Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
This week’s Torah portion speaks about the expectations of the Israelites to maintain the covenant with G-d. We learn of the blessings we will receive if we keep to the ways of the Torah, and learn of the disturbing specificity of all the many, many curses we may incur for a variety of transgressions, including:
(28:47). [B]ecause you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart, when [you had an] abundance of everything…
I initially read this to mean that it is not enough to uphold our covenant with G-d, but we must also do this with a smile. Maimonides affirms my understanding: “Even though you served G-d, you did not serve him with joy -- that is the source of all afflictions”, but other great rabbis had other views on what this statement means. Rashi says the problem is that “you” forgot to serve G-d when you were happy with your lot, and turned to G-d only when you were in need (of guidance, forgiveness, etc). Maayanah Shel Torah plays with syntax a little: it was with happiness and with gladness of heart that you did not serve the Lord, which does indeed sound punishable. We all slip up sometimes, but to do so with glee signals intention, and depending on the transgression, that can be downright mean.
This is a great example of the beauty of Torah study. This is essentially why we are so happy to be bringing in a new year of religious school. Why we are so excited to begin again teaching the next generation the complexity and richness of learning in our Jewish traditions. This is a three chapter Parasha, and here we can focus on just one little verse, with the help of three (among others!) great teachers. I could splinter off from here into three different sermons, because although my initial understanding of this line agrees with Maimonides, once reading the viewpoints of Rashi and the Maayanah Shel Torah, I can very much reread the Torah verse with their understandings in mind. It all fits! Now, I’m not going to go into all the great lessons we could learn from this one line from three different viewpoints, because it would take too long, but I invite you all to turn to each other, or approach me, after the conclusion of services and work out which lens you see this through. Because that’s why we’re here! To learn and pass on our traditions to a new generation.
I am so excited to welcome all you students for a new school year. I hope you all come to religious school and Shabbat services throughout the year to learn and pray with happiness and with gladness of heart! Amen, Shabbat Shalom, and have a great year!