“In compensation for your failure to [lit. that you did not] serve HaShem your G-d with joy and with happiness of heart, from an abundance of all.” [28:47]
There are terrible calamities prophesied in this week’s reading. Why will these tragedies occur? The Torah tells us: because we, the Nation of Israel, will fail to feel joy in all the blessings which G-d gives us, and will not infuse that joy into our performance of His Commandments, into our conduct towards G-d. Maimonides in the Laws of Lulav (the palm frond taken during the holiday of Sukkos) (8:14) says that the joy which a person takes in doing the Mitzvos, and in love of the A-lmighty who Commanded us to do them, is a great service of G-d. A crucial element of our relationship with the Divine must be a feeling of joy and gratitude for all that G-d gives us every day.
Earlier in the parsha, we see that there is a Mitzvah to be happy, as part of the Commandment to bring the First Fruits to the Temple: “And you shall rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given to you and to your family…” [26:11] The Chumash Rav Peninim asks: how can there be such a Commandment? If HaShem gives a person all he needs, and he comes to the Temple with his offering, of course he will be happy – he’s been given something to rejoice about. If, on the other hand, a person is impoverished and starving, then he has no land or no produce to offer, and thus this Mitzvah will not apply to him. So to whom does it apply?
Imagine a farmer who owns a few acres of land, who works throughout the year, harvests his crop, produces his bread from start to finish and feeds his family. He’s happy, because he has all that he needs. As the Chapters of the Fathers tell us, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot.”
Now, before he can take advantage of that crop, the Torah tells him to take his First Fruits off to Jerusalem. So he packs his bags, saddles his donkey, puts a few loaves and a few clusters of grapes in a big basket, and heads off.
He reaches the main road to Jerusalem, and the path is blocked. One huge carriage after another is going by, each led by a team of white horses. One is laden with grapes as big as plums, another with huge loaves of bread whose fragrance fills the air. And all of it belongs to one wealthy man, sitting in his carriage in the middle of it all, who owns hundreds of acres and whose hired help did all the work.
The farmer looks down at his bag, and now he’s not so happy any more. Is anything different? Has anything changed? Nothing has changed – except his heart. Now he’s seen what someone else has, and his joy is replaced by jealousy. This is what the Mitzvah is all about.
Every person is obligated to say, “the entire world was created for me.” This does not mean that we should be given everything in the world – but that the world is here to answer to our unique needs and to help us to grow as individuals. Whatever a person needs, HaShem gives him.
My teacher, Rabbi Asher Rubenstein of Jerusalem, spoke about this at length. When was the last time we danced with joy, because we have legs to dance with? It’s been my privilege to correspond with a man from Connecticut who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. He’s finding opportunities to learn, he’s growing, he’s reaching people over the Internet – you can sense joy and excitement in his life. What about those of us who can use our legs? Do we say “Thank G-d” because we mean it, or as an afterthought?
So let us not look at what others have – because it is jealousy which stands in the way, when otherwise we would recognize the obvious: G-d gives us and sends us everything we need, and we have everything. Let us rejoice in all the good!
NEW CLASSES! By popular demand (and we mean this quite literally) we’re expanding our offerings on the weekly parsha. This week, two new classes join us from Telzstone (near Jerusalem, Israel). Both are at an Intermediate level, meaning that some level of Jewish education might be necessary to fully take advantage of these classes.
“Parsha-Insights” builds upon different meaningful and applicable aspects of the parsha, and shows the warmth and beauty of the Torah. Issues relevant to everyday life are explained and applied, often using stories of great Jewish leaders as well as personal anecdotes. The author, Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, is a Rebbe [teacher] at Neveh Tzion, in Telzstone.
In “Perceptions” On The Parsha, Rabbi Pinchas Winston, who is also a Rebbe at Neveh Tzion, as well as at Neve Yerushalayim, tries to reveal the genius of Torah, by showing how the obvious is a camouflage for the hidden, and actually demands deeper investigation. In addition, it is Rabbi Winston’s goal to address important issues that people inquire about, using nistar [hidden aspects of Torah] as well as niglah [revealed aspects of Torah] to provide satisfying and uplifting answers.
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A CYBER NEW YEAR: Hundreds of Virtual Rosh HaShanah Cards have already been sent! Be sure to take advantage of this exciting and free service by visiting http://www.torah.org/services/greetings/ . And while you’re browsing, hop over to http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/elulrosh/ for classes discussing the month of Elul and the holiday of Rosh HaShanah.
Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.