5762 - #07
Tehillim 100:2 declares: ivdu et Hashem bsimcha, serve God in joy.1 Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains; Thus serving God...should not be a burden to be borne because of fear. We are summoned to serve the Lord with gladness... The implication inherent in these words is that the human being has some control over his/her feelings of personal joy -- we can choose to be glad. The verse thus informs us that we should be joyful -- we should make ourselves joyful -- in the service of God. Yet, is this an actual possibility that the human being can control? Can we control our emotions? Can we simply will ourselves to be joyful? If the answer is no, how then are we to understand the call to serve God in joy?
Rashi, in explaining this verse, states that one serves God bsimcha because one is sure that he/she will be properly rewarded for the effort. With these words, Rashi offers a different perspective on the ability of the human being to control emotions. It may be that the human being cannot directly control an emotion; that it is impossible for a human being to simply make himself/herself happy. Yet, through education, it is possible for one to learn to examine and look at a situation in a different manner. This change in perspective may then result in a different emotional response. In calling upon us to serve God in joy, the verse is thereby telling us to gain an appreciation of the service of God that will result in joy. Malbim, it would seem, thus contends that the verse is calling upon us to have faith that God will reward us -- and with this faith, the necessary response will be joy.
In fact, Malbim furthermore argues that this verse is calling upon us to gain an appreciation for the very joy inherent in the service of God itself. Rabbi Hirsch actually has a similar view. He writes: For it is such a life, and such a life, only, that can give us true simcha, the feeling of steady and constant spiritual and moral growth, the continuous growth of all that is truly human in us, a blissful joy of life that is not subject to change in any manner by the
outward circumstances which life may bring. The call to serve God in joy is thus a call to investigate the service of God and to understand why it is joyful. It is a call to study, to comprehend the value inherent in such service with the intent to bring out the desired emotional result - joy.
Ivdu et Hashem bsimcha thus has a two-fold demand. One is to look at the service of God and to understand why it is joyful. The other demand is to look at oneself to uncover ones true sources of joy. To be told to serve God in joy means that it is possible to serve God in joy. This means that the service of God and ones personal joy can meet. Through education we are commanded to create that connection -- through gaining an understanding of the service of God and ourselves that will foster this connection.
Bereishit 27:4, however, informs us that there is another factor that must be considered in creating this connection. Before blessing Esav, Yitzchak Avinu asks his eldest son to bring him his favourite dish so that he (Yitzchak) may bless him (Esav). Torah Temima states in the name of the Maharam that from these words we learn that one giving a blessing should be bsimcha. As Torah Temima explains,2 when one is hungry, one is not at rest. Yitzchak wished to be satiated, specifically with his favourite foods, so that he would be bsimcha and thus able to properly bless Esav. When we contemplate ivdu et Hashem bsimcha, we usually presume the definition of the service of God to be a given. What is demanded by God is perceived to be clear and unalterable. The call to find joy is thus understood to be limited to the realm of understanding - in how we give meaning to our service of God or in how we look at ourselves. Yitzchak added a new dimension. He altered his service of God. He wished to give a blessing and thus determined how to proceed in a manner that would ensure joy. He therefore asked for food first for he recognized his nature as a human being and thus contemplated the service of God in joy as a human being. The call to serve God bsimcha may also demand of us to evaluate how we serve God and whether we consider the reality of our human nature in defining that service.
There is, of course, much risk inherent in enunciating this recognition. There are those that can use this idea to introduce hedonistic ideas and practices in defining how they wish to describe the service of God.3 Serving God in joy does not mean that we are to avoid any and every discomfort. The development of ourselves as true human beings demands of us to also, at times, control our human natures and subjugate them to the service of God. Yet, at the same time, the call to serve God in joy, also demands of us to recognize that we are human beings and that our human natures are still part of us. To serve God in joy means to recognize that we are to serve God as human beings with consideration for our human natures. Yitzchak wished to be in joy when he gave Esav the blessing. He did not simply will himself to be bsimcha. He recognized that this was beyond his capabilities. The reality of hunger inherently decreases the human beings joy -- and he was human. Thus he acted as a human being to establish a situation that would bring forth joy -- and thus enable him to bless.
Ivdu et Hashem bsimcha demands of us to create a connection between the service of God and ourselves. How this connection is to be achieved demands much contemplation and many potential considerations. At times, we are to look at ourselves and demand of ourselves different outlooks and understandings. At times, we are to investigate the true meaning of the service and understand its value. At times, we are also to recognize our humanity and understand the service of God in that context. The task is not an easy one and there is the possibility of mistake. But it is only through accepting the challenge of truly bringing together the service of God and oneself that one is able to meet the demand to serve God in joy. Only then is it possible for the human being and God to meet.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 It should be noted that while we have translated the Hebrew word simcha as joy, as is often the case, there are difficulties with this translation. What is implied in the Hebrew word simcha is not truly represented by the English word joy. While the discussion within this Insight will necessarily further the readers appreciation of the meaning of simcha, a full examination of the word is beyond the scope of this Insight.
2 See note 3.
3 See Ramban, Vayikra 19:2.
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