A recurring theme in this week’s parashah is simcha – happiness. In the opening section, which deals with bikurim (first fruits), the Torah states, – You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord, your God, has given you and your household (26:11). In the next section, dealing with Vidui Ma’asrot (Confession of the Tithes), Rashi comments on the verse – I have done according to all that You have commanded me (26:14): “I have rejoiced and made others rejoice in it [the tithes].” Two sections later, when Moshe tells the People of Israel what to do when they cross the Jordan River, the verse states, – You shall slaughter peace offerings and eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God (27:7). Finally, after thirty-two verses of admonition (tochachah), the Torah reveals why the Jews will be punished so severely if they do not follow the ways of HaShem: – Because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with joy and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant (28:47).
Undoubtedly, serving HaShem joyfully is of paramount importance. But, like so many other things in this world, there is a time and a place for everything. I am sure that we can all think of examples of times when rejoicing is inappropriate. At the beginning of the parashah, R. Chayim ben Atar (the “Or HaChayim HaKadosh”) teaches that there are also places where rejoicing is inappropriate (or more accurately, there is only one place where rejoicing is appropriate). The opening verse states, – It shall be (והיה) when you enter the Land that the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it (26:1). The Or HaChayim comments:
[The Torah] used the word והיה, which connotes happiness, to suggest that one should only rejoice in dwelling in the Land, as [King David] said, [When the Lord will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers.] Then our mouths will fill with laughter… (Tehillim 126:1-2).
By the way, the Or HaChayim practiced what he preached and made aliyah at the age of 45. Unfortunately, he died less than two years later.
The author of Sefer Chareidim concurs with the Or HaChayim and elaborates on this idea.
The verse begins with the word והיה, one of the twelve combinations of the Holy Name, to hint to the fact that one who dwells in Eretz Yisrael clings to God. The opposite is true of a Jew who dwells in Chutz LaAretz; he is like one who has no God. This combination also hints to Chazal’s statement “Wherever it says והיה, it implies happiness.” The Ramban includes the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael in his enumeration of the 613. Every moment a person dwells in Eretz Yisrael, he fulfills this mitzvah. And, it is well known that the main reward for the mitzvah is [received] for the great joy [one has while fulfilling] it, as it says, – Because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with joy. Thus, one who dwells in Eretz Yisrael must constantly be happy about his perpetual mitzvah, because of his love for it. [However], one must also be filled with fear and trepidation… (See the entire passage in Sefer Chareidim, chap. 59.)
This concept may also have a halachic ramification. In Chutz LaAretz, Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing) is customarily recited only on holidays. The Rama explains that this is because people are joyous on the holidays, and joy is a prerequisite for this blessing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:44). Taking this one step further, some say that this is why Birkat Kohanim is recited every day in Eretz Yisrael: because true joy is felt on a daily basis in God’s Chosen Land.
Most people spend their entire lives searching for true happiness. The first word in this week’s parashah teaches us that many Jews may very well be looking for it in the wrong place.