By Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple
There is a well known idea of “simchah shel mitzvah”, “the joy of the mitzvah”.
It tells us that when we do a mitzvah we should enjoy what we’re doing. To perform a mitzvah with a sour face, even to carry out the mitzvah perfunctorily, might have its value, but it lacks something extremely important.
There is a companion idea which says that simchah itself is a mitzvah, not just enjoying the fulfilment of a Divine command, but enjoying life as a whole and all its blessings.
Pinhas Peli commends this idea and finds it grounded in teachings of the classical Jewish thinkers.
Yehudah HaLevi says there are three ways to God, joy, love and fear (Kuzari 2:50).
The Rambam says joy is “a supreme act of Divine worship”.
Not that joy is defined as going berserk, getting on an artificial high, over-indulging in drink or going wild. Joy is the quiet feeling that life is wonderful even if we have problems.
I had a colleague whose wife told me, “My husband is never happy unless he’s miserable”. Whether she was right, and what the words meant, the fact is that even if a person is miserable they can still feel joy.
Joy comes from a Shehecheyanu-type feeling of gratitude that God has “given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time”.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at https://www.oztorah.com