One of the famous quote pessukim in this week’s parsha of the Tochecha is תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’ בשמחה the reason for your suffering is because you did not serve Hashem with joy. It is very difficult to understand that because of this lack we are deserving of such catastrophic punishment. True one is lacking a maalah to the mitzvah or even a hiddur but how does this vacuum warrant such harshness and severity?
We suggest the following interpretation. Chazal says in Eruvin 13b that for two years there was an argument amongst the sages if it would have been better that man should not have been created. They counted and the tally was in favor of the opinion that it would have been better for man not to have been created. The Maharsha explains this Chazal as follows: that the counting and tally is not referring to the votes of pro his creation or those against, but rather the tally of the mitzvos that was counted. The results were 248 positive mitzvos versus 365 negative commandments. The numbers indicated that what could go wrong with aveiros being transgressed is more probable than what could go right by fulfilling positive mitzvos. Therefore, the conclusion was that Man shouldn’t have been created for his shortcomings will outweigh his positive performance.
Being so, how do we explain the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah which is the celebration of the anniversary of the creation of Man?
There are many pessukim that indicate that a large part of avodas Hashem is to fulfill mitzvos with simcha and joy. Rav Chaim Vital zl writes that all the deep levels that the Ari Hakadosh attained was due to his simcha in fulfilling mitzvos. The Ramban at the end of Hilchos Lulav writes that to be in the state of simcha for Yom Tov is an עבודה גדולה היא. The Rabbeinu Bachyah goes a step further and writes in Kad Vakemach that the mitzvah of simcha invested during performing a mitzvah, is even far greater than the mitzvah itself! This unbelievable insight is paralleled by the Chasam Soffer in Parshas Pinchus as a known and accepted concept
דהנה ידוע ששמחה שאדם שמח בעשיית המצוה הוא יותר ממצווה גופא ויש שכר על השמחה יותר משכר של מצוה עצמה
Also the Chazon Ish in his letters (chelek 2, 93) writes likewise
ועיקר עשיית מצוה היא שמחתה שזכינו לכך
This insight is almost unimaginable when you think of it. The reward for simchaof a mitzvah one receives in this world and in the next world will bring him to another Gan Eden entirely just for his added simcha alone. One way of understanding this insight is that the physical mitzvah is fulfilled through the physical body but the simcha emanates from the neshamah. When one ponders upon the fact that it is the Infinite Being that requests from you to put on tefillin which will make Him happy, and He gave you a neshamah which is connected to Him for that purpose, how can you not be delighted and thrilled to fulfill such a lofty request. The letters of בשמחה are the same as מחשבה . In order to attain simchah in the fulfillment of a mitzvah one must think and picture the precious ramifications of what he is about to do for Hashem. Thisמחשבה will certainly uproot you from rote and mechanical performance and infuse you with an excitement of how incredible and other worldly this opportunity is for you.
After understanding this, we can interpret that the conclusion of the Chazalthat the tally of the positive mitzvos are lower than the number of forbidden mitzvos, might be lower only when the mitzvah of simcha is void. However, if one lives his life with simcha and looks forwards to fulfill mitzvos, every fulfillment of a mitzvah is doubled for it includes not only the mitzvah but also the simchah for the mitzvah which is even greater than the mitzvah itself. This tilts the scale to make Man worth being created for the 248 positive mitzvot actually become 496 mitzvos which bring about Hashem’s מלכות which is also gematriah 496.
The Torah says וחי בהם (Vayikrah 18,5) one must live with the mitzvos. When fulfilling a mitzvah there should be excitement at least as much as one gets to experience a physical pleasure. Rote performance is without life, without neshamah and simchah.
Now we can understand why the lack of simcha during a fulfillment of a mitzvah causes such devastation as mentioned in the Tochacha. If a person does mitzvos with simchah he tilts the scale in favor that Man should be created. For with added simcha, his positive mitzvos will outnumber his negative shortcomings. However, if one has no enthusiasm at all and the mitzvah is not beloved to him becoming a burden and an irritation to fulfill it, then the negative mitzvos overpower the positive ones and it is then agreed that Man should not have been created. This tilting of the scale by lacking simcha in the mitzvah, is the cause of the severity of punishment. It’s not merely the lack of passion for Hashem’s mitzvos that brings about this destruction but rather the total downgrade and dwarfing of Man’s meaning and purpose in creation because of it.
Why on the anniversary of Man’s creation on Rosh Hashanah do we celebrate? We want to demonstrate that the original opinion which pronounced that Hashem’s creation of Man was a misfortune for the world can be corrected through our infusing mitzvah fulfillment with simcha and joy. As the Navy Nechemya 8,10 says that on Rosh Hashanah אכלו משמנים שתו ממתקים ואל תעצבו כי חדות ה’ היא מעוזכם
We read the Akeidas Yitzchak on Rosh Hashanah. I once saw a pshat that the greatness of Avraham at this test was that he remained in a state of simcha all throughout the ordeal. The proof brought to this concept is that if Avraham was in the expected fearful and turbulent emotionality that slaughtering his son would normally bring, then he wouldn’t have been able to receive the heavenly message which instructed him not to sacrifice his son. As we find in Tanachthat prophecy did not come to Shaul Hamelech in his distressed state and he needed Dovid to play music before him in order to place him in a cheerful mood. At the Akaidah, Avraham infused his mitzvah of sacrificing his son with simcha at the same time he gleefully went to fulfill Hashem’s command.
We can add that for this very reason Hashem appeared to Avraham and called his name twice אברהם אברהם which is gematriah 496 symbolizing that Avraham attained this added level of infusing even his mitzvah of sacrificing his son with simcha. This is the theme of Rosh Hashanah to have one’s heart full with simcha on this day of our coronation of the King of the Universe and the anniversary of creating Man. It is brought down that at the time of fulfilling the mitzvah of blowing shofar one should be overjoyed that through the shofar he accepts the מלכות of Hashem. Being joyous when fulfilling this mitzvah of shofar is because the malchus of Hashem and His mitzvos can only be complete if they are fulfilled 248 mitzvot together with 248 mitzvot of simcha simultaneously.
עבדו את ה’ בשמחה and help bring the geulah now.
– Rav Brazil