I am “doing Judaism,” but I’m not enjoying it. Yes, I know the delight-of-Shabbat spiel, but for me, sitting at home on Friday night is a bore. The rabbi told me about how keeping the rules of the mikvah enhance your marriage; to me it’s a pain in the neck. And this kosher business ripped the whole entertainment section out of my life.


Some say G‑d created the world so we could party. It’s only half true. He created it so He could party with us. Which is basically the idea of a mitzvah: A way for G‑d and humans to celebrate together.

After all, if He wanted factory workers, He would have dumped us in a treadmill as soon as we were baked, right? But no: “G‑d planted a garden to the east of Eden, and put there the human being that He had formed.”1

Eden means “delight.” The Garden of Eden was an amusement park. We were supposed to have fun together, Him and us. Ultimately, that’s the place to which we return once we get our act back together, this time to an incomparably even greater party. And how do we get there? The Garden of Eden was an amusement park, and we’re working our way back in.Incrementally, by making all these parties along the way, these things called mitzvahs.

Mitzvahs are tightly packed bundles of unlimited delight. “The reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself,”2 says the Mishnah, and the Baal Shem Tov explained: The ultimate reward of a mitzvah is not health, wealth, and grandchildren who call you on the phone, not the ecstatic high of mystic union in prayer, not even the most blissful theme park of the world to come. The most ultimate reward is the delight you squeeze out of a mitzvah when you do it with joy.3 (Here’s a collection of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings on happiness.)

Everyone’s heard of the supreme master Kabbalist, the Arizal. What they haven’t heard is how he told his students that all the transcendental levels of spirituality he achieved were not from his meditations, not from his fasting, not from being the super-pious holy dude that he was—but because when he did a mitzvah, he rejoiced in doing it with such amazing joy.4

If, on the other hand, you do a mitzvah and there’s no party, it’s not just that the mitzvah is lacking—it’s DOA. Get this straight: A mitzvah without joy is a football without air, a bicycle without wheels, a body without a soul. It’s not just broken—it’s missing its very core being, its power to brighten up the world.

Don’t believe me? Look at the words of the Torah itself: After describing all the not-so-nice events that may befall the Jewish people if they don’t behave so well, Moses then states point-blank what exactly is this not-nice behavior that invites all these problems: “Because you did not serve G‑d, your L‑rd, with joy and a happy heart!”5

Keep your hand down for a minute. You probably know about Maimonides, the great codifier of Jewish Law (and awesome philosopher, too). You probably figured that a law codifier would take a pretty dry and subdued attitude to life. Think again:

The happiness with which a person should rejoice in the fulfillment of the mitzvahs and the love of G‑d who commanded them is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as the Torah states, “. . . because you did not serve G‑d, your L‑rd, with joy and a happy heart.”

Whoever holds himself proud, giving himself honor and acting arrogantly in such situations, is a sinner and a fool. Concerning this, Solomon warned, “Do not seek glory before the King.”6 And anyone who lowers himself and treats himself lightly in these situations—he is the truly great person, worthy of honor, who serves G‑d out of love.

Thus David, King of Israel, declared, “I will hold myself even more lightly esteemed than this and be humble in my eyes.”7 For there is no greatness or honor other than celebrating before G‑d, as it states,8King David was dancing wildly and whistling before G‑d.”9

“Hold on!” we Jews protest. “We did the mitzvahs. We did them properly, according to specifications! Okay, we left out a detail—we didn’t rejoice. So, give us less reward. But a punishment? What are You so upset about?”

And G‑d replies, “These you call mitzvahs? Mitzvahs are intense beams of boundless light bursting into the cosmos. Mitzvahs are lifegiving energy to revive petrified cells, incandescent flames to warm freeze-dried hearts, explosions of divine power blasting windows into the darkest basement of My creation so that the Reality from Beyond may shine in. But these? These are cold soup!”

By now you’re probably feeling sufficiently guilt-ridden to recall that you are Jewish. But you may also kvetch, “If I don’t enjoy it, I don’t enjoy it. If your mother serves you broccoli, you eat broccoli—but do you smile?”

So, here are some simple strategies for tapping into that awesomely delightful mitzvah-juice by doing mitzvahs with a smile:

1. Smile—you’ve got a special guest!

Just watch Why Be Happy? and read the blog afterwards. Don’t be fooled by the animated cartoon media—this stuff ain’t just for kids.

2. Smile—you’re changing the world!

Some people think mitzvahs are like taking out the garbage: You don’t accomplish much, but you’re in a mess if you don’t do it. Fortunately for us, that revolutionary 16th-century Kabbalist, the Arizal, came along and explained the amazing utility of mitzvahs—how every mitzvah has its particular tikkun by which it brightens up the universe.

Shabbat lifts the entire world up to a higher plane. Keeping kosher (and saying a berachah) elevates the act of eating, along with all the kosher plants and animals that exist. Keeping the rules of the mikvah creates an intimate union between G‑d and His creation. Providing for the needy introduces the universe to new sources of life.

Most of what we do in life just swishes around the colors; but mitzvahs open up new channels, causing fundamental changes in the balance of things. Learn about the awesome impact of each mitzvah, and you’ll do them in an enlightened state. Some of this is presented in a fun way in Why Celebrate?

What about all the “don’ts” in Torah? Here’s news that can change your life: Nothing shakes the cosmos, lifts your soul and transforms the core of your being like “not doing.” Read one of the most meaningful stories I know, The Glory of Doing Nothing, to get that one.

3. Smile—you’re flying high!

Not turned on by transforming the universe? Well, what about your own sweet soul? A mitzvah is a socket for the soul that plugs it in to the Source of All Being.10 All of life is worth it just for what the soul gets out of a single mitzvah, as the Mishnah goes, “One moment of turning back to your origin and doing good deeds in this world is totally cooler than all the life of the world to come.”11 And it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you were doing a moment before, or what’s going to be with you a moment later—get a kick out of what the Tzemach Tzedek has to say on this.

Don’t feel anything? That’s good—because if you would, your neurons would be sizzle-fried. See Happiness is Being There to get what I’m talking about.

With your soul so in tune, your brain, heart and kishkes are all rocketed up to a whole new plane as well. Doing a mitzvah with joy transforms you totally—every last cell in your body. That’s why Rav Sheshet would make a party once a month and declare, “Celebrate, my soul! For you I learned Torah!”12

4. Smile—and don’t be so stuck-up!

The bigger you think you are, the harder it becomes to pick yourself up. If you’re saying, “So, He’s the Creator of the Universe. But does He know who I am?”—then celebrating won’t come easy. Like David, King of Israel, declared a few lines above, don’t take yourself so seriously and you’ll have a lot more fun. Here’s some potent words on the marriage of humility and happiness from Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch.

Oh, and one last thing: Celebrations require funny hats and things hanging from the ceiling. No, I’m not telling you to run out and buy a fedora, but I am telling you to clean up your Shabbat act. Nowhere does it say that Shabbat is obligated to give us pleasure; what it does say is that we are to give pleasure to Shabbat—and when we do that, we’re guaranteed a great return on our investment.

So, get some special guests to your table. Prepare some beautiful words of Torah in advance. Rest up beforehand; maybe spend some time on Friday at the spa. Learn some Shabbat songs to sing at the table. Serve fine wine, and vary the cuisine. If you rejoice in the Shabbat, Shabbat will rejoice in you.