Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Divine Service

"Because you did not serve the L-RD your G-d with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything . . ." (Deuteronomy 28:47).

Many commentators explain that this verse provides an explanation for all of the severe punishments that are listed in the remainder of this passage.  In other words, the verse is telling us that the punishments and curses are the result of a lack of simchah, joy, that we should experience while carrying out His Word.  One of our Sages, the Meshech Chochmah, explains, however, that the verse can be read as consisting of two parts.

First, the verse states that the reason for all the punishments is simply because you did not serve the L-rd.  And the reason you did not serve the L-rd was because the goodness and happiness of your heart was only the result of having plenty, a type of happiness that results from material things, a happiness that fills the hearts of much of the unbelieving world, as it is written: "Rejoice not Israel, like the exultation of the nations."  They find their joy in the abundance of pleasure, and this is not the way of one who fears G-d.  As the mishnah states in Avot (4:5): "Who is considered a rich man?  The man who is content with what he has."

Another verse at the beginning of this week's Torah portion:

"So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the L-RD your G-d has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you"  (Deuteronomy 26:11).

A person should be happy not so much on account of the actual possessions he has acquired, but with the fact that the L-rd gave them to him.  This fact is surely something to rejoice over.  The punishments come because of the fact that we did not serve the L-rd properly, and the lack of proper simchah is the primary cause of our deficiency in serving Him.

A story is told that after World War II there was a certain assimilated Jew who knew very little of religion, but was nevertheless able to repeat the above verse (Deuteronomy 28:47) by heart.  He was asked: How is it that you are conversant with this verse, but have no knowledge of the more basic verses of the Torah, such as Shema Israel, Hear  O Israel?

He answered that in the slave camps, he and other Jews would have to carry heavy stones up and down a mountain, and there was a pious Jew who was there with him who would constantly say to himself, "Do you know why this is happening to us?  Because of this verse, for we didn't serve the L-rd in gladness."  This pious Jew turned out to be a great Rebbe.  The words of the Rebbe made an indelible impact upon the man, vividly demonstrating that the words of the Torah were indeed true.  If we do not serve the L-rd with gladness, this itself is a cause for punishment.

Why is it that just because we are lacking this 'extra' attribute of of joy in our observance, that we would find ourselves deserving of such devastating consequences?  Our Sages explain that when a person carries out G-d's Word with joy and gladness, this is proof that he is serving the L-rd, demonstrating that he doesn't feel forced in his obedience, but truly understands that there is no greater joy in this world than to serve his Creator.  Such a man understands that this is the true purpose of Creation.

Therefore, simchah, is a key factor in determining if one is really serving the L-rd, rather than just merely following His directives out of a sense of duty without any real appreciation for what he is doing.  In Psalm 100 we find the following verse:

Serve the L-RD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. (Psalm 100:2)

Mankind is called upon by G-d to dedicate himself to a life of Divine service with rejoicing.  For it is only just such a life that gives us true simcha, a life that remains serene and undisturbed in the midst of the tumultuous vicissitudes of outward circumstances which life often brings.

And so we are summoned to serve the L-rd with gladness, and not just within the confines of our houses of worship, but in our day-to-day living.  For it is only when we serve Him in this way, in our everyday lives, that a spirit of joy will accompany us to the house of worship.  We are His creatures through and through, and the sheep of His pasture.  He has made us and He guides us in all of our paths.  For this very reason we submit to Him and serve Him with gladness.

Towards the end of the Psalm we are exhorted to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, and to spread the message that G-d is the only G-d and the only One after Whom man should strive in every moment of our lives, which is a gift of His loving kindness towards us.  For He is faithful to guide and direct us away from error and that which leads to death, turning us instead towards the path of life and salvation.

2 comments:

  1. Rabbi B, I have admired your wisdom at Vox Popoli for some time, and I am very pleased to be your reader now, as well. This was an incredibly encouraging post.

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  2. Thank you for the kind words. It's good to hear you found some encouragement here.

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