Yeshivat Reishit


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The Secret to Happiness

By: Rav Yehoshua Landau

This week's parsha outlines the most horrific curses which have befallen and will befall the Jewish people for lack of subservience to Hashem. The Torah actually pinpoints one transgression which serves as the cause for these curses:
"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness…" (28:47)
Two strong questions must be asked on this pasuk:
1)Why should the curses be dependent on a relatively insignificant mizvah of serving Hashem with happiness?
2)Where is there even a command in the Torah to serve Hashem with happiness?
Rav Yochanan Zweig has a beautiful approach to deal with these questions with a message which all of us must think about as Rosh Hashana nears.
Whenever someone expects something in life, no great joy is felt when that thing arrives. For example, if a person is owed a debt, regardless of the sum of the loan, one doesn't feel ecstatic when the loan is paid back. However, when a person is not expecting something, accumulating something new brings great joy. Winning the cheapest and silliest door prize at a carnival can bring one great happiness because it was not expected. The more egocentric and self centered a person is, the more a person expects to come his way. Such a person is always unhappy because there is never enough coming his way and anything lacking creates unhappiness.
Based on this understanding we can turn to the source for serving Hashem with happiness in the Torah. The source is "I am Hashem your G-d who redeemed you from the Land of Egypt," the first of the Ten Commandments. That mitzvah demonstrates that Hashem is the center of life and He is the one Who took us from slavery and provides us with everything.   A person who lives life with this command in mind recognizes that he is entitled to nothing since, on our own, we were mere slaves. With that perspective we can be happy with whatever we have.
Now we also understand why the curses depend on this mitzvah.   Not serving G-d with happiness is a symptom of a misunderstanding of the entire relationship that we are supposed to have with Hashem. That is the foundation upon which our entire Torah lies. Serving Hashem without happiness demonstrates that our entire spiritual existence and relationship with Hashem is off. Thus, the curses come as a result.
As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, I can think of no greater focus for us to have. Life is complicated and difficult and we can easily lapse into focusing on the negative and expecting more be given to us. Rosh Hashana is about coronating  Hashem as our King thereby recognizing that He is the source of everything that we are and have, that we are nothing without Him, and, as a result we should have no expectations.
If we can strive to instill ourselves with this perspective, we can not only start the new year as better Jews but we will also find ourselves being happier people.