Parshas Ki Savo
The Joy of Mitzvah Observance
Simcha is an overused but less understood concept.
It expresses feelings of "joy", sentiments of "great pleasure",
of "happiness", or even "elation".
Highlighting how central this emotion is to the fabric of Jewish life are
the Torah's terrifying comments concerning the curses delineated in the
admonition. Persecution and suffering of the Jewish people is
attributed "because you did not serve Hashem Your G-d with joy and
fullness of heart" (Devarim 28:47).
This is, to be sure, a truly frightening indictment.
Where there is loyal commitment and mitzvah observance, there is still a
gapping gap in our divine service if the element of "simcha" is not there.
Tragically, the absence of simcha undermines the ethos of religious
practice. Without the joy of fulfilling a mitzvah, one has almost missed
the whole point of what Jewish living is all about.
Judaism, for a Jew, is about life itself.
The "joy of mitzvah performance" is termed "simcha shel mitzvah". It is
the joie de vivre.
On a simple level, this "cheerful enjoyment of life" refers to the
attitude that a Jew confers upon his religious activity. His demeanor is
shaped by the joyous awareness that life has meaning and purpose. That
living itself is the greatest blessing. That life – with all its hurdles
and obstacles – can never be allowed to undermine man's raison d'ętre: how
his infinitesimal being is able to perform the Will of the Master of the
Universe. It may not always be enjoyed; but its continual existence is
enjoyed because it is meaningful.
The source of this rejoicing, explains the famous Chasidic Rebbe Rabbi
Levi of Berditchev, is such that a Jew "delights" because he knows that G-
d "delights" in his good deeds.
The magical relationship where a faithful servant lovingly submits himself
before his benevolent Master is eternal.
Indeed, it is a rarefied pleasure that a Jew is granted the opportunity of
serving the King of all kings! Will he pass off such a chance? Never.
The sentiments pulsating through the Jewish heart is how "There is no joy
as the joy of a mitzvah" – in the words of the Rokeach. He readily
exchanges the transient, half-baked happiness of this world for a timeless
spiritual existence in the world to come.
Should he consider observance as restrictive or cumbersome means him
tragically casting it in a negative light! A mitzvah performed half-
heartedly, or with fearful concern of divine retribution, is far off the
mark. Is it possible for this to be anything other than dry, perfunctory,
burdensome or emotionless rote enacted without embellishments and seen as
This is not the "simcha shel mitzvah".
"Serve G-d with joy, come before Him with song" proclaimed the
Pslamist (Tehillim 100:2). Man exists to serve G-d "with joyfulness and
gladness of heart for the great abundance" (Devarim 29:47). The Midrash
exhorts how "one should observe a mitzvah with a joyous heart" (Vayikra
Rabbah 32:9). The impact of joyous mitzvah is timeless: "Those precepts
originally accepted with joy (such as circumcision) have continually been
performed with joy throughout the generations to this day (Shabbos 130a).
It is the infectious enthusiasm that is perpetuated from father to son,
from generation to generation, inculcating to the youth of how precious
and simcha-inducing religious observance is. Whatever the costs and pain
involved. Its preciousness is a joy to behold.
Indeed, the Orchos Tzaddikim (Gate of Simcha) memorably promises that "a
mitzvah performed with simcha merits a thousand-fold reward more than a
mitzvah enabled as a burden".
As we approach the Days of Awe, our commitment to invest mitzvah actions
with "simcha" is essential.
This is the true "joy" of living. Of "mitzvah living"
The course material is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of "Set in Stone: The Meaning of Mitzvah Observance" (Targum/Feldheim), a writer and educator in London whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments.