrong. He will do his utmost to protect his son from all harm. Such is the compassion a father feels for his son. The master does not owe his servant a thing; he is merely property in which the employer has a vested interest. Even if the master would come to the servant's aid, he does so only to protect his interests, to make sure he is getting his money's worth.

The words of the Rambam are easy to understand now. The verse "Because you did not serve Hashem your G- d with joy and with goodness of heart" is written at the conclusion of the sharp admonitions and severe retributions described in Ki Sovo, known as the Tochechah. The Rambam asks, how is it possible that joy, or the absence of it, in the performance of Torah and mitzvos prevents or is the cause, G-d forbid, of these punishments?

The Rambam concludes that in truth bnei Yisrael transgressed and deserved the punishments described in the Tochechah. However, if they would have performed the mitzvos with joy, they would have been judged as sons to their Father, Hashem. In the reciprocal relationship of a father to his son, the father stands up to his son's accusers and creditors; he intervenes and detains them on his son's behalf because he cannot bear to see his son despair. As sons to their Father in Heaven, even if Yisrael sinned Hashem would seek to prevent their pain and anguish.

But that only holds true when Yisrael does the mitzvos "with joy and with goodness of heart." If Yisrael performs the commandments only because they are an obligation, Hashem judges them as a master to his servant, and the judgment will not be tempered by the mercy of a father. Rambam says that one who does not serve Hashem with joy is judged as a servant and therefore "deserves retribution"; in other words, his Master will stand by and allow the accusers to demand the servant pay his debts. Rambam gleaned this from the verse "Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and with goodness of heart" -- this is what reverted Yisrael's judgment to that of a servant of whom retribution may be demanded. There is no admonition or punishment stated here; rather, there is only the possibility of payment, for the master does not intervene and allows the creditors to demand their payment while the father has mercy and seeks to absolve his son of his debts.

The performance of mitzvos with joy is not simply a form of fulfilling a mitzvah. It has a distinct effect on the essence of the mitzvah. The joy of performing the commandment, or lack of it, is a reflection of the true motive of the mitzvah. When there is joy, Yisrael are judged as sons to their Father in heaven, Who has mercy on them and protects them from all evil.

HaRav Walkin is the mashgiach of Ateres Yisroel Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. This essay is a chapter from his new book, The World Within: Contemporary Mussar Essays.

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