Kithavo: Don’t worry, Be Happy… Emunah As The Torah’s End-game


In this week’s Parasha Kithavo, it says something quite mind-boggling:


“Because you did not serve the Lord Your G-D with joyfulness and with gladness of heart by reason of the abundance of all things. You will serve your enemies whom Adonoy sends against you, in hunger and in thirst and in nakedness and lacking everything; and he will set an iron yoke upon your neck until he destroys you” (Devarim 28:47)


This seems like quite a punishment for not smiling enough Although this was part of a larger critique for not following His commandments, HaShem’s anger seems to climax with Israel’s lack of joyful observance. 


On this verse, the RMb"M comments as follows:


“Hence we conclude that the service of G-D should be performed with joy and pleasure. Lightheartedness, frivolity and drunkenness are not conducive to true service.” (Yom Tov 6:2) “Joy shall be experienced in the very fulfillment of the commandments, and in the love of the Lord who commanded it. This joy is the greatest of Services.” (Lulav 8:15)


But the question remains. Why does the Torah come down so harshly on Am Segula for not serving G-D with Joy?


Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the Divine Presence rests neither in the midst of sadness, nor in the midst of idleness, nor in the midst of frivolity, nor in the midst of levity, nor in the midst of chitchat, nor in the midst of inane talk, but only in the midst of joy in obeying a precept, as is shown by Elisha- who became angry at the King of Israel. However, when he overcame his anger, he found such joy that he said, ‘Now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the instrument played, that the hand of the Lord (the power of Prophecy) came back to him.” (2 Kings 3:15-Shab 30B)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

From this commentary, it is evident that HaShem’s Presence seeks out people who rejoice in HaShem’s commandments. Thus, it behooves G-D-seeking people to be joyful in the performance of G-D’s Will.  The fact that Hashem’s Presence protects his people can be deduced from many sources…and is a well-known principle--although this should not be our motive for serving Him. Any study of the way our Ancestors waged wars attests to the strong desire to win over HaShem’s Presence before battle.


This is the P’shat  (simple meaning) behind Hashem’s punishment for ‘lack of joy’.  Joy can actually lead to victory. But does this have to be a fear-motivated philosophy ? And what do we do when (at times) it seems impossible for us to do certain miswoth (commandments) with joy?  Not everyone can enjoy every commandment. Obviously, there are certain miswoth (commandments) that seem difficult to enjoy at times. After all, we are only human. As if on queue, HaShem offers another motivator in addition to retribution…


This week’s Haftarah provides a hint about how to handle Miswoth that are less enjoyable than others. Sometimes the key to enjoying a Mitzwah is to concentrate on HaShem’s "end-game". We can do this by remembering the RMb"M's magical motivation formula: "It only takes one more Mitzwah to usher in the Messianic age".  Thus, your Mitswah could be the final one that tips the scale. In other words, everything we do is geared to bring in the final, Messianic Era. This is the "end-game".


Thus, the ultimate end-game motivator is a description of the Messianic Era itself. In this week’s Haftarah, the Prophet Isaiah says the following things about the end times:


"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the L-rd has shown upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth and a gross darkness the kingdoms, and the L-rd shall shine upon you, and His glory shall appear over you. And nations shall go by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine (Is 60:1-3). Your sun shall be no longer set, neither shall your moon be gathered in, for the L-rd shall be to you for an everlasting light and the days of your mourning shall be completed (Is 60:20). The smallest shall become a thousand and the least a mighty nation; I am the L-rd, in its time I will hasten it (Is 60:22)."


All of these verses are mentioned in the Teimani (Yemenite) Havdalah --(the service that begins each new week). On these verses, the RMb"M notes that G-D will give the Jews ‘perpetual gladness and joy in place of the previous grief and mourning, which shall no longer be remembered’. This is our future.


This is the endgame that we must all remember. When it becomes too hard for us to be joyful in the fulfillment of certain miswoth (commandments) (Heaven Forbid), we must remember the final purpose for all of our current endeavors. As Isaiah continues to say, “Instead of your shame and disgrace… you shall inherit everlasting joy”.


And as the rest of the Teimani Havdalah quotes Isaiah 61:


And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall recognize them that they are seed that the L-rd blessed. I will rejoice with the L-rd. My soul shall exult with my G-D for he has attired me with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness He has enwrapped me; like a bridegroom, who --like a priest-- dons garments of glory, and like a bride, who adorns herself with jewelry.  For the Earth, which gives forth its plants, and like a garden that causes its seeds to grow, so shall the L-rd G-D cause righteousness and praise to grow opposite all the nations.  


If this isn’t a motivator for  pride and joy, then I don’t know what is.