Thursday, September 11, 2014

443 - Ki Savo

The entire world is full of pleasures. Some pleasures are a reality, while some pleasures are mere fantasy. Chazal tell us (Berachos 55b) that a wicked person is shown enjoyable dreams in order to give him pleasure, so that he will consume the reward for his good actions in this world. A vision totally disconnected from reality is also a source of pleasure. The truth is that even from a spiritual standpoint our purpose is to find pleasure through our actions. As the Mesilas Yesharim tells us (chap. 1), "A person was created to find pleasure in Hashem and to enjoy the radiance of His Shechina."

However, says Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) not all pleasures were created equal. A drunkard might immensely enjoy indulging in a favorite alcoholic drink. Yet, shortly thereafter his stomach hurts, he vomits, and, covered in filth, he falls asleep in the middle of the street. When he sobers up he is no better off since his mood is terrible and his entire body aches. His pleasure was short lived.

The uniqueness of the Torah is that it doesn't just guide us to pleasure; it guides us to lasting pleasure, i.e. true happiness and contentment. A quick perusal of this week's parsha reveals a veritable handbook to such pleasure. The parsha begins with the mitzvah of bikurim, "And you shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem has provided you and your family." We are meant to appreciate and enjoy whatever Hashem gives us. The parsha continues with vidui ma'aser where, regarding the mitzvos associated with the produce of the land, a person declares, "I have fulfilled all that You have commanded me to do" i.e. I was happy and I made others happy (see Rashi). Thereafter he petitions Hashem, "Look down from Your holy abode from the heavens and bless Your nation Yisrael and the land that You have given to them." 

Further on the Torah tells us, "Hashem has distinguished you today to be his treasured people. . . and to make you supreme over all the nations that He made - for praise, for prominence, and for splendor." We have a treasured and supreme connection to Hashem that elevates us above nature and beyond the confines of all other nations.

The Torah continues with the blessings and curses associated with the performance of mitzvos. We know that reward for mitzvos is not given in this world. If so, why are all the blessings given to those who perform the mitzvos connected to our physical needs which are limited to the present world? The Baalei Mussar explain that the blessings mentioned are not a reward for the mitzvos rather they are an automatic outcome of the mitzvos. One who travels on the beaten path will pass rest stops offering a wide array of amenities, while he who strays from the beaten path will encounter only thorns and thickets. The Torah is the guidebook to traverse life with all the proper amenities! On the other hand, the curses come as a result of, "Not serving Hashem with happiness and goodness of heart - despite great abundance." The Torah is rhetorically asking, "True happiness and contentment is found in the Torah. How could it be that you didn't find your happiness in all that the Torah has to offer?" 

The parsha ends with the pasuk (as explained by the Targum), "You shall guard the words of this covenant and perform them so that you will succeed in all that you do." Success is one of the defining factors of happiness and contentment.

For many people, happiness is limited to watching television, surfing the net, listening to music or enjoying a good book. Rav Wolbe related that in France they took a survey where they asked people, "What is happiness", and "Are you happy?" Most answered that happiness is "financial stability" and only eight percent answered that they are happy! What a pathetic world! In contrast, we have the ability to achieve true and lasting happiness through Torah, tefillah, Shabbos, and the many other opportunities that the Torah affords us!

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