Rav Kook Torah

Ki Tavo: How to Serve God in Joy


“Because you failed to serve the Eternal your God with joy and contentment...” (Deut. 28:47)

Rav Kook was once asked: how can we stimulate feelings of joy and enthusiasm when we serve God?

In his response, Rav Kook wrote:

It is difficult to properly explain this fundamental aspect of serving God in a letter. The principle method to increase one’s motivation is to dedicate time to rigorous study of the spiritual [non-legalistic] areas of the Torah, and not let it be relegated to haphazard reading. The soul’s inner light shines in this study, and a spirit of joy and vitality invigorates those who sincerely seek out the truth.

Elevating the Universe

Nonetheless, I will share with you one central principle, although this too cannot be fully understood without serious study and reflection. Still, it will provide a handle to deepen your love of God and experience the light of the holy Torah.

It is clear that, if a person was given the chance to benefit the entire world, even the most self-centered individual would happily seize the opportunity, devoting all of his energy to the task.

Fatigue and weariness are the result of lack of belief in the extent of the good that we perform for the entire universe through our Torah study, mitzvot, Divine service, and refinement of character traits.

For this reason, God enlightened us with the words of the holiest tzaddikim, the masters of the Kabbalah. They enhanced our understanding of the true significance of our service, clarifying how it uplifts all of creation. Nonetheless, we need to bring this idea closer to the intellect so that the motivation will be strong and the joy well-founded.

The Collective Soul of the Universe

We attain this awareness by contemplating the spiritual unity of the universe. That is to say, we need to recognize that the light of each individual soul is bound to the collective soul of all existence. All created things draw the light of their perfection from this collective soul. We have the power to increase the light in our souls through Torah study, mitzvot, prayer, and character refinement. We need to be aware that whenever we enlighten our own souls, we are benefiting not just ourselves, but the entire universe; we are bestowing perfection and life to all things.

Through us, the righteous gain greater strength in their holy service. And the evil of wicked people is mitigated to some degree, and they experience feelings of remorse and penitence. Even the animals are ennobled according to their level. The noble holiness provided by a single soul that truly cares about all of existence helps refine and purify even those creatures that have destructive tendencies. And it certainly adds dazzling light to the lofty splendor of the souls, and throughout the spiritual worlds, in their infinite beauty and sanctity.

All of this is proper and relevant for any person who belongs to the holy nation of Israel. But it is even more appropriate for those who have the privilege of dwelling in the Holy Land.

(Adapted from Igrot HaRe’iyah vol. I, letter 301 5670/1910)