Parshas Ki Savo: The Mitzvah to Rejoice

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, we learn of the obligation to bring Bikkurim – the first fruits of the shivas ha’minim (seven species [of produce] for which the Land of Israel is blessed, see Devarim 8:8) – up to the kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash

The mitzvah reminds us that all that we have – every fruit that grows and every success of our hands – is only as Hashem wills it, and that we must be grateful and appreciative for everything He bestows upon us.

Related to the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the Torah commands us: וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your G-d, has given to you… (Devarim 26:11). 

It is not enough to bring up the Bikkurim to the Temple; it is not enough to declare that we have come to the good Land and here are the first fruits; it is not enough to offer those fruits to the kohanim.  We must rejoice in the goodness that Hashem has blessed us with.

Who is a wealthy person, ask the Sages?  One who is satisfied (content) with his portion:

איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו (Pirkei Avos 4:1).

The Torah view of simcha (translated, but not necessarily accurately, as happiness) is the realization that all that I have is from Hashem, and though I may not have exactly what I want, I surely have all that I need.  This realization and acceptance leads to contentment; and one who is content with his portion is truly a wealthy person.  And this contentment, in turn, will lead to rejoicing and joy! 

Later in the parsha we are told of the terrible curses that will befall us, R”L: Our sons and daughters will go into captivity, we will be the (proverbial) tail and not the head, we will become sick and there will be no cure, we will become an astonishment and topic of conversation amongst the nations, our sons and daughters will be given to other nations – and our eyes will see and pine for them all day, we will be struck down by the enemies who chase us… Hashem yerachem – and so on and so forth. 

And in the midst of all this terror, we are told that the curses will befall us: תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָבַדְתָּ אֶת-ה׳ אלקיך, בְּשִׂמְחָה, וּבְטוּב לֵבָב–מֵרֹב, כֹּל – Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with simcha (gladness) and with goodness of heart, out of an abundance of all (that you had) (Devarim 28:47).

Simcha is not an external state of being; but rather an internal state of being.  It depends far less on what we have, and far more on how we perceive and view what we have. 

The pasuk tells us:  יְבָרֶכְךָ ה׳ מִצִּיּוֹן וּרְאֵה, בְּטוּב יְרוּשָׁלִָם–כֹּל, יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ – May Hashem bless you from Zion, and see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life (Ps.128:5).

What does it mean to see the good of J’lem all the days of our lives?  Rashi (ibid) teaches: בטוב ירושלים. ושמחת בכל הטוב – you shall rejoice in all the good.

If we see the good, we will appreciate the good, and then we will rejoice in the good.

We are fast approaching the yomtov of Succos.  It is only in regard to Chag Ha’Sukkot that we are commanded to doubly rejoice.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ, בְּחַגֶּךָ – And you shall rejoice on your festival – you and your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levi, the convert, the orphan, and the widow who are in your cities… וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַand you shall be only happy (Devarim 16:14-15).

R’ Shamshon Rafael Hirsch writes (Devarim 16:14), “The joy of the individual in his life before G-d and the joyful feeling of His nearness is a mitzvah that applies on all the festivals, but it is a special aim of the festival of Succos… The connection between simcha and chagigah, as implied by the wording of our verse (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ), is of great significance.  It expresses the thought that joy will be found by the individual only on the basis of a sense of national community, just as the welfare of the national community is to be realized only through the joyful lives of all the individuals…

“The mitzvah of simcha is not dependent on the place and time of the Temple; rather, at all times and in every place, one is obligated to bring oneself and one’s family into a state of joy through various pleasures that gladden the heart.”

A certain talmid (student) once came to R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l (1943-2011), the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalyim.  The talmid was going through a difficult time in his personal life, and he wanted advice from the Rosh Yeshiva: how does one learn, and serve Hashem, when life is difficult? (The Rosh Yeshiva suffered from severe Parkinson’s Disease for the last 20+ years of his life.)

“How does the Rosh Yeshiva learn mitoch yesurim (from hardships)?” the talmid asked.  To which the Rosh Yeshiva replied, “I don’t learn mitoch yesurim, I learn mitoch simcha (from joy)!”

In order to rejoice in the good, we must first perceive the good that we have in our lives.  While it may not always be easy, he who seeks shall surely find.  For there is abundant goodness in all aspects of our lives.

When we focus on the good that we have, as opposed to that which we lack, we will be of those who rejoice in it, as we serve Hashem with simcha and come before Him with song (Ps.100:2).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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