Parashat Ki Tavo: Joy in the Observance of Mitzvot

[Tal Chermon]

Our Parashah warns that we will be punished: “Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and with a good-heart, from so much of everything …,” (Deut. 26:1).
“Joy in the performance of Mitzvot is in and of itself a Mitzvah…, this joy constitutes pure service of G-d and is of greater significance than the Mitzvah itself, as is written, ‘Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy.’ We are punished for not serving Him joyfully, as is written, ‘Serve G-d with joy, appear before Him with jubilation,’ ‘Righteous people - exult in G-d;’ ‘Exult in G-d, be joyful, righteous people, and be gleeful, you who are upright,’ ‘I revel in Your words as one who has found a great treasure’ (Tehilim), and ‘I praised joy’ (Kohelet). Our Sages interpreted these verses as speaking about the joy in the performance of Mitzvot” (Rabbeinu Bachayei, Kad HaKemach, “Simcha”).
“The Torah blames us for serving G-d joylessly, because one is required to rejoice in the performance of Mitzvot. This joy is in itself a Mitzvah. In addition to the reward one receives for performance of a Mitzvah, he is rewarded for this joy, and therefore he deserves punishment if he has no joy ….” (ibid.).
“The Holy Ari confided in a friend that that all the wisdom and Divine understanding which he had received was a reward for the joy he had when fulfilling any Mitzvah - tremendous, unbounded joy. He too cited the verse, ‘Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and with a good-heart, from so much of everything …,’ meaning more than all worldly pleasures, more than all the gold and precious stones in the world” (Sefer Charedim).
Sometimes it is difficult to serve G-d with joy because of the burden of one's sins. One who is always conscious of his spiritual deficiencies and his guilt cannot take joy in anything. There are many and varied methods to find a way out of this dilemma, as many as there are complex emotional states due to feelings of guilt and wrong-doing. One of these methods is to “forget past sins” (Maran Ha-Rav Kook, Mussar Ha-Kodesh, 250), to wipe the slate clean and begin every day anew, disregarding any past burdens. Of course, this must be done “with good intentions and to enable him to serve G-d with joy” (ibid.).
One who succeeds in forgetting about past sins in order to “develop his capacity for Torah knowledge and wisdom” and “to bring more light and joy of G-d in his endeavors” (ibid.) will be rewarded in kind by Divine Providence - “These too shall be forgotten” (Yeshayahu 49:15).