“Serve Hashem With Joy”-Maran zt”l’s Reply to Those Consoling Him
Question: Is there an actual obligation to serve Hashem joyfully? Is one forbidden to fulfill the Mitzvot amid sadness?
Answer: When delineating the punishments for the Jewish nation if they do not observe the Torah and Mitzvot, the Torah (Devarim 28) states that the Jewish nation will be exiled from their land and will be plagued with various kinds of terrible calamities. Indeed, the verse states, “All of these curses shall befall you and pursue you until you are destroyed etc. because you have not served Hashem, your G-d, with joy and with gladness of heart amid plenty.”
The Torah clearly states that Hashem is quite concerned that one perform the Mitzvot joyfully and not sadly. Even if one performs all of the Mitzvot but does so sadly, one will still be included in this curse until one performs the Mitzvot joyfully.
Indeed, the Rambam (Chapter 8 of Hilchot Lulav, Halacha 15) writes: The joy with which one must perform the Mitzvot and the love of Hashem who commanded us to perform them is truly a great task, as the verse states, ‘Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and with gladness of heart.’”
The Sefer Peleh Yo’etz writes that it is well-known that the reward for any given Mitzvah one performs is based on the amount of effort one invests in performing it. The same holds true regarding the Mitzvah of happiness, for if one is bitter and melancholy as a result of things he has endured and yet when performing Mitzvot, such as reciting Birkat Hamazon or praying and the like, he pushes away his suffering and causes himself to be joyful, especially on Shabbat and Yom Tov, his reward will be much greater than others who may, in any case, be living amid peace and tranquility.
When Maran zt”l sat Shiva while mourning the loss of his son, Hagaon Harav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman Shlit”a came to console him. Maran zt”l mentioned to him (and others present who likewise came to console him) what is written in the Sefer Magid Mesharim (Parashat Bereshit) about what Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo inquired of the angel: “Where are the souls of the righteous before they are sent to this world?” The angel replied, “They are under Hashem’s Throne of Glory basking in the radiance of Hashem’s presence.” Maran Harav Karo proceeded to inquire, “After amassing much Torah study and Mitzvah observance in this world, where does the soul go afterwards?” The angel replied, “It return to bask in the glory of Hashem.” Rabbeinu Yosef Karo then asked, “If so, what did the soul accomplish by toiling in this world and meriting all of the Torah, Mitzvot, and good deeds if it originated from the Throne of Glory and then returns there?” The angel replied, “The Sages taught (Talmud Yerushalmi, Masechet Orla, Chapter 1, Halacha 3), ‘One who eats from another’s food is ashamed to look into his face.’” This means that the nature of a human being is that one does not wish to eat bread of pity. Thus, before descending to this world, the soul’s enjoyment from Hashem’s holy radiance is only considered a “free gift” and its enjoyment is therefore incomplete. However, after working its way through this world and accruing much Torah, Mitzvot, and good deeds, it then rightfully basks in Hashem’s glory, as the verse states, “With justice shall I see your face.”
Maran zt”l proceeded to ask those assembled based on the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Emor, Chapter 642): “The verse (Iyov 41, 3) states, ‘Who preceded Me and I shall pay him.’ Hashem’s holy spirit exclaims: ‘Who praised Me before I bestowed him with a soul? Who circumcised his son before I have given him a son? Who built a fence before I have given him a roof? Who affixed a Mezuzah before I have given him a house? Who has built a Sukkah before I have given him a place to do so? Who tied Tzitzit before I have given him a garment?’” This means that Hashem owes no one any payment for their deeds, for all of man’s actions are a direct result of the abundance Hashem bestows upon a person. This is what is meant by the verse, “Who has preceded Me and I shall pay him,” meaning, who can say that he preceded Hashem and did something which deserves reward? There is no such claim, for everything is bestowed upon us by Hashem!
Based on this, even after the soul comes down to this world and observes the Torah and Mitzvot, the claim of “Who preceded Me and I shall pay him” still exists and the reward will still be considered a “free gift”! If so, the question of Maran Ha’Bet Yosef returns: What is the hassle of coming down to this world and withstanding many tests and temptations until one amasses much Torah and Mitzvot worth if the soul returns to where it originated from, only to bask in Hashem’s glory as a “free gift”?
Maran zt”l answered that when one performs Hashem’s Mitzvot enthusiastically and studies Torah joyfully and with gladness of heart, there is nothing comparable to the reward one receives for this, for this is something one can only perform with one’s heart and only man alone can do this, for “everything is in Heaven’s hands besides for one’s fear of Heaven.”
Thus, by performing Hashem’s commandments joyfully, one rightfully “earns” his reward from Hashem and it is no longer merely a “free gift,” for joy is one’s personal labor, as we have quoted above from the Rambam.
Thus, the claim of “Who preceded Me and I shall pay” no longer applies, for one has earned this reward rightfully for the effort one has invested.
Maran zt”l proceeded to support this idea with various proofs and concluded that the verse, “Serve Hashem with joy, come before Him with song,” means: “Serve Hashem with joy” in order to be able to “Come before Him with song,” i.e. unabashedly, to claim the reward one fairly deserves.