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Ki Savo"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant:" (Devarim 28:47).
The Commentaries explain this passage to mean that the terrifying Chapter of Rebuke (Tochachah) befalls even a person who has, in effect, served Hashem; however he has done it without "gladness and goodness of heart."
One of the main reasons one performs mitzvahs without joy is because, basically, he is only performing them out of rote - without even realizing what he or she is doing. It is amazing how much one can do from force of habit, while barely applying his brain at all. Following are some startling examples.
In 1968, on a Friday evening, while walking towards (or returning from; I don't remember for sure) the mikveh (ritual purification bath) the holy Rebbe of Satmar ztvk"l suddenly collapsed. A famous professor was called immediately to examine the Rebbe. I have forgotten his name, but I remember that he would charge $500 (an exorbitant amount in those days) to spend just a few moments with the patient. In that short time he was able to evaluate whether or not the fellow had, indeed, been stricken by a stroke; how intense it was; and which side of the brain had been affected.
After examining the Rebbe, the doctor felt that there was no hope. The Rebbe was an old man over 80 who would probably have a second stroke soon and nothing could be done to save him. However, he did not present this diagnosis explicitly to the Rebbe's attendants who asked his opinion. They didn't realize the severity of the situation even when they asked the doctor when he would come again and he replied that there is no reason for him to return. But when they asked him what to feed him and he responded, "Whatever he wants to eat," then they realized that he obviously felt the case was hopeless and had therefore not prescribed any special diet or treatment.
Immediately, the thousands of Chassidim began a 'round the clock vigil of prayers and Tehillim for their spiritual leader's recovery. After Shabbos, they sent emissaries to every holy site around the world and to the gravesites of every tzaddik to pray for a refuah sheleimah.
On Sunday morning, the Rebbe opened his eyes and donned his tefillin. The Chassidim were overjoyed and immediately phoned the doctor to tell him that the Rebbe seemed to be coming back to his senses. But, to their great disappointment, the doctor was totally apathetic and explained to them that what they were observing can be compared to the acts of a trained monkey. He told them that the Rebbe was surely only functioning from rote; with no brain involvement whatsoever. "For almost 70 years, since his bar mitzvah, the Rebbe's body has been used to donning tefillin after Shabbos," the professor told them, "so it is working from habit now too. It is not a sign of recovery at all!"
The end of the story is that on Tuesday, the Rebbe began to talk. This time the startled doctor did come again and when the Rebbe asked him, "Nu, do you see now that there is a G-d in this world?" the professor was forced to agree.
A short while later, the son of the Menahel (principal) of our yeshiva had some brain problem too and was visited by the same doctor. When one of the boy's friends asked him about his condition, the professor, for the first time in his life, suggested a new type of prescription. He told the boy, "Tell all of his friends to say Tehillim!"
Baruch Hashem, the Rebbe lived for another 11 years and continued to lead his flock until he passed away at the age of 92, in 1979, on the 26th day of Menachem Av, 5739.
In any event, we see from this story what it means for a body to function merely by rote, with absolutely no consciousness. That is exactly how many of us pray and perform mitzvahs: like a trained monkey.
My chavrusa recently told me a story he may have heard from the Klausenberger Rebbe ztvk"l.
A fellow in shul was wearing his tefillin of the hand and not his tefillin of the head. He approached the rabbi of the congregation and explained that he is bewildered. "As you can see," he said, "I am only wearing my tefillin shel yad. But I am not sure why. Am I in the middle of putting on my tefillin, in which case I must now put on the other one and proceed to daven (pray)? Or, perhaps I have already prayed and I am in the midst of removing my tefillin. In which case I should take off the remaining one and go about my way. Rabbi, what should I do?"
This case may sound very extreme, but let us ask ourselves how many times have we wondered whether or not we benched (recited the grace after eating bread). We may remember washing our hands and preparing to say it, but we were distracted by a phone call perhaps, and just cannot recall if we said the prayer or not. Actually, this means that even if we did, it was just by rote with no meaning to it whatsoever.
Many of us just float through life performing all of the mitzvahs while paying no attention to them and with no feeling at all. Even the teshuvah (repentance) which we perform during the month of Elul and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is mere lip service.
Let us get a hold of ourselves and apply our brains and our hearts to what we do before the Almighty. Let us serve Him "amid gladness and goodness of heart." Then our service will have real value to it and we will be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network