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Ki Tavo  Print

How to Serve God in Joy

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

Ki Tavo: How to Serve God in Joy

"You did not serve God your Lord with joy and contentment.[Deut 28:47]

In 5670 (1910), when Rav Kook was the rabbi of Jaffe, he was asked: how does one inspire oneself to serve God in joy and strength?

In a letter dated Iyyar 22 (May 31), Rav Kook responded:

It is difficult to briefly explain this fundamental aspect of serving God. The main inspiration for people like me is to set aside considerable time for thorough study of the spiritual part of Torah, and not let it be cast aside for occasional reading. [With such study] the light of the soul shines, and the spirit of happiness and strength electrifies a heart which sincerely seeks the truth.

Nonetheless, I will not withhold the benefit of laying down one important principle - although this too can not be fully understood without much study and contemplation. Still it will provide a 'handle' for the desire to achieve love of God and the light of our holy Torah.

It is manifest that even the basest individual would be thrilled to perform good deeds with joy and strength if he understood that through such actions could benefit the entire universe, with all its infinite number of worlds. All laziness and weakness stems purely from lack of belief in the extent of the good which we truly perform for all of creation, through Torah study, mitzvot, service, and refinement of character. For this purpose God enlightened our eyes with the writings of the holiest tzadikim, masters of the Kabbala. They extended our understanding of the preciousness of serving God, and how our service can uplift all of existence in all its parts.

But this idea needs to be brought closer to the intellect, in order for the inspiration to be powerful and the joy well-founded.

This mental image comes by understanding the concept of 'spiritual unity'. That is to say: the light of each individual soul is connected 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 add light in our souls at all times through Torah, wisdom, mitzvot, prayer, and character refinement. If we recognize any time we enlighten our own souls, that we care not just for ourselves but for all of existence, then we can bestow perfection and life to all things.

Through us, the righteous gains greater power in his service of God. The evil of the wicked becomes lessened and sweetened to some extent; thoughts of repentance come to him. Even the animals are enobled, in accordance to their value. From the beautiful holiness which is added by one soul which truly cares about all of existence, even those creatures who tend to attack and damage are refined. And certainly great light is added to the sublime splendor of the souls, and in all levels of the spiritual worlds, boundless in their beauty and sanctity.

[Igrot HaRiya I, letter 301]