The Gemara (Ta’anit 22a) records the following story: Two brothers came to the marketplace. Elijah said to Rabbi Beroka: These two have a share in the World-to-Come (‘Bnei Olam HaBa’. Rabbi Beroka went over to the men and said to them: What is your occupation? They said to him: We are jesters, and we cheer up the depressed. Alternatively, when we see two people who have a quarrel between them, we strive to make peace.
The Gilyon HaShas (ibid.) points the reader to the Torat Chaim on Sanhedrin 88b. There, the Torat Chaim questions why were these two people called Bnei Olam Haba; Don’t we know that “Kol Yisrael Yeish Lahem Cheilek Le’Olam HaBa,” “All Israel have a share in the World to Come” (Sanhedrin 90a)? The Torat Chaim explains that it is true that every single Jew has a portion in Olam HaBa, but that is only after one has passed, since death brings a certain atonement and enables one to become a Ben Olam Haba. These two comedians, however, merited to be labeled Bnei Olam Haba in their lifetime.
The Torah in this week’s Parashah says, “You shall declare before the Hashem your God: ‘I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments. I have not eaten of it while in mourning, I have not cleared out any of it while I was unclean, and I have not deposited any of it with the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done just as You commanded me’” (Devarim 26:13-14).
Rashi (ibid.) comments on the words, “Asiti KeChol Asher Tzivitani,” “I have done just as You commanded me,” and quotes the Mishnah in Maaser Sheni (5:12) which expounds on this Pasuk and explains that ‘I have done just as You commanded me’ means ‘I have rejoiced and made others rejoice.’ What is the connection between fulfilling all that Hashem has commanded and being happy and making others happy?
One answer is that a person who does Mitzvot with a sense of Simchah, and also strives to make other people happy, is doing all that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has commanded him. This explains the Gemara in Ta’anit above, which stated that the two comedians were considered Bnei Olam Haba even in their lifetime. One who lives with a sense of happiness in Avodat Hashem brings Nachat Ru’ach to Hashem; this feeling is felt even stronger, as it were, by God when His children, instead of fighting, bring each other closer through happiness and laughter.
As the Yamim Nora’im were approaching, there was a Jew who began to get nervous and fear that he wasn’t doing enough in preparation for these days. He sought out the advice of the great Rav Avigdor Miller. He thought that Rav Avigdor Miller could push him to start waking up earlier, davening with more Kavanah, being more consistent with his learning, and watching his words. He approached Rav Miller and said, “Rebbe, what can I do to prepare for the Yamim Noraim?” The Rav answered with one word: “Smile.” The man thought to himself, “The Rav is old, maybe he didn’t hear me,” so he asked again in a louder voice. Rav Miller answered him, “Smile, and I heard what you asked.” Although it is true that the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah are frightening days of judgement, we should still approach the days with a sense of Simchah to be part of Am Yisrael; we drew a fortunate lot to get close to Hashem through Mitzvot and Limud HaTorah.
There is another message hidden in these Pesukim, which are termed “Viduy Ma’aser,” “An admission of tithes,” in the Mishnah (Ma’aser Sheini 5:10). It is strange that this declaration is called Viduy, the term normally used for our admissions of sin and guilt; why use this terminology if the ‘admission’ is, “I have done everything I have been commanded,” as our Pesukim state? Rav Kook answers (Ein Ayah Ma’aser Sheini 5:1), “We must be careful not to be overly self-critical. We should not let this attitude deny us a sense of joy and satisfaction in our accomplishments. For this reason, the Torah teaches that we should rejoice in our good deeds. In the proper measure, this contentment bolsters our resolve to serve God, to perform mitzvot and acts of kindness. It is proper to feel a measure of satisfaction and well-being, and not always regard our actions as flawed and inadequate when we have acted correctly. In short: we need set times for regular viduy, to admit our mistakes and faults, so that we may refine our character traits and improve our actions. But we also need set times for a positive viduy, to express our awareness that we have discharged our obligations and attained some of our spiritual goals.”
By acknowledging the good that we do, even the seemingly small things, we can bring a sense of happiness into our Avodat Hashem. Although growth requires us to spot our shortcomings and change them, we’re only truly able to climb higher if we believe in ourselves and acknowledge the great things we already do every day. Often, we point out if we speak Lashon Hara or look at something we’re not supposed to, but do we contemplate that with every word of Torah, every second of Tzitzit or Tefillin, and every minute of Shabbos, we are fulfilling a Mitzvah MiDe’Oraita? By admitting and acknowledging the good we’ve done, we’re able to approach our Avodat Hashem with a sense of Simchah and influence others to rejoice in their Avodah as well.