Tachas Asher Lo Avad’ta
Es Hashem Elokecho B’Simcha, Etc.
An adaptation of
the Maamar found in Likutei Torah
In this week’s Torah portion we are told that service of G-d with joy is a must, yet this seems to contradict a verse in Psalms which implies that only the righteous can serve G-d with joy.
There is really no contradiction, however, because the joy in question is the joy of the soul when its innermost yearnings are realized: each and every single Jew, deep in his or her heart, loves G-d to such an extent that uniting with Him through Torah and mitzvos brings about the joy of our verse. The righteous achieve such a high degree of love for G-d as to bring about an even greater level of this joy, and it is to this that the verse in Psalms refers.
This week’s Torah portion, “Ki Savo,” contains the verse (Deuteronomy 28:47), “Since you [the Jews] did not serve G-d your G-d with joy and with gladness of heart ... you will serve your enemies,” which is often cited as one indication that it is necessary to worship G-d with a feeling of joy. Yet to demand of us Jews that we each develop such a level of piety that we serve G-d out of a feeling of heartfelt joy (and demand it to such an extent that failure to do this is given as the reason for “you will. serve your enemies”) seems not only unreasonable, but actually contradictory to a second verse that implies that only the righteous (tzaddikim in Hebrew) attain this level (see Psalms 32:11).
Actually, however, the matter is simple to understand, as shall become evident after a discussion of just how one may arouse this “joy and gladness of heart” to begin with.
There are two major aspects to service of G-d; specifically, these are Torah and Prayer. Each of these plays an important role in an individual’s developing the joy necessary for an ideal relationship with G-d. The role of prayer is hinted at in the verse (Genesis 22:3), “And Abraham arose in the morning”: each one of our forefathers — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — was considered the very embodiment of a particular G-dly emotion (love (of G-d), awe or fear (of G-d), and mercy, respectively), and we often find the name of one of the forefathers serving as a reference also to his outstanding quality. In addition to the simple and obvious meaning, the verse “And Abraham arose in the morning” tells us that the best time to arouse in oneself the quality of Abraham — love of G-d — is in the morning, at the time of the morning prayer. The idea behind this is that each and every Jew, being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has as an inherent part of his or her nature an inextinguishable love for G-d (as well as the other emotions mentioned above), which is an inheritance from our forefathers. This love, however, is sometimes so deeply buried within the person’s soul as to be hidden and unnoticed, and in that case is referred to, in a particularly fitting analogy, as “asleep.” A sleeping person’s mind, though active, is not capable of conscious, deliberate, thought; visions or ideas that present themselves in a dream may represent things the dreamer has indeed seen or knows, and may even induce particular feelings within the sleeper, but he or she cannot, while asleep, exert any control over dreams or consciously think them through. The love for G-d hidden within the heart of each and every single Jew is also sometimes in a state of “sleep” in that it, too, does not then directly affect the person’s conscious actions and thoughts. It is more like a dream, since it leaves nothing more than a mere impression on the individual, who may then know deep within his or her heart that G d exists, and even that “the whole Earth is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3), yet remain unaffected by this knowledge to the extent that he or she still might transgress the will of G-d (Heaven forbid). The person hasn’t yet developed their innate love for G-d to the point where it motivates their day-to-day life, and they must wake up, arouse, the “sleeping’’ love – they must become more conscious of it – by deliberately thinking at length about the omnipresence of G-d. (If one comes to an honest realization of the fact that G-d is everywhere, and is the true source of all life, he or she will surely be inspired to a conscious love of G-d – if only because he or she consciously loves life itself!) Since virtually all of the morning prayer service consists of praises of G-d and references to His omnipresence, lengthy reflection during prayer about what we are saying is especially helpful towards arousing this love, and this is the “helpful hint” that the Torah passage gives us by saying “And Abraham [a reference to the G-dly love we inherit from him] arose [from sleep] in the morning [i.e., at the time of the morning prayers].”
Specifically, what a person should reflect upon during prayer is the fact that everything derives its existence from G-d, and therefore, G-d is the only true existence. Everything in the universe is nothing more than a manifestation of G-d’s creative power; nothing exists independently of Him. What is more, this bringing of the entire universe, in all its splendor, into being does not even require any effort or action on the part of G-d; it does not affect G-d Himself in the slightest. (This is something like the way in which the intangible regenerative force of the Earth, that spiritual capacity to give forth growing things, is in no way affected by any individual fruit that grows from the ground. An apple certainly does not detract at all from the ground, which can in fact produce unlimited apples without losing anything whatsoever of itself. Or, as another example, a single thought of a person among the endless stream that flows from him or her throughout life certainly does not detract one bit from his or her soul, which can give forth an infinite amount effortlessly.) Reflection upon these things naturally awakens the hidden love for G-d in the heart of every Jew, and this is why our morning prayers revolve around this subject – culminating in the climax of prayer, the Shema (“Hear, O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4)), by which point we are ready to declare our unshakeable belief, expressed therein, in the unity and omnipresence of G-d. This is immediately followed by the verse (Deuteronomy 6:5), “And you shall love G-d your G-d...,” since proper contemplation of G-d’s all-encompassing oneness automatically results in a conscious love for G-d, as mentioned above. This is of the very nature of the Jewish soul.
This natural love for G-d can be felt by each and every Jewish person; it is built on the realization that G-d is the only true life, which brings out a yearning in the individual to attach him- or herself to G-d with complete devotion. However, this may be called a self-centered love, since the person yearns to attach his or her soul to the true source of its own life. It can be distinguished from a second type of love for G-d, which is not necessarily within the reach of every single person to attain. This second kind of love has no element of self at all: a person’s every action on this level is motivated by a purely altruistic desire to fulfill the will of G-d. The worshipper wishes to be so completely united with and attached to G-d as to lose all trace of independent existence; he or she longs for his or her soul to return to its Maker and be reabsorbed in G-d’s all-encompassing unity. This love, in which the soul delights in G-d alone (even to the exclusion of its own existence), is not already hidden within the Jewish soul, a part of its nature; rather, the capacity to achieve this love, through contemplation of G-d’s unity, is granted by G-d to the righteous as a reward for their efforts.
Now, the yearning we have been discussing – the yearning of each and every Jewish soul to attach itself to the true source of life, G-d (i.e., the first type of love mentioned above) – cries out for fulfillment, cries out to be satisfied by the person’s actually attaching him- or herself to G-d. The only possible way for mortal man, a created entity, to attach him- or herself to G-d is through study of Torah and performance of its mitzvos (precepts). Through Torah, one may literally unite with G-d, a unity which would certainly be impossible were it not for the great kindness of G-d in allowing us to achieve it through Torah.
It is this attainment of the innermost yearning of the soul that brings a person to an unparalleled feeling of joy and gladness of heart – the same joy that is demanded of us in the verse quoted above. Now that we understand how this joy is attained, we see that it is not at all unreasonable for G-d to expect it of us. This is because every single Jew, no matter what his or her present level, has the power (and therefore the responsibility) to awaken the hidden love for G-d found within his or her soul, and we certainly have the responsibility to study the Torah and perform its mitzvos – which study, coupled with the love and longing which it satisfies, naturally brings a Jew to the joy and gladness of heart in question. It is the natural joy of the Jewish soul at uniting with its Maker through Torah and mitzvos. It is the joy we call simcha shel mitzva (joy in performance of mitzvos) and is considered very important.
And this joy comes to a person in two ways: the first is when, immediately following morning prayers, the worshipper engages (even if only for a short period) in Torah study. In this case, since he or she is fresh from experiencing the heartfelt love of G-d aroused during prayer, the yearning of his or her soul for G-d being immediately satisfied through Torah study brings about the joy in an easy and straightforward manner. The second applies after the worshipper has finished praying and is already involved in his or her affairs for the day. Then, even though no longer involved in holy actions like prayer (all the more so if he or she has sinned, G-d forbid), the very thought that he or she is not so close to G-d, has brought him- or herself far from Him by sinning, and so on, yet still gets to unite with G-d through Torah study and mitzva observance, brings one to rejoice after all at his or her coming back and uniting with G-d.
Either way, though, this joy is accessible to the average Jew, and is not to be confused with the joy experienced by the righteous who have attained the “selfless” love for G-d mentioned above. This being the case, we see that there is really no contradiction between the verse in this week’s Torah portion (which requires every Jew to achieve simcha shel mitzva) and the verse in Psalms (which, speaking about the unique level they have reached, implies that it is the righteous who experience joy in G-d.)
Finally, to get the most from one’s prayers, one should contemplate beforehand just how far from G-d he or she actually is. Also, there are three things which help to remove all obstacles to successful prayer: immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath) before the prayer, contributing to charity, and studying Jewish ethical teachings (called mussar in Hebrew), particularly those found in the classic work, “Zohar.”
-- ### --
Ó 2001. Please note that the foregoing is an informal adaptation by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the adaptation may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this adaptation should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!