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Torah Talk - Ki Tavo

9.1.2023

Joy Leads to Doing the Godly

Ki Tavo - Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

Rabbi Berukah was walking through a local market when he chanced upon the prophet Elijah. It was quite an unusual meeting given that they lived centuries apart. But, Elijah was a different kind of prophet so he came and went as he pleased. A few hundred years here and there made no difference to him. So, it seemed that on this day, it pleased him to walk through the same market as Rabbi Berukah.

Rabbi Berukah was a bit startled upon seeing Elijah, but he composed himself in order to ask Elijah a question that had been on his mind. Berukah asked, “Can you show me someone who is guaranteed of a place in the world to come?”

Elijah pointed to two people. Rabbi Berukah thought to himself – they must be tzaddikim, truly righteous human beings. He turned to Elijah to confirm his guess. But, Elijah was gone.
 
Berukah approached the two and asked, “What are your merits?”
“We are simple people,” they responded while wondering why a sage was showing interest in them.
“What is your occupation?”
“We are jesters. We make people laugh when they are unhappy, filling their hearts with simcha, with joy.”

Rabbi Berukah stopped his inquiry.  He realized that it was their happiness, their joy, which earned them a share in the world to come. From that day forward, every action Rabbi Berukah took was filled with simcha. 

Simcha. Joy. Happiness. 

Ever since I arrived at Kol Tikvah some 12 years ago, simcha has been a keyword to describe the feeling we are trying to achieve at religious, social, educational, and social action gatherings. Even during the pandemic, we retained our focus on this idea knowing that people needed some joy in their hearts. Joy is not a word pulled out of thin air in order to describe our community. Joy is spoken about often in our Torah and in our tradition. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Moses teaches us what happens if we don’t pray and observe with joy in our hearts. We are taught, “...because you did not serve Adonai your God in joy and in good-feeling of heart out of the abundance of everything, so you will have to serve your enemies, whom Adonai will send forth against you….” (Deut. 28:47-48). In other words, don’t be grumpy when praying or fulfilling godly actions in this world, because if you do you are helping your enemies. 

Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340) commented on this verse when he wrote, “Joy when performing any of God’s commandments is considered as fulfillment of a commandment by itself, meriting additional reward…. This is why the Torah requires that its commandments be performed with full intent and joyfully.”  Think about how joy adds to nearly any occasion and a lack of joy detracts from it. To bring someone a birthday gift with a frown on your face and anger in your heart doesn’t make for a good experience for the recipient. To hand out food at the West Valley Food Pantry with no joy in your heart or a smile on your face but only with a scowl leaves the recipient with a negative feeling as they depart the facility. But, by placing joy in your heart and a smile on your face, you are adding to your interactions with others. Not every moment in life is joyful, but more often than not joy is an appropriate emotion. 

In today’s world, we might not “serve God” in the same manner as the Israelites. But, our actions and interactions with others are holy moments. In these moments we are serving God by sharing our joy and drawing others into the goodness found in our hearts. We each need to pass a little joy forward.

How will you spread some simcha, some joy, to others this weekend? 

*** KI TAVO SUMMARY FROM THE UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM

  • The Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. (Deut. 26)
  • The people are told to display on large stones God's commandments for all to see. (27:1-8)
  • The Levites are to proclaim curses upon those who violate God's commandments. (27:15-26)
  • The Israelites are told that if they obey God's mitzvot faithfully, they will receive every blessing imaginable. They are also told that if they do not fulfill their brit with God, many curses will descend upon them. (28:1-69)
  • Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake. (29:1-8)

For more on Ki Tavo from the Union for Reform Judaism Website, go to https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/ki-tavo

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784