The portion of Ki Tavo, from the Book of Deuteronomy/Devarim speaks of the blessings and curses that will come to the Israelites, either as a result of observing or not observing the commandments. Blessings create conditions where it is easier to observe the commandments and then get reward in the world to come and curses make it terribly hard to observe the commandments.
Verse 28:47 says that the terrible curses come as a result of you not having served the Lord, your God with joy and good spirit – b'simcha u'v'yuv leivav – when everything was abundant.
This statement raises the following difficulties.
The Torah has already said that if you listen to God and do his commandments you will have endless blessings, but if you do not listen to God to do his commandments then endless curses will pursue you and overtake you. Now the Torah seems to be contracting itself by saying, that the curses come not because of the lack of observance of the commandments, but rather how the commandments are performed - without joy and good spirit, not in the proper mood.
The commentaries explain that the ' Tochacha' = the rebuke and the curses from the book of Leviticus refer to the destruction of the first temple and the subsequent Babylonian exile while the curses in book of Deuteronomy – Devarim refer to the destruction of the second temple and the exile to the present day. The Sages tell us that the reason for the destruction of the second temple were poisonous relationships between people based on baseless hatred –' sin'at chi'nam. The Torah here is saying the problem is =' not performing the mitzvoth with joy and good spirit' , and not baseless hatred – sin'at chinam as explained by the Sages.
The third question is that parents and teachers justify the use of rewards and competition to promote learning and the observance of mitzvoth- commandments - that in time the sanctity and intrinsic value of the mitzvoth will cause kids to learn and do the mitzvoth with joy and good spirit. We see here that ' mi'toch she'lo lishma , ba lishmah , that starting out for the wrong intentions and reasons did not lead to people learning and observing the mitzvoth for the right reasons and with joy and in good spirit.
The Torah is explaining the underlying reason= lack of joy - for not learning ,not observing the mitzvoth, and the baseless hatred – sin'at chinam in relationships. If people are not doing mitzvoth out of joy and good spirit, it means they are not intrinsically motivated, so they do the mitzvoth like 'automats ' in a rote way – mitzvat a'na'shim me'lu'ma'da. This impacts in a negative way on relationships because people don't have purpose and meaningful fulfillment in their lives and are not truly happy. The only way they feel alive and making progress is to feel superior to others by 'having' more wealth than them and by putting them down if they get in their way or would make demands of their wealth. Ultimately people also stop doing the mitzvoth or do it by feeling compelled to do the mitzvoth as it they were serving the gods of their enemies.
The question is how can we help kids and our ourselves become more intrinsically motivated, do things out of joy and good spirit and be appreciative of God's blessings and gifts of life to us.
Eric Fromm talks about 2 kinds of people - ' to have ' - those people who get status and feel alive because of something extrinsic to them –for eg wealth . So what's important for them is ' achievement ' , measuring how much money they have made, how many paintings or cars do they own , how well they have done in school – grades, awards, honor rolls or how many mitzvoth they have done or pages of Talmud- Gemorrah they have learned. So they are the center of their worlds, preoccupied with the ' self' and the ' I'.
Then, there are the – To be – people. They focus on experience, and relationships. They are self- directed, intrinsically motivated, absorbed with the process itself rather than being preoccupied with their performance. They are truly happy, do things out of joy and in good spirit and lose themselves in what they are doing . They are giving and happy people totally unconcerned with the self or the I.
We can help kids be happy and intrinsically motivated if we apply the 4 C's of motivation to their academic and socio-moral and emotional growth.
Choice - kids feel self –directed or autonomous because we not only give them choices but they can ' generate ' choices and participate in decision making on matters important to their lives.
Collaboration- be related to others and to be part of a social world can be achieved when there is cooperative learning and activities in the context of a caring and supportive learning community.
Competence – to have a sense of oneself as competent and effective , not because of grades and praise but by making a contribution to the learning community.
Content- We have to make sure that their learning and social interactions have purpose, are meaningful, engaging and relevant.
The blessings and curses depend on our intrinsic motivation and happiness. When we do the mitzvoth with joy and good spirit, we are connected to the divine presence – shecinah that resides within us and we are blessed. But when we are sad – ' u'tzuv' or not fulfilled the divine presence is in exile – galut.