Mizmor L’Sodah 2

מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַה' כָּל-הָאָרֶץ

A song of thanksgiving: Everyone on Earth should call out to Hashem (and rejoice in His kindness).

We begin Mizmor L’Sodah by calling out to the whole world to sing to Hashem.

עִבְדוּ אֶת ה' בְּשִׂמְחָה, בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה

(And klal Yisrael should) serve Hashem with happiness (not as if it was a burden), (and) come before Him with joyous song and praises.

We then call upon all (most of all, upon ourselves) to serve Hashem with simchah and not merely out of a sense of obligation.

Rabbeinu Bachya learns from this pasuk that there is a separate, independent mitzvah of simchah with each mitzvah. Every mitzvah is, in effect, a precious gift being sent to us by HaKadosh Baruch Hu (Kuzari). Certainly, if the most important person in the world sent us a precious gift and opportunity, we would be ecstatic and enthusiastic.

Imagine someone calls you up and says, “Kindly hold the line. The Gadol HaDor would like to speak with you.” The gadol comes on the phone and makes a request of you to do something for him. After you finish calling all your relatives and friends, you leap up and run to fulfill his request. Would your enthusiasm wane if he asked you more often, or would you be even more excited, exuding feelings of being so privileged and honored to serve one of the greatest g’dolim of the generation? This is all the more so when we have the great privilege and honor to serve the King of all kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Master of all.

I believe we can look at three basic levels of performing a mitzvah. Let us take a look at the mitzvah of Tefilah as an example.

Level 1: We can approach Tefilah or any mitzvah as an obligation that we must do but that we really prefer not to do. We dutifully “check the box” and go to minyan or daven at home to be yotzei (to fulfill our obligation). We do, in fact, fulfill our obligation. However, the Chafetz Chaim writes (siman 98 s”k 9) that this is not proper, and one must be extremely careful to guard against this. At this level, what excites us is a good football game on Sunday or reading an exciting novel or an entertaining magazine.  Mitzvos are items on our “to-do lists” that we know we must do but that we really don’t enjoy.

Level 2: We understand that every mitzvah is an opportunity and a gift, but there are some mitzvos that we just don’t connect with. Perhaps it doesn’t suit our personalities. We may be a “doer” and not a “prayer.” When it comes to chesed, we may be excited and enthusiastic. But when it comes to tefilah, we just are not. We want to get it over with so that we can move on to chesed or learning Torah. For some, it is the reverse. This is natural, and many of us may fall into this category.

Level 3: While we are naturally more drawn to certain mitzvos than to others, we realize that all mitzvos have one common theme and purpose. All mitzvos are designed to connect us more to Hashem – to come closer to Him. Therefore, we do our best with each and every mitzvah, trying to perform it happily and enthusiastically, even if it is not suited to our specific personality. We do so because we are just thrilled to be doing what Hashem wants us to do right now, in the present moment. That is all that matters at this level. What does Hashem want of me right now, at this moment in time? Whatever it is, I am happy to be serving Him.

“בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה–bo’u l’fanav birnanah (come before Him with joyous song and praises). We want to strive to come before Hashem in song when performing mitzvos – enthused and joyful. Until we can reach that level (which may be after years of effort), we should strive to at least be content in the knowledge that we have the great merit to be serving the Master of all, Who loves us more than we can imagine. He has gifted to us the privilege to serve Him for our benefit (He needs nothing from us). We demonstrate our appreciation through performing His mitzvos willingly and, eventually, with zest and vigor. Over time, we may still enjoy a football game or a kosher novel or magazine, but what really excites us is thinking about Hashem’s love as we perform His mitzvos.

Needless to say, Level 3 is a very high level. Nevertheless, it is one we should yearn to ultimately reach. Our efforts should certainly include asking Hashem to help us get there – to express our desire to Him that we really want it. And if we don’t really want it – yet – ask to want it.  And perhaps, saying this piece with a little musical tune would help us along.

What we have written about may seem like “extra credit,” but in fact it is at the core of our lives. The Torah writes:

תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָבַדְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב, מֵרֹב כֹּל

…because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. [D’varim 28:47]

The curses in Parshas Ki Savo are a result of not serving Hashem out of simchah and good-heartedness “mei’rov kol.” One meaning of this last phrase is that, more than any other goodness we appreciate, serving Hashem should be at the top of the list. That is how crucially important is what we have written about, and perhaps why the very first thing we will call out to the world is: “Serve Hashem b’simchah; come before Him in joyous song.”