In today’s daf (Brachot 9b) we read about Rav Bruna who, on one occasion, juxtaposed the blessing for redemption with his amida prayer with such profound focus and intensive concentration that a smile remained on his face throughout the rest of the day.
Significantly, the Gemara refers to Rav Bruna as an אדם גדול – a great man, who was שמח במצות – joyous in the performance of the mitzvot. Based on this, a simple reading of the Gemara is that Rav Bruna was joyous because he fulfilled the mitzvot in a manner of greatness.
However, Rav Asher Weiss (see Minchat Asher on Parshat Ki Tavo) offers an alternative explanation, suggesting that Rav Bruna was a great man precisely because he was joyous in his performance of the mitzvot, and as such, his greatness was a borne out from his inner joyousness. And why is this significant? Because the story about Rav Bruna begins with his brother R’ Illa asking Ulla, who was soon to travel to Israel, to honour Rav Bruna by conveying blessings to him in the presence of others.
And why did he ask that this be done in public? It seems clear that it was due to the high esteem in which Rav Bruna was held by the community in Israel. And why do we think Rav Bruna was so well respected? Was it merely due to his profound focus and intensive concentration in prayer?
In my humble opinion it was because Rav Bruna was a great man precisely because he was joyous in his performance of the mitzvot, and given his positive attitude coupled with his exactitude in mitzvah observance, he was widely respected.
From here we learn a simple yet powerful message that if we truly aspire to achieve greatness, the place to start is to be שמח במצות – joyous in our performance of the mitzvot.