Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, Chaya Sarah bat Reb Yechezkel Shraga, Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, and the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, Moshe ben Itta Golda, Yocheved Dafneh bat Dinah Zehavah, Reuven Shmuel ben Leah, Dovid Shmuel ben Chasiyah and the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
One of the better-known sections of our parasha consists of the brachot v’k’lallot — the blessings for keeping the mitzvot of the Torah, and the curses for failing to fulfill its commandments. During his presentation of the k’lallot, Moshe Rabbeinu states an overarching rationale, a klal gadol, as to why these curses will come upon the Jewish people: “Tachat asher lo avadata Hashem Elokecha — Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, b’simcha u’vtuv l’vov meirov kol — in joy and from the goodness of your heart, when you had everything [that you required, Rashi].” (Sefer Devarim 28:47)
According to Chazal (our Sages of blessed memory), avodat Hashem, service of Hashem, is comprised of offering the korbanot, the act of praying, and the general performance of the mitzvot. As such, “tachat asher lo avadata Hashem Elokecha b’simcha u’vtuv l’vov meirov kol” is teaching us that even if we brought the mandated korbanot, prayed the obligatory tefilot and fulfilled the mitzvot, we did not do these acts in joy and with a heartfelt desire. I believe that the prophet, Yeshayahu, shed a bright light on our pasuk and its underlying meaning when he declared: “And the L-rd said: ‘Because this people has come near; with their mouth and with their lips they honor Me, but their heart they draw far away from Me, and their fear of Me has become mitzvat anashim melumdah — a command of people, which has been taught.’” (29:13, translation, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach)
One of the clearest expositions of Yeshayahu’s elusive phrase, “mitzvat anashim melumdah,” was offered by the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, 1809-1879):
There are those who perform the mitzvot solely because this is what they have become accustomed to do since their youth and they are used to performing them. They perform them without any cognitive gesture (kavanah) and without thought, even though they may know that they are commandments from G-d…They [the mitzvot] are performed without any understanding and are mere mechanical actions reinforced by past rote behaviors. (Commentary to Sefer Yeshiyahu 29:13)
Basing ourselves on this trenchant comment of the Malbim, we can readily say that if one performs the mitzvot devoid of thought and in a robotic fashion, it will be impossible to serve Hashem b’simcha u’vtuv l’vov, as authentic simcha requires total engagement of our entire being. Little wonder, then, that Dovid HaMelech declared: “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha — Serve Hashem with joy” (Sefer Tehillim 100:2), which the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi 1160-1235) interprets as, “Your service should not be perceived as a burden, but rather, as an act of pure delight and from the goodness of your heart and mind.” He further underscores this analysis by citing the famous words of Rabbi Ibo in Midrash Shocher Tov 100: “When you pray to the Holy One blessed be He, your heart and mind should be joyous in the knowledge that you are praying to the Holy One blessed be He, and there is none other like Him in comparison to other so-called gods.” (Translation my own)
The Rambam gave halachic voice to these concepts in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shofar, v’Succah v’Lulav VIII:15, citing our parasha’s verse as one his proof texts:
The simcha with which a person should rejoice during the performance of the mitzvot, and the love of G-d who commanded them, avodah gedolah he — is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as the Torah states: “Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, b’simcha u’vtuv l’vov — in joy and from the goodness of your heart.” …because there is no greatness or honor other than celebrating before G-d… (Translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, with my emendations and underlining)
With Hashem’s help and our passionate desire, may we grow to understand that “there is no greatness or honor other than celebrating before G-d.” In that way, may we be counted among those who serve the Almighty b’simcha u’vtuv lebainu — in joy and from the goodness of our hearts. May this time come soon and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Shabbat Shalom, and may Hashem in His great mercy remove the magafah from klal Yisrael and from all the nations of the world.
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
They may also be found on http://www.yutorah.org using the search criteria Etengoff and the parasha’s name.
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*** My audio shiurim on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link.
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal