alternate textSome time ago I came across a very interesting quote from the Talmud: “A person will be called to account on Judgment Day for every permissible thing he might have enjoyed but did not.” I found it interesting because there is a perception that joy and enjoyment is often sinful and should at all times be handled with extreme caution. There is also a perception that the Torah and its commandments are serious, tough and exhausting – precepts that are hard to enjoy and unlikely to cause a great deal of excitement. These kind of perceptions are, of course, based on a complete misunderstanding of Scriptures and therefore very far from true. Just by looking at each one of the commandments contained in the Torah, one can clearly see that they were aimed at avoiding or rectifying situations that may deprive someone of the joy and the quality of life that Yahweh had intended for his people, right from the very beginning of time. As an example of this, let us take a look at some of the commandments, or mitzvoth, contained in this week’s parashah (Deut 21:10 – 25:19).

There is the controversial commandment about the situation when “a man has a wayward and rebellious son who is not listening to the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have disciplined him, does not listen to them” and, additionally, is also a “glutton and a drunkard” (Deut 21:18-20). This son should be taken to the elders of the city who should stone him to death! Some people would say: What kind of Elohim is this, who would command his people to stone their own sons to death? The answer is: The kind of Elohim that knows that rebellion is turning one’s back upon the Torah and upon that which was done and given for one’s own good. But also the kind of Elohim that is serious about joy and enjoyment of life. When a rebellious and untamable and offensive son completely wipes out the enjoyment from the lives of the people living with him in the same house, the Torah makes provision for bringing back some kind of normality to that house.

Another clear example may be seen in the words of Deut 24:20-21 “When you beat your olive trees, do not examine the branch behind you. Let it be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean behind you. Let it be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” The stranger and the fatherless and the widow are groups of people who may feel that they have not too much left in life to be excited about. These two commandments are aimed at restoring some form of joy and enjoyment to them, too. Yahweh’s desire is for his own people, the families and the homes of Yisrael, to experience peace and joy and fulfillment. But it is also his desire that those on the outside, the disadvantaged, the poor and the downtrodden, should likewise experience the full degree of enjoyment and fulfillment that is possible within their limited and restricted circles of life.

Torah itself, and the practice of reading, discovering and applying the principles contained in Torah, is a pure source if joy. This is emphasized many times in Scriptures. Just look at these verses: Ps 19:8 The orders of Yahweh are straight, rejoicing the heart; The command of Yahweh is clear, enlightening the eyes. Ps 40:8 I have delighted to do Your pleasure, O my Elohim, and Your Torah is within my heart. Ps 119:24 Your witnesses are my delight. Jer 15:16 Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.

People may ask: How can one get excited about something like Torah? Isn’t Torah just a boring, outdated, never-ending list of do’s and don’ts? The answer to this question may be found in a verse like Ps 112:1 “Blessed is the man, who fears Yahweh, who has greatly delighted in His commands.” It is the one who fears Yahweh, the one who admires Him and is deeply touched by Who He is and what He does – it is such a man and such a woman who greatly delights in his commands. When someone has discovered, on a personal level, the superior characteristics of the Almighty – his righteousness, his faithfulness, his involvement in human affairs, his great love and compassion, but also his discipline and his patience – then it becomes a delight and a joy to do what He desires. Why? Maybe it’s a matter of being overwhelmed, even taken by surprise, by the sheer joy of having seen something that is more majestic and more inspiring than anything else in this world. Not everyone sees it that way, but those who do, respond to it and will never be the same again!

Rabbi Baal Shem Tov, who lived approximately 300 years ago and is considered to be the founder of the Chassidic movement, was once asked: “Why is it that Chassidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behaviour of a healthy, sane individual?” He answered with a story: Once, a musician came to town—a musician of great but unknown talent. He stood on a street corner and began to play. Those who stopped to listen could not tear themselves away, and soon a large crowd stood enthralled by the wonderful music, unlike they had ever heard. Before long they were moving to its rhythm, and the entire street was transformed into a dancing mass of people.

A deaf man walking by wondered: Has the world gone mad? Why are the townspeople jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in middle of the street?

“Chassidim,” concluded the Baal Shem Tov, “are moved by the melody that issues forth from all that was created by the Almighty. If this makes them appear mad to those with less sensitive ears, should they therefore cease to dance?”

The truth that Baal Shem Tov and the Chassidim have highlighted is that there is potential reason for joy in all that Yahweh had created – not only in his words or only in his Torah. To this we may add: There is potential reason to rejoice in all kinds or circumstances that one may experience – not only in circumstances that may seem good or circumstances that may feel comfortable and peaceful. Victor Frankl, who tried to find meaning in life in the midst of the 2nd World War holocaust, said: “I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.” Anne Frank, another well known Holocaust victim, said: “Think about all of the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
For the believer life is something that happens in which he or she is always in the presence of the Almighty. Remember, the earth and the fullness thereof belongs to Him! Also remember that the eyes of Yahweh diligently search throughout all the earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect to Him (2 Chron 16:9). That is why Shaúl wrote to the Corinthians: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the esteem of Elohim.” There is no reason to be depressed or to do things halfhearted or become discouraged when you know that Yahweh is in the midst of what you are experiencing – no matter if it is good or bad. The apostle Yaácov understood this truth when he wrote: “My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the proving of your belief works endurance” (James 1:2-3). Kepha emphasized the same approach to life when he said: “You (should) be glad, even though for a little while, you have been grieved by manifold trials, in order that the proving of your belief might result in praise and respect and esteem at the revelation of Y’shua Messiah” (1 Pet 2:6-7). The Master Y’shua Himself knew that life was meant to be enjoyed – even in times of difficulty and suffering. Therefore, when He spoke to his followers about the future persecution that they might experience, He made it clear that the key was rejoicing, no matter what: “Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall cut you off, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as wicked, for the sake of the Son of Adam. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for look, your reward is great in the heaven, for that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (Luk 6:22-23).

Our Elohim is not only the One who had created the heaven and the earth. He also created joy and laughter. And, in fact, He created into this world the potential of bringing into our lives, on a daily basis, countless reasons to rejoice and be glad. Why should we rejoice? What good is there in rejoicing? By rejoicing we confirm that Yahweh is good and that what He has put into this world, is good. And by failing to rejoice we take sides with those who say: There is no Elohim. There was no creation. And there is no-one looking after us. If we do not take care of ourselves, nobody will. This is the attitude of unbelief – unbefitting to those who know about Yahweh. Therefore, let us today rejoice in the words of Tehillim 100:

Raise a shout for Yahweh, All the earth! Serve Yahweh with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that Yahweh, He is Elohim; He has made us, and we are His – His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His Name. For Yahweh is good; His kindness is everlasting, And His truth, to all generations.

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