by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"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
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
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
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,
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.