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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tavo

Serve Hashem With Joy

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Our parasha opens with the discussion of the bringing of bikurim (first fruit) to the Beit Hamikdash. In this context, the Torah says: "You shall rejoice in all the good Hashem gave to you and to your household - you, the Levi and the newcomer in your midst" (Devarim 26:11).
Is this envisioned joy a blessing or an imperative? From the section of tochacha (rebuke), which is also found in our parasha, it sounds like the latter. It says: "...because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and a good heart from an abundance of all" (ibid. 28:47). We will investigate the nature of the apparent command to be happy.
Rashi cites Chazal as saying that the idea of joy sets the time for the fulfillment of the mitzva of bikurim. One can bring the bikurim with the accompanying declaration only between Sukkot and Chanuka, the season when one is happy with the harvest. According to the Ibn Ezra, the happiness is indeed a condition for the proper fulfillment of the mitzva, but it relates not so much to the timing but to the manner of rejoicing. One must share his happiness and his bounty with the dependent in the community, i.e., the Levi and the newcomer in your midst, whom the pasuk mentions. It is imperative to share the crops with these people who did not receive a set inheritance in the Land.
As he does so often, the Meshech Chochma opens new vistas in regard to this pasuk. He learns that one is to serve Hashem in joy even at times of distress and of exile. When there is not such an abundance of good, one should still be happy about the fact that what he did receive was from Hashem, which is an assurance that He still loves the person.
The second thing to rejoice about is an abundance that Hashem gave us for always, but not necessarily a physical present. Rather, the greatest gifts of all are the values and the intellectual and spiritual wonders that are contained within the Torah that Hashem gave to us. The constant presence of Torah, at any time in our lives and at any time in Jewish history, is always something that should keep us happy and grateful.
It is a holy responsibility of our leaders to strive that the entire nation, whether those who consider themselves religious or those who do not consider themselves such, should come to appreciate the great gift and source of joy that the Torah and the service of Hashem is for our nation. As the Radak says: "One’s service of Hashem should not be a burden but should be done with happiness and a good heart." One thing the rabbinical leadership should keep in mind is that when one strives to follow all of the most stringent rulings so that no doubts remain, there is likely to be a sacrifice regarding the positive outlook on a life of service of Hashem. This could, Heaven forbid, turn a religious lifestyle into an unnecessarily burdensome chore.
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