Tehillim 100:2 tells us that we need to serve Hashem with joy.

I'm sure that this is something that many people have difficulty with - especially those of us who suffer from mental health issues.

Most of the suggestions that I have seen in the past for how to put this into practice have been based very much around Chassidus or Sefardi hashkafas (and I suspect that they have less of an issue with this in the first place!) I'm sure that there must be some people who deal with this from a more Litvak/rationalist

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    I know there was an earlier answer like this, let me just mention it here: If someone has mental health issues, his mitzvah is to get help to fix them. Hashem doesn't ask things of us that we cannot do. If someone cannot breathe, we don't tell him to say his prayers louder, we tell him to call 911. If someone is clinically depressed, all the mussar or chassidus in the world may not be able to help: he may need medicine, and hopefully his problem will go away. Hashem should send a refuah shleimah and a gmar chasimah tovah.
    – MichoelR
    Sep 30, 2022 at 12:58
  • @MichoelR Thanks. I've been on medication for several years. It was actually side effects from medication for a physical problem that was part of the cause of the anxiety in the first place. In any case, it isn't likely to clear up overnight and is being treated (and many other people are in similar situations), so I don't feel that it exempts me from this. Sep 30, 2022 at 15:14
  • Okay! Best wishes and hatzlacha.
    – MichoelR
    Sep 30, 2022 at 16:19

4 Answers 4


There are several sources:

  1. Mesillas Yesharim - You do this practically when you daven and acknowledge that you are speaking to Hashem:

הב' הוא השמחה, והוא עיקר גדול בעבודה, והוא מה שדוד מזהיר, ואומר (תהלים ק'): עבדו את ה' בשמחה בואו לפניו ברננה. ואומר (שם ס"ח): וצדיקים ישמחו יעלצו לפני אלהים וישישו בשמחה, וארז"ל (שבת ל'): אין השכינה שורה אלא מתוך שמחה של מצוה, ועל הפסוק שזכרנו למעלה עבדו את ה' בשמחה, אמרו במדרש (מדרש ש"ט): א"ר כשתהיה עומד לפני להתפלל יהא לבך שמח עליך שאתה מתפלל לאלהים שאין כיוצא בו.

JOY: The second [branch of love of G-d] is joy, it is a great, essential principal in serving G-d. This is what David exhorted us saying: "Serve G-d with joy, come before Him with song" (Tehilim 100:2), and "the righteous will rejoice, they will exult before God and delight with joy" (Tehilim 68:4). And our sages said: "the Divine presence rests on a person only through his rejoicing in a mitzva" (Shabbat 30b). On the aforementioned verse: "Serve G-d with joy", our sages said in a Midrash (Shocher Tov, Tehilim 100): "Rabbi Abahu says: 'when you stand to pray, your heart should rejoice, for you are praying to the Almighty of whom there is none like Him'".

Also refer to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:1 who adds that not only davening but also learning Torah practically is a way to embody this command:

"ומכל מקום התורה והתפלה צריך להיות בשמחה, כמו שכתוב: "עבדו את ה' בשמחה

  1. Rabbeinu Bachya (Devarim 28:47) - You accomplish it when performing the mitzvos of Hashem in a happy manner.

תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלהיך בשמחה. יאשימנו הכתוב בעבדו השי"ת ולא היתה העבודה בשמחה, לפי שחייב האדם על השמחה בהתעסקו במצות, והשמחה במעשה המצוה מצוה בפני עצמו, מלבד השכר שיש לו על המצוה יש לו שכר על השמחה, ועל כן יעניש בכאן למי שעובד עבודת המצוה כשלא עשאה בשמחה, ולכך צריך שיעשה אדם המצות בשמחה

תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלוקיך בשמחה, “because you did not serve the Lord your G-d joyfully.” The Torah accuses people who do serve G-d not to have done so joyfully. A person is obligated not merely to carry out G-d’s instructions but to do so gladly, in a happy frame of mind. Joy when performing any of G-d’s commandments is considered as fulfillment of a commandment by itself, meriting additional reward. This is why one may be punished for failing to perform the commandments with a joyful heart. This is why the Torah requires that its commandments be performed with full intent and joyfully.

Also refer to the Pele Yoetz 198:28 for a similar approach.

So we see that these two first methods essentially are spiritually based. If we make efforts to work on our tefillah, talmud torah and kiyum mitzvos (prayer, torah study and fulfilment of the commandments) this is a sure way to embody the concepts of עבדו את ה' בשמחה. I saw on p.104 of Rabbi Twersky's The Enemy Within (Shaar Press: 2002) in his chapter entitled "Finding Joy in Life" that the two are inherently linked:

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the Hebrew word same'ach (= happy), is closely related to the word tzome'ach (= growing). This is because human happiness is contingent on spiritual growth. If we fail to feel the joy of mitzvos, it is because we are unaware that mitzvos make us grow.

  1. Sefer Chasidim - One final way to practically achieve this tenet is to use it to frame your life view. The Sefer Chasidim sees it is a balancer, keeping us in check. In other words, you accomplish it by ensuring we have the right outlook on life, synthesising our view on the present together with our view of mortality.

עבדו את ה' בשמחה (תהלים ק ב) וכתיב (תהלים ב יא) עבדו את ה' ביראה הא כיצד אם אדם שמח מאד יזכור לו יום המיתה זהו ביראה ואם הוא עצב ישמח לבו בדברי תורה דכתיב (תהלים יט ט) פקודי ה' ישרים משמחי לב:

It is written, “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2)1 and “Serve the Lord with fear” (Ps. 2:11), but how so? 2(both fear and gladness?) If a man is over-joyful, let him recall the day of death,3 this is fear. If he is sad, let him rejoice his heart with matters of the Law,4 as it is written, “The precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:9).


Best answer I ever heard from Rabbi Manis Friedman (chassidish answer) is that the charge "serve Hashem b'simcha" is not a charge to be happy when serving Hashem. It's a result. If you truly serve Hashem, meaning you are serving Him, you finally get to escape yourself for a while! Serving ourselves, making our lives about us (even if it means "my spiritual growth"!) is what makes us depressed. If we realise that we are fulfilling Hashem's essential Ratzon, it's about Him not us, and at the same time doing the vitally important work of bringing His plan to completion, fulfilling your very purpose, then automatically you will be b'simcha.

So read it "if you serve Hashem, you'll be b'simcha"

He says this in many videos. This is a chassidic answer (but based on rational thinking just like all of Chabad Chassidus), so I assume you aren't going to pursue it, but if you would like a source video I can find one.

  • Not sure that helps if I'm getting too bogged down in the details of exactly how to do it correctly and worrying about everything that I'm doing wrong! Sep 29, 2022 at 12:38

It sounds to me like you are seeking a manner with which to intellectually fulfill this dictum... demanding a sustained emotional transformation can seem quite onerous and indeed unnatural for some psychological dispositions. Perhaps you can find some comfort in the Maggid Mishnah's (R. Vidal de Toulouse) commentary on the Rambam.

To place it context, here is what the Rambam wrote (H. Sukkah 8:15):

שהשמחה שישמח אדם בעשיית המצוות ובאהבת האל שציווה בהן, עבודה גדולה היא; וכל המונע עצמו משמחה זו, ראוי להיפרע ממנו, שנאמר "תחת, אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלוהיך, בשמחה, ובטוב לבב" (דברים כח,מז). וכל המגיס דעתו, וחולק כבוד לעצמו, ומתכבד בעיניו במקומות אלו--חוטא, ושוטה. ועל זה הזהיר שלמה, ואמר "אל תתהדר, לפני מלך" (משלי כה,ו).

The happiness with which a person should rejoice in the fulfillment of the miswoth and the love of God who commanded them is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as [Deuteronomy 28:47] states: "...because you did not serve God, your Lord, with happiness and a glad heart." Whoever holds himself proud, giving himself honor, and acts haughtily in such situations is a sinner and a fool. Concerning this, Solomon warned [Proverbs 28:10]: "Do not seek glory before the King."

Maggid Mishnah (ad loc):

דברי רבינו מבוארים בכ"מ בגמרא ובבמה מדליקין (שבת ל':) אמרו ושבחתי אני את השמחה זו שמחה של מצוה. ועיקר הדבר הוא שאין ראוי לו לאדם לעשות המצות מצד שהן חובה עליו והוא מוכרח ואנוס בעשייתן אלא חייב לעשותן והוא שמח בעשייתן ויעשה הטוב מצד שהוא טוב ויבחר באמת מצד שהוא אמת ויקל בעיניו טרחן ויבין כי לכך נוצר לשמש את קונו וכשהוא עושה מה שנברא בשבילו ישמח ויגיל לפי ששמחת שאר דברים תלוים בדברים בטלים שאינן קיימים אבל השמחה בעשיית המצות ובלמידת התורה והחכמה היא השמחה האמיתית. וזהו ששלמה בדרכי מוסרו שבח שמחת החכמה ואמר בני אם חכם לבך ישמח לבי גם אני

The words of our Rabbi [the Rambam] are explained in many places in the Gemara and in the chapter Bameh Madliqin (Shabboth 30b), where they state “Then I commended joy': this refers to the joy of a precept.” And the fundament of the matter is that it is not proper that a man should perform commandments [miswoth] from the perspective that it is obligatory upon him and that he is forced to and is under duress to perform them. Rather he is obligated to perform them and be glad in their performance and to do that which is good from the view that it is good and choose the truth from the vantage that it is the truth, and therefrom his toils will be easy to his eyes and he will understand that it is for thus that he is formed to serve his Creator. And when he does that which was created for him, he will be glad and rejoice. For the joy [simhah] produced by the rest of the matters are contingent on trivial matters that have no permanence, however the joy produced by the performance of commandments [miswoth] and by learning Torah and Wisdom, is true joy. And it is this that Solomon referred to by means of his instruction in praise of the joy of Wisdom and said “my son, if your heart is wise, my heart will be joyous, as will I.”

In other words, simhah is a byproduct of a shift in perspective, wherein one does not relate to miswoth, Talmud Torah and Hokhmah as a burden, rather they are the good and the source of truth. When one truly internalizes this perspective and relates to their ‘avodah in this way, then it will produce a different type of simhah (one might call this ‘satisfaction’) which is categorically different than the simhah derived from trivial pursuits [debharim betelim]. This call to shift one’s perspective is not a call to experience ecstatic elation (though it may be present at times too), it is a call to relate to one’s avodah in a way that will naturally produce satisfaction.

  • I'm reluctant to paint it as a problem of personality (although being mentally unwell is a factor). I'm not saying psychology is irrelevant, it shapes the flavour of your learning, but if someone isn't loving it, Torah and mitzvot, they shouldn't assume it's just the way they are. There's something missing and they should seek it out and pray for Hashem to enlighten them as to how to make the Torah and mitzvot personal. Once it is personal, it becomes a source of happiness for anyone.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30, 2022 at 13:21
  • @RabbiKaii According to my reading of the Maggid Mishnah (henceforth MM) here, when one approaches Torah with the mindset that he describes it ought produce happiness (satisfaction). This is categorically different however than the sort of fleeting "happiness" most other mundane pursuits facilitate. It is this latter type of happiness that I think most people think of when hearing the term שמחה, and a type of happiness often out of reach for certain individuals (be it a function of their particular neurochemistry, upbringing, etc.). Sep 30, 2022 at 13:45
  • Such individuals may then be wracked by this charge, “well just go be happy! It’s easy, duh!”… well, no. It isn’t. And when armed with the MM’s understanding that the bid to עבדו את ה' בשמחה is a bid to approach Torah in a fashion that will produce genuine and sustained satisfaction (i.e. by seeing it as a טוב and אמת), then it is an occasion to attempt to rise to and not some source of anxiety and guilt that one isn’t walking around 24/7 goofy-grinned, blissed out and elated. Sep 30, 2022 at 13:46
  • I'm not sure that goofy-grinned is the same as שמחה. Satisfaction, like you said, is a better word. MM seems to be saying that the joy comes once you realise that this was created for you, and why you were formed. I.e. personal. The simple fact that it is good and true clearly isn't quite enough.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30, 2022 at 13:51
  • Correct, true שמחה is sustained in the form of satisfaction. שמחה derived from דברים בטלים would be more akin to the short term emotional high. And yes, this is a personal process... the internalization of something as truly טוב is something that requires work in order to render it a reality to one's self, rather than solely an intellectually demonstrable matter. When one aligns with the reality that לכך נוצר לשמש את קונו then the burden is lightened and becomes קל בעיניו. Sep 30, 2022 at 13:58

There are many different sources, but I think they all boil down to the idea that closeness to G-d is the ultimate good, and there is no more worthy goal. Torah and mitzvos are the way to achieve closeness to G-d, so how can they not make you happy?

Now, someone who is mentally ill will naturally struggle to feel this. That is a side-effect of the illness, and a person needs to make allowances for his condition. Hopefully, the situation improves with treatment. But it is very important to have a rabbi who has experience helping people with these issues to consult for guidance.

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