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Torah Sparks

September 13, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 (Hertz, p. 859; Etz Hayim, p. 1140)
Triennial Cycle 2: Deuteronomy 26:12-28:6 (Hertz, p. 860; Etz Hayim, p. 1142)
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22 (Hertz, p. 874; Etz Hayim, p. 1160)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Discussion Theme: Happiness

As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you-upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God. And on these stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly. (Deut. 27:2-8)


  1. It is taught: Rabbi Yehuda ben Biteira says: when the Temple stood, joy was derived through eating meat as it says in Deut. 27:7 "and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God." Now that the Temple no longer stands, joy is derived through wine alone, as it says in Psalms 104), "wine gladdens the heart of man." (Pesachim 109a)
  2. The meaning of the statement in Pesachim 109a is not that today it is not a mitzvah to eat meat on a holiday because doing so no longer brings joy. Rather, even today, one is obligated to eat meat on the holiday because by its nature meat engenders a fullness of spirit and joyfulness of the soul. Yet, because the meat is not sanctified meat and is not, therefore, eaten in Jerusalem, it is not sufficient on its own to raise one's joy to the highest possible level. And thus, one needs an additional ingredient, namely wine which gladdens the heart. (Baruch Epstein in Torah Temimah)
  3. The happiness with which one should rejoice is the fulfillment of the mitzvot and the love of God who commanded them is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as Deut. 28:47 states, "...because you did not serve God, your Lord, with happiness and a glad heart." (Maimonides, "The Laws of Lulav")
  4. One who is always happy will, by virtue of that happiness experience success in the world. Happiness requires one to muster all one's resources to push away sadness, because one is naturally predisposed to worry about one's troubles. Because one always has troubles and challenges in life, one must actually force oneself willfully with all one's power to be happy. Happiness is, furthermore, an antidote to many maladies. Dancing, singing (music), movement, and exercise of the body uplift the spirit and make possible a feeling of happiness. One should understand that simply the recognition of being Jewish is an amazing fact and a source of joy and happiness. And if one says out loud the phrase, "Praised is God who created us for His glory and distinguished us from those who were not given the Torah," it has the potential to bring great joy. (Rabbi Nachman of Breslav)
  5. If we understand simcha to be spiritual elation rather than the gratification of all our physical desires, it becomes evident that self-esteem is essential for simcha. Spiritual joy is dependent on a feeling that one is worthwhile, that one's life has a purpose, and that there is significance to one's existence in the universe. The far-reaching effects of low self-esteem can be appreciated if we realize that the ultimate in human error and human transgression, avodah zarah, had its origin in low self-esteem. The Rambam states that idolatry began to sprout because people did not believe that they were deserving of Divine attention. People thought that God withdrew from direct involvement with His creation because it was beneath His dignity to associate with such lowly beings. The Rambam thus points out that avodah zarah is not a denial of the existence of the one true God, but a denial of God's involvement with man, which had its origin in man's feeling unworthy of God's providence. The essence of Jewishness and the refutation of avodah zarah is therefore contingent upon man believing that he is indeed significant and worthy of God's attention. In as much as we have defined self-esteem as an awareness of our capabilities, it follows that as we become increasingly aware of our capabilities, the intensity of our joy should increase. There is yet another important relationship between self-esteem and joy. People who feel themselves to be not only undeserving but also worthless are often haunted by a morbid fear that they do not merit joy, and that any happiness they might experience will be short-lived. They are actually afraid to be happy because they fear that if they are, the object of their joy will be taken from them. But, we should know that we are loved (by God), and that a father does provide for his children out of his great love for them, as long as the children do not use the father's gifts in a destructive manner. Abraham Twersky, "Self-esteem, joy, and enjoying life" in Let us Make Man Among the questions a person will have to answer on his day of judgment before the heavenly tribunal is, "Did you enjoy My world?" Thus appropriate enjoyment of life is essential to living. (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12)
  6. But we won't find happiness in the ways we've learned all our lives. Popular Western concepts of joy are captured in the declaration by America's founding fathers that all people deserve the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The problem with that notion, however, is this: Happiness cannot be pursued. When we pursue happiness, it always runs away from us. Instead, we must pursue goals other than happiness, and as a natural by-product of their pursuit, we will be happy. (Marc Gafni in Soul Prints)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

The commandment to rejoice or be happy appears frequently in the Book of Deuteronomy. It appears in Deut. 12:7, 16:14, 15, and in our verse above. What advice do our commentators give to experience this type of joy or happiness? Which of the many bits of advice above resonates most in your life?

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