Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).
He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).
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Numerous curses and horrific imprecations are listed in this weekly Torah portion, Ki Tavo, destined for those who do not heed the voice of God and observe the divine laws. Nevertheless, no specific transgressions that would entail those terrible comeuppances are spelled out here except: ‘’…not having served the Lord your God in joy and with a good heart…’’ (Deuteronomy 28:47).
[Picture: Numerous curses and horrific imprecations are listed in this weekly Torah portion, Ki Tavo, destined for those who do not heed the voice of God and observe the divine laws. תמונה חופשית - CC0 Creative Commons - שעוצבה והועלתה על ידי MegaraDorothy לאתר Pixabay]
The Psalter doubles down on the idea that one ‘’serve[s] the Lord with gladness; [and] come[s] before Him with joyful singing” (100:1-2), ideally in song and music (also in Psalm 27:6 and elsewhere). Hence, feeling close to God’s presence – ‘’my joy and gladness’’ -- even at the altar of God is a great trigger of elation (43:4).
The Kotsker Rebbe is referenced to have suggested that the actual transgression that would trigger off those horrendous woes is the joy felt and exhibited in not serving God, namely, the shedding of all religious discipline itself was joyous. Rabbi Haim of Volozhin suggested that serving God joylessly is tantamount to slavery in which men in bondage serve their master. By contrast, serving God in gladness accentuates the difference between the two.
Still on what specific occasions did people in biblical times express joy even in serving God?
A foremost time to express gladness is in rejoicing with the wedding couple, a case that Jeremiah keeps referencing to numerously like in ‘’…the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride’’ (Jeremiah 33:12). Hence, the Talmud mentions this obligation among the 10 things ‘’that are limitless, of which a person enjoys the fruit of the world, while the principal remains in the world to come.’’ Those other things – even ‘’honoring one’s father and mother’’ or ‘’dealing graciously with guests’’ are not mentioned in the Bible in the context of joy, with the exception of ’’the study of Torah’’ – an activity which is essentially forbidden on Tish’ah b’Av.
[Picture: A foremost time to express gladness is in rejoicing with the wedding couple, a case that Jeremiah keeps referencing to numerously like in ‘’…the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride’’ (Jeremiah 33:12) ... Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by Clker-Free-Vector-Images to Pixabay]
Indeed, Jeremiah delights in God’s words: “They are my joy and my heart’s delight’’ (15:16). And similarly the Psalter expresses his rejoicing ‘’in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches” (119:14).
In-as-much, however, as God’s teachings bring joy, Isaiah reproaches the people who rejoice and exhibit gladness, even by ‘’slaying oxen, and butchering sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine’’ (22:13) in defiance of God’s word. They are joyous because rather than heed the prophet who had called upon them to bewail, wear sack, fast and mourn their imminent demise, they engaged in merrymaking: ‘’let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.’’ This behaviour counteracted God’s word as it expressed the familiar attitude of we will cross that bridge when we come to it... The prophet’s doomsday vision might come on the morrow, but at least we would seize the day before by living joyously, all in order to scoff at and mock God’s word, as the Kotsker observed.
The crowning of kings as in the case of Saul (in Gilgal, 1S 11:15), David (in Hebron, 1Ch. 12:41) and Solomon (in Jerusalem, 1K,1:40 and 1Ch:29:22) was a monumental event imparting great joy to the coronated monarch and to the people, as were the preparations for constructing Solomon’s Temple (1Ch:29:9, 17, 22), and the second Temple (Ezra 3:12-13). The completion of the restoration of Jerusalem’s ramparts was similarly a cause for rejoicing (as in Nehemiah, 12:27, 43).
Isaiah also prophesied that the return of the Jews to the land of Zion would be a foremost joyous event ‘’with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’’ (Isaiah 35:10, 51:11).
The Torah enjoins thrice to ‘’rejoice’’ or be ‘’joyful’’ before the Eternal on Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40, Deuteronomy 16:14-15), even as the Psalter calls out to do so: “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it...Order the festival procession with boughs…” (118: 24, 27). Nehemiah (8:17) describes the ‘’very great gladness’’ in which the exiles who returned from Babylon restored the individual celebration of the holiday (and Sh’mini ‘Atsert) that apparently ceased after the days of Joshua.
[Picture: Nehemiah (8:17) describes the ‘’very great gladness’’ in which the exiles who returned from Babylon restored the individual celebration of the holiday (and Sh’mini ‘Atsert) that apparently ceased after the days of Joshua...The rights holder in this image was not found. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. Main rights holder, please contact [email protected]]
The Torah enjoins also rejoicing on Shavuot (Deuteronomy, 16:11), without prescribing such rejoicing for Passover. According to the Midrash since Passover is a time for divine judgment over the grain harvest, a time when the farmer does not know whether a bountiful yield of wheat is forthcoming or not, rejoicing at this time would be premature, if not incongruous.
Nonetheless, the Passover, celebrated in the ''second month’’ by the newly crowned King Hezekiah -- as in 2 Ch. 30:21, 23, 26 – was a unique celebration of the seven day festival that was practiced ‘’with great gladness’’. The festival was effectively celebrated in the second month, as the Temple was not cleansed yet from idolatrous objects at Passover's traditional time. The king proclaimed, however, the second month as the first month… This unprecedented manipulation of the Hebrew calendar through a retroactive intercalation strayed from the ‘’protocol’’, yet the rejoicing was genuine.
As these three festivals are agrarian celebrations – though Sukkot is the grandest among them – the Israelite farmer always celebrated merrily the abundance of his ripened produce, even with singing in the vineyards, and shouts of jubilation when grapes were treaded on for the making of wine in the presses: ‘’…people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder’’ (Isaiah 9:2, and Psalm 4:7). Hence, Ecclesiastes (9:7): ''Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy, for your action was long ago approved by God.''
From Laban’s admonition of Jacob for stealthily departing from Haran and heading to Canaan we deduce that a sendoff event was observed ‘’with joy and with songs [accompanied by the sounds of] tambourine and lyre’’ (Genesis 31:27).
And from Jethro we learn that it was proper to express joy upon learning of the success of others. Thus, when Moses tells Jethro of ‘’all that the Eternal did to the Pharaoh and Egypt’’ his skin broke out into goosebumps or became wrinkly (per Exodus 18:9). According to the Sforno, and most of the classical commentators, Jethro rejoiced for Israel’s survival at the Red
Sea (though not for the losses of Egypt).
Jethro’s rejoicing gives credence to the Talmudic teaching that frowns on anyone who goes to a place of rejoicing but refrains from joining in. The same is true about the inappropriateness of expressing joy when everyone else around is anything but joyous.
Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, sums it all up: ''He who lives with gladness does his Creator's will'', a comment that illuminates our verse at hand.