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Parshat Ki Tavo: Judgment on Joviality
Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

If one looks closely at the Parsha an interesting question presents itself. First the Torah tells us that if we don’t heed Hashem’s word, curses will come. But later on it tells us we will be punished because, “We did not serve Hashem with gladness and goodness of heart when everything was abundant.” So do the curses come because we didn’t keep mitzvot or because we were missing the simcha?  And if it is the second reason, are we actually held accountable for such a high level of avodat Hashem? Rav Schlesinger says that it seems clear that the curses will come because we didn’t follow Hashem’s will. It says in Pirkei Avot, “All those who keep Torah from poverty, in the end will keep Torah from wealth. But all those who don’t keep Torah from wealth, in the end will keep Torah from poverty. The Bal HaTanya explains that mitzvot only protect us from punishment if we fulfill them with joy.  In a sense the two reasons given for the curses are really one.

Simcha is a matter of perspective and rarely an outcome of what one has. If we focus on what we have rather on what we don’t have, we will automatically feel joyful. Esav said, “Yesh li rav,” (I have a lot), implying that he’d be happy with more. In contrast Yaakov said, “Yesh li kol,” (I have everything). The key to a happy life is to turn the rov to kol.

Rav Elya Lopian asks, what is the barometer that can measure if a person is connected upwards to Hashem or rooted downwards to physicality. He explains that the indication is where the person finds their enjoyment and pleasure. Man’s natural desire is to bond with Hashem. But our sins blemish our inherent will. When we endeavor to serve Hashem with joy, we are not recreating ourselves but rather returning to our true selves.

Lack of joy is symptomatic of lack of love. Kids see what speaks to us and what doesn’t. If we want to transmit Torah to the next generation we have to serve Hashem with simcha. Mitzvot should be a privilege and a joy, not an obligation or a bother. Picture this scene. You’re lying on the couch exhausted. A friend calls to invite you to come with her to hear a speaker from Eretz Yisrael. You give her some excuse and hang up. Five minutes later, another friend calls to tell you there’s a sale at Loehmann’s.  And you say, “Sure, give me five minutes I’ll be down pronto.”  What have you just shown your kids? Are your roots up there or down here? When there’s a three day yom tov and you complain about the dishes and the serving and the cleaning up, what messages are you giving over? Instead, picture yourself saying, “Thank you Hashem for the opportunity to spend time with you in the palace.” If the children know that when Mommy cooks she puts on a Torah lecture and she’ll exclaim, ”Wow, just listen to this amazing idea I just heard, “ they’re getting the message that this excites you. Imagine what your children would buy you for a gift. That’s a sense of what they think gives you joy.

On Rosh Hashana we say, “Hayom harat olam… im k’bonim im k’avodim” We can be judged either as a son or as a servant. A servant does his work out of a sense of obligation for fear of losing his job. But a son rejoices in fulfilling his father’s will. He will look to do more than he’s asked. There’s a reciprocal relationship. The father will respond differently to the son than to the servant. If the son will commit a crime the father will do everything to free his son. For the servant there’s less motivation. Lack of happiness in and of itself doesn’t bring about the curse but it changes one’s status from son to slave.  Our challenge is to serve Hashem as a son serves his father, not because we have to but because we want to.

How can we acquire a feeling of happiness in avodat Hashem? The Ramchal says joy is a primary element of divine service as King David says, “Ivdu et hashem b’simcha.” On Rosh Hashana, we focus on the awesome majesty of Hashem. When we understand the great privilege of serving the King of kings then true simcha will enter our hearts.     

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