Serving G-d with Joy

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Ki Tisa 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: When I pray, I feel nothing special. When I fulfill Mitzvot and study Torah, I do not connect to G-d. If this is the reason that I am serving G-d, I am clearly missing out on the essence. How can I improve my situation?
Answer: This is a delicate point. If a person serves G-d in order to get excited, he is probably not serving G-d but serving himself. That is, such worship of G-d is insincere.
Obviously, even worship of G-d that is insincere still counts as worship of G-d. Yet, if you are serving G-d even though you do not feel any connection, then you are worshipping G-d sincerely, and certainly would not want to descend to the level of insincere worship.
We can rest assured that at the end of the path we will feel an enormous, wonderful feeling, yet that is not the reason that we are serving G-d. There is a difference between knowledge and will. We know that this is the way things will be, yet that does not serve as a motive.
The book Mesilat Yesharim opens by saying that the foundation of saintliness is to derive pleasure from G-d (Chapter 1). Yet this should not be understood to mean that we should have selfish longing for that pleasure (see Orot Ha-Kodesh, 3:167).
The Master of the Universe created man with the goal that he should achieve pleasure in the service of G-d, yet our goal in serving G-d must not be that pleasure, but rather, to do G-d’s will. Or, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook worded it: “To shower contentment upon our Creator” (Mussar Avicha 2:4). Achieving perfection in our worship of G-d means worshipping Him “to fulfill G-d’s needs” -- exclusively to fulfill G-d’s will and not to receive any reward, even the reward of excitement.
Imagine a person who has saved a whole city, for which he received a reward of a thousand silver pieces. He must rejoice over his having saved a city and not over the reward that he received (Ibid.).
Our supreme goal must be the performance of G-d’s will, and not just to get excited about it. A person does not always get excited. Maran Ha-Rav Kook quotes the book Chovot Ha-Levavot as saying that if someone wishes to change his own nature for the better and to carry out a revolution inside himself, he must be ready to taste “bitter medicine” (Sha’ar Avodat Elokim, Chapter 5). Obviously, the medicine will just as likely be sweet, yet in advance we must be ready if occasionally it turns out to be bitter (Mussar Avicha, 2:1)
We do not always get excited. Ha-Rav Ra'anan, the son-in-law of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, complained that he did not feel progress in his Torah study. Rav Kook responded that during learning, he too did not feel anything special.