As we approach the Day of Judgment, we are earnestly trying to find ways to upgrade our mitzvah output for the coming year. We understand that in order to make a strong case for a better new year, we need to show Hashem how we are going to be better. I’d like to share with you an idea on how to swell our mitzvah total exponentially.
The Orchos Tzaddikim, one of the pillars of mussar study, writes the following powerful rule: A mitzvah done with happiness and joy is worth a thousand times more in the eyes of Hashem than a mitzvah performed as a burden, as something that needs to be checked off a to-do list. This means that we can convert a routine mitzvah into a bonanza of one thousand mitzvos with a correction and alteration of our attitude.
Chazal give us the directive, “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha – Serve Hashem with joy.” A professional recruiter will tell you that one of the things they look for before hiring a potential employee is to see whether they enjoy their work. After all, a happy worker is a more productive worker. Hashem wants us to be happy constituents. The great B’hag counts the mitzvah of being happy as one of the 613 mitzvos. He bases this on the verse, “V’samachta b’chol hatov asher nosan l’cha Hashem Elokecha ul’veisecha – You should rejoice with all of the good that Hashem has given to you and to your household.”
I once heard the great Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt”l, zy”a, ask, “Why do we need a mitzvah to be happy? Happiness is the universal quest.” He profoundly answered that there are two novelties in this Torah command. Firstly, as being happy is an official mitzvah, it means that everyone – no matter their life circumstances – can attain happiness, for Hashem does not ask from anyone what they cannot do. Secondly, since it is a mitzvah to be happy, it falls within the purview of the yeitzer hara, the evil inclination, to thwart us from its fulfillment. If it wouldn’t be a mitzvah, the yeitzer hara wouldn’t get involved. But now that simcha is a Torah command, like by any other mitzvah, the yeitzer hara tries to frustrate us from fulfilling it. This explains why we see so many unhappy people walking around. By striving to do our mitzvos with a happy zest, we can make an excellent case to Hashem that we plan on multiplying our mitzvos a thousand-fold.
We must know that it is natural to be happy when fulfilling the mitzvos, as the verse declares, “Pikudei Hashem yesharim, m’samchei lev – The commandments of Hashem are upright and they gladden the heart.” It’s only the yeitzer hara that fools us and makes us think that we have so many better things to do. For example, the yeitzer hara tell us to daven our minchas and maarivs quickly so we can run to get on with the business of life!
Rav Eliyahu Rota, zt”l, zy”a, once asked a kollel yungerman if he would agree not to put on tefillin one day in exchange for a hundred thousand shekalim. When the man answered quickly, “Of course not,” Rav Rota persisted, “What about for a million?” When the yungerman once again insisted that he wouldn’t do it for all of the money in the world, Rav Rota turned the tables and said, “Then when you do put on the tefillin, you should feel happier than if you received a million shekalim.” This is indeed the sentiment of the verse, “Tov li Toras picha, mei’alfei zahav v’chesed – It is better for me, the Torah of Your mouth, than thousands of coins of gold and silver.”
It’s been said that the letters of the word b’simcha, in happiness, are the same letters as the word machshava, thought, because happiness depends on one’s attitude. If we work on realizing that acts of kivud av v’eim, honoring our parents, or v’simach es ishto, gladdening our wives, or nosan titen, giving tzedaka, give us endless years of bliss in the world to come, we will be happier than if we had won the lottery.
In the merit of trying to do our mitzvos joyfully, may Hashem bless us with a sweet New Year of good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.
Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.