Happiness means going beyond one’s limits. Watch a person who is genuinely happy. He will act in a way that goes beyond the norms dictated by his logic.

What causes such happiness? Every effect reflects the nature of its cause. Happiness that knows no bounds comes as a result of a cause that is also beyond limitation. One acquires something entirely unlimited and unexpected, something that he could not have calculated receiving. This calls forth an unlimited response, happiness. And for this reason, “happiness breaks through boundaries.”1

It is written:2 “As water reflects one face to another, so too, the heart of a man mirrors that of another.” [Beyond its simple meaning,] implied is that the Sublime Man,3 [i.e., G‑dliness as manifested in the Ten Sefiros,] manifests Himself according to the conduct of man on this physical plane. In this vein, the Baal Shem Tov interprets the phrase:4G‑d is your shadow” to mean that just as a person’s shadow follows all his motions, so too, G‑d shadows our actions and the conduct of a person on this plane calls forth a corresponding Divine revelation. To use our Sages’ words:5 “The measure that a person uses determines the measure with which Divine influence is meted out to him.”

As the Shelah explains,6 the Hebrew term for man, Adam, relates to the phrase,7 adamah l’elyon, “I resemble the One above.” Thus when a man is happy on this plane, happiness is also generated Above.”8 Now “the kingdom of heaven resembles the kingdom of earth.”9 Just as on the earthly plane, happiness breaks through barriers, so too Above, at a time of happiness, all constraints and limitations fall away.

Serving G‑d With Joy

The Divine service of man — a world in microcosm10 — comprises three vectors: Torah study, service (prayer), and deeds of kindness. They all must be carried out with happiness. As our Sages say:11 “One should not begin his prayers while feeling sad or lethargic… but rather in a state of happiness stemming from a mitzvah. Thus prayer — i.e. the vector of service, as our Sages state:12 “What is ‘service in the heart’? Prayer” — must be recited with happiness. Similarly, the Torah must be studied in a state of happiness, as our Sages state:11 “So too, the words of Torah law [must be studied with joy].” And with regard to deeds of kindness, tzedakah, the Torah itself states:13 “Your heart should not feel badly when giving….” By stating which feelings are not desired, the Torah indicates those which are desirable. [The need for happiness while giving] is also indicated by our Sages’ statement:14 “One who soothes [the feelings of a poor man] is granted eleven blessings.”15 Thus Divine service in all three vectors should be carried out with happiness and gladness of heart.

Stretching Beyond One’s Limits

As mentioned, true happiness is caused by a factor that goes beyond the expectations of one’s understanding. Thus it follows that for one’s Divine service to be characterized by happiness, it must be motivated by kabbalas ol, the acceptance of the yoke of G‑d’s kingship. When one’s service is motivated by his understanding, by definition, it is limited16 and therefore cannot lead to true and unlimited joy. Service motivated by kabbalas ol, by contrast, takes a person beyond his understanding. Despite his inherent limits, he goes beyond those constraints and bonds with G‑d through the observance of the mitzvos. Indeed, that is implied by the very word mitzvah whose root letters are shared with those of the term tzavsa (צוותא) meaning “connection.” Now, G‑d is truly unlimited. When a person bonds with G‑d in His infinity,17 he lifts himself above his own constraints. This is true happiness.

From One Horizon to Another

A question, however, arises: Man is a rational being; that constitutes his advantage over animals. How then can he be asked to put his intelligence aside and conduct himself, not on the basis of thought, but because of his acceptance of G‑d’s yoke?

In resolution: Our Sages18 interpret the phrase,19 “Everything G‑d created to make,” as “…to improve.” G‑d brought the Creation into being — not to remain in its natural state — [but to be improved and enhanced through man’s Divine service and, in this way,] to be brought to a higher level of perfection.

[This motif is reflected in the world at large:] The ultimate purpose of inanimate matter is to be elevated and included in the plant kingdom.20 The ultimate purpose of plants is to be included in the animal kingdom,21 and that of the animals, to be included in man. And the ultimate purpose of humanity — rational beings — is to be included in G‑dliness that transcends thought and reason. By contemplating G‑d’s greatness, through love and fear of Him, and through fulfilling His mitzvos with kabbalas ol, a person, a rational being, fulfills the ultimate purpose of his creation: to be subsumed in [G‑dliness] that transcends the intellect.

[True, the limits of the mind are inherent in G‑d’s creation of man.] But His ultimate intent in establishing those limits was for man to break through them and draw down infinite G‑dliness to this material plane.

Contemplating the ultimate intent why intellect was brought into being leads to the realization that intellect’s purpose is to be subsumed in the service of G‑d that transcends intellect. [This initiates an escalating motif. Rising above the limits of one’s intellect] empowers a person to cast away the boundaries and limitations of his physical person, the boundaries and limitations of his animal soul, and [even] the boundaries and limitations of his G‑dly soul, accepting the yoke of G‑d’s service. Through this, he draws down happiness to his soul and to the world at large.