When the Torah discusses the commandment of Ma’aser Sheini, The Second Tithe, it tells us that this tithe of grain, wine or oil must be eaten in Jerusalem. Why is this the case? The verse says (Devarim 12:23?) “So that you may learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all your days.” How is it that our stay in Jerusalem will impart a lesson on how to constantly fear G-d?
The Alter from Slabodka, R’ Nosson Finkel zt”l, writes that every person, when he or she makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem “to learn how to fear G-d” must celebrate, and must assure that his family rejoices as well. However, separate from this obligation exists another reality: Jerusalem must be “the joy of all the earth,” as it is called in Tehillim (48:3). This moniker is not just a description; it is a dictate! Jerusalem does not just happen to be the place of joy because it is the capital city, the seat of the nation’s monarchy, and a symbol of the might of the nation. Jerusalem, by its very nature and composition, is obligated to be the joy of all the earth. The Sages endeavored to distance any speck of pain, disappointment or unpleasantness from Jerusalem.
The Medrash (Shemos Rabba) tells us “Rav Yochanan said: A center for business calculations existed outside of Jerusalem. Anyone who needed an accounting went there to have the calculations done. Why was this there? So that if one were to make the calculations and find the bottom line disappointing, he would not be disappointed in Jerusalem, as Jerusalem is called the ‘joy of all the earth.'”
Keeping Jerusalem a place of joy was so important that even the tiniest amount of unpleasantness had to be eliminated from the city. Because of the small lack of satisfaction that one individual sitting over his books might feel when he sees that his profit was not as he expected, because of this minute amount of disappointment, a special building was erected outside of Jerusalem. In this special building, calculations were to be done. The joyous atmosphere of Jerusalem had to be maintained, intact, without a single blemish on the feelings of happiness evident there. The great sea of joy can not be polluted with the tiniest drop of negativity. It must remain pure and undefiled, glowing with a joyous light. Any individual in Jerusalem needs to be drawn to this city in a spirit befitting the “fairest of sites, joy of all the earth.”
Why does Jerusalem need to be such a happy place? Why is such a high level of joy necessary? Jerusalem needs to be the place of utmost holiness and godliness, full of Torah and the fear of G-d. Any blemish or flaw existing in the happiness or the pleasantness of the city would translate into a flaw in the fear of G-d and the holy spirit of the Torah there. One could not get a proper lesson in how to fear G-d in such a locale.
Why is this true? What is the connection between happiness and holiness? The Torah wants us to use our existence on this earth productively. We are supposed to want life. The Torah says (Devarim 30:19) “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.” This choice of life is the application of the entire Torah.
But what is life? It is not the minutiae of our physical existence. It is not the pursuit of physical pleasure and earthly desires. It is not the drive to reach those goals that we convince ourselves are important, and which ultimately drive us to the brink of destruction. Life is basking in the light of G-d. Before us, great and massive valleys open up, that distance our mind from our souls to an unfathomable degree. Our eyes should see the emptiness of the world. We can’t allow our thoughts to overpower our ability to reach the eternal. The life of eternity, the life of Torah is so pure and so pleasant, that no unpleasantness, whether spiritual or physical, can be tolerated. When one’s dedication to G-d is complete, joy permeates his being. He or she is in a state of contentment. An atmosphere that is not full of joy is not conducive to reaching the true fear and respect of G-d that is to be learned. Joy cannot be maintained in a place that is not joyful.
When the pilgrims make their way to Jerusalem, they find a city that does not tolerate gloominess. When they come to learn how to fear G-d, they find a city that only accepts joy. Just as the city of Jerusalem must be a joyous location, so too must we be joyous throughout our lives. Jerusalem is like a sponge that absorbs all that is good about life, and it is in those environs that the nation of Israel can be happy and serve and fear G-d appropriately. It is that level of joy we should strive to keep with us always, so our service of G-d will be at a high level of perfection.
We conclude the Seder with the following statement: “The order of the Seder is complete, according to its laws, all of its ordinances and statutes. Just as we merited to perform it, so too may we merit to truly offer the sacrifice. O Pure One, Who Dwells on High, uplift the assembly of the community who cannot be counted. Soon, and in joy, may you lead the offshoots of the stock which you have planted, redeemed to Zion. Next year may we be in Jerusalem!”
After we complete the entire order of the evening, and realize that we are truly lucky to be a free nation, free to serve G-d, we must recognize that something is missing. Our happiness is not complete. We cannot truly fear G-d and fulfill His dictates properly until we can experience a pure feeling of joy. As long as we are in exile, we can not experience that joy. We ask Hashem that he bring the entire nation to Jerusalem, to redeem His nation from their current exile. Then we can all make the pilgrimage and experience the glee of the city that is the fairest of all sites, joy of the entire earth. This experience will permit us to gain the education of how to fear G-d, and then our service of G-d, our offering to Him on Pesach, will truly be complete, according to its laws, all of its ordinances, and statutes. It is because we desire this level of closeness with G-d that we conclude our Seder with L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim, Next year may we be in Jerusalem!
R’ Yehudah Prero