One Happiness Scatters a Thousand Sorrows

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Ki-Savo
One Happiness Scatters a Thousand Sorrows

Towards the end of the curses found in this week's parsha, it says that these terrible things will happen to the Jewish people because they did not serve Hashem with Simcha (happiness; Devarim 28:47).

Rabbenu Bachya (Ki Savo) points out that this is the only time we find the Torah mention, that in general, we must serve Hashem with simcha. This verse is what inspired Dovid Hamelech (King David) to say, "Ivdu Es Hashem B'simcha" (Serve Hashem with happiness; Tehillim 100:2).

The simcha we invest into a mitzvah is a mitzvah itself. Therefore, if one does a mitzvah without simcha, although he gets reward for doing the mitzvah, nevertheless, he gets punished for the absence of simcha.

This explains why Hashem commanded the Leviim (Levites) to sing and play musical instruments while the Kohanim (priests) brought the offerings. It was to create an atmosphere of Simcha during the Avoda (service), so that we would approach Hashem with happiness.

The Chasam Sofer (parshas Vayechi) adds that the first mitzvah a bar mitzva boy is commanded in, as soon as he turns thirteen, is to be b'simcha that he is able to do Hashem's will in a full-fledged way.

The Arizal attributed all his greatness in Torah and all of his Ruach Hakodesh (Divine inspiration) to the simcha he had when doing mitzvos (Sefer Chareidim, RabbiElazar Azikri, 16th cent. Kabbalist).

Based on the Rambam (Hilchos Lulav 8:15), the Shvilei Pinchas points out that it is not sufficient to only have internal simcha when it comes to mitzvos. Rather, the simcha should burst forth and be apparent to others that he is happy with doing God's will. We find an example of this by Dovid Hamelech's public display of simcha, as he leaped and danced, when the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) was returned to the Jewish people after being captured by the Plishtim (Philistines; Shmuel 2, 6:14-23).

But, all of this leads us to a question. It turns out, that if a person meticulously serves God with yira (reverence), but does not possess simcha in his mitzvos, he will be punished with all the curses of the Torah. How could it be that such an erlicher yid (sincere Jew) who fulfills God's will with precision, gets punished so heavily just because he lacks simcha in his avodah?

There is a shocking statement made in the Zohar (Toldos pg. 138a) which says that just as the world needs rain, so does it need the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). The reason why we need the Yetzer Hara is because the Yetzer Hara possesses the attribute of simcha and provides us with the ability to have joy in our Torah study.

In fact, when God will destroy the Yetzer Hara in the Messianic Era (Succa, chap. 5, "Hachalil", pg. 52a, Rebbi Yehudah), Hashem will extract the holy spark of simcha that resides within him so that everybody will be able to learn Torah and do mitzvos with simcha.

Today, the Yetzer Hara uses simcha to get us to sin. He makes sinning attractive by making it seem fun and enjoyable. Our job is to take that simcha and direct it towards avodas Hashem.

The reason why specifically the Yetzer Hara possesses simcha, and not the Yetzer Tov, is as follows. The Yetzer Tov is inextricably connected to the neshama (soul; Zohar Lech Lecha, pg. 79a). Although Hashem sent the neshama and the Yetzer Tov into man so that he should live a spiritually based life, the soul and the Yetzer Tov do not wish to remain inside a physical body. They would prefer to return to heaven and live a completely spiritual life.

In fact, the soul and Yetzer Tov try to escape the body every moment. But, just as they are about to leave the body, God's Presence, which surrounds us, gives a stern look at them, indicating that they must stay where they are (Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 150:6).

Therefore, the soul and Yetzer Tov are filled with constant awe from beholding God's Presence. It is safe to say that Yiras Hashem (reverence of God) stems from the neshama and Yetzer Tov (Shvilei Pinchas).

However, the Yetzer Hara is quite contempt on remaining inside its physical surroundings. The Yetzer Hara does not constantly see the Divine Presence. As such, the Yetzer Hara is much more relaxed. A relaxed environment is conducive to breeding simcha. Therefore, the Yetzer Hara is happy (Shvilei Pinchas).

It's just that the Yetzer Hara abuses that happiness by using it to convince us to sin, claiming that it is fun. Our job is to take that simcha, presented to us by the Yetzer Hara, and channel it towards Avodas Hashem, imbuing Torah and mitzvos with happiness.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the reason why not having simcha in our Avodas Hashem is so severe is because, deep down, the Yetzer Hara really wants to be good.

Proof of this is the Gemara (Baba Basra chap. 1, "Hashutfin", pg. 16a) in which Rebbi Levi says that the reason why the Satan (who is the same as the Yetzer Hara) prosecuted against Iyov (Job) was because Iyov was a very righteous man. Satan was concerned that Hashem would be drawn after Iyov (who was not Jewish according to some opinions) and thereby abandon Avraham and his descendants as the Chosen People. In order to prevent this from happening, Satan wanted Iyov tested, hoping that he would fail, and God would subsequently remain with the Jewish people.

Rav Acha bar Ya'akov said that when the Satan heard Rebbi Levy's teaching, he kissed Rebbi Levy on his feet, thanking him because, finally, somebody understood where he (the Satan) was coming from.

The Yetzer Hara wants us to use the happiness he possesses to serve Hashem. In this way, the Yetzer Hara can also participate in Avodas Hashem. Moreover, when we use the Yetzer Hara's happiness for mitzvos, we transform him into something good. This is ultimately what he wants (Shvilei Pinchas).

But, when we serve God without happiness, the Yetzer Hara remains bad. Then, the Yetzer Hara gets angry at the person for preventing him from serving Hashem. So, the Yetzer Hara seeks his revenge against that person and says, "You prevented me from serving Hashem, I will prevent you from serving Hashem." The Yetzer Hara will throw his entire arsenal against such a person, causing him to sin constantly (Shvilei Pinchas).

We now have two reasons why a person is punished so severely for serving Hashem without simcha. First, he did not fulfil his mission of transforming the Yetzer Hara into something good. Secondly, the Yetzer Hara will see to it that this person sins continuously. One who sins continuously is certainly deserving of all the curses.

The Karliner Rebbe concludes with a thought. He says that depression might not be a sin per say, but depression will definitely lead to terrible sins. Similarly, happiness might not be a mitzvah per say, but happiness will certainly lead to many great mitzvos and tremendous spiritual heights.

Practically speaking, let's try to inject a little bit more simcha into our Avodas Hashem. Here are just a few examples as to how we can accomplish this.

When it comes to prayer, we could choose to take a verse or phrase and sing it with our favorite melody. Song has a way of creating an atmosphere of happiness.

With respect to Torah study, let's try to spend some time learning about a topic we have always wanted to study. When we learn about what our hearts desire, the learning becomes exciting, fun, and enjoyable.

When it comes to doing mitzvos, there may be a mitzvah we do not particularly care for. One way of appreciating it more would be to study about that mitzvah. Not just about its halachik parameters, but also about the machshava (thought), chassidus, and kabbalh behind it. When we start to realize just how important that mitzvah is, and when we begin to comprehend what that mitzvah accomplishes, we just might start doing it with more enthusiasm and joy.

So, may we all be blessed to add a little bit more inward and outward simcha to our avodas Hashem by drawing from the Yetzer Hara's spark, transforming him into something good, and thus deserve to have all the blessings of the Torah shower upon us from Heaven to Earth, which includes the Shechina resting upon us, being endowed with Ruach Hakodesh and possessing chochmas haTorah.