Rav Kook Torah

Ki Tavo: Be Happy!


The Torah portion opens and closes with the same theme: simchah, joy. It begins with the mitzvah of offering bikkurim (first-fruits) in the Temple, an exercise in appreciating what God has given us, as it says,

“You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has granted you and your family” (Deut. 26:11).

Afterwards, the Torah describes the terrible trials that will befall the Jewish people if they are unfaithful to the Torah’s teachings. This section concludes with the root cause for these punishments:

“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy (simchah) and contentment (tuv leivav).” (Deut. 28:47)

Not only does God expect us to keep the mitzvot, but we are to perform them with joy and contentment. What is the difference between these two emotions?

Joy and Contentment

Simchah and tuv leivav are two distinct levels of happiness. Interestingly, they are the result of contradictory perceptions.

What is the source of tuv leivav? This is a sense of satisfaction that we feel good about our service of God. We pray, study Torah, and perform mitzvot out of a feeling that we are doing what we were created to do. As one of God’s creations, it is natural for us to serve Him. We are grateful to have been blessed with the intellectual and spiritual capabilities needed to worship Him through Torah study and mitzvot.

Simchah, on the other hand, comes from the perception that some unexpected boon has befallen us. We feel joy in serving God when we are aware of the tremendous privilege in being able to connect to God — a gift far beyond our true level. Awareness of this amazing gift, while at the same time feeling that our service is appropriate and suitable, allows us to feel both simchah and tuv leivav.

Cultivating Joy

How does one attain this simchah in serving God? The secret to developing and enhancing our sense of joy is to reflect on two thoughts:

  • Appreciating the significance and wonder of every medium - such as Torah study and mitzvot — that allows us to connect with the Master of the universe.

  • Recognizing the Divine source of our soul and its inherent holiness, even though it may have become soiled through contact with the material world.

  • We experience genuine joy in serving God when we are able to thoroughly internalize these two insights.

    (Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 332-333. Adapted from Mussar Avicha, p. 32)