Ki Tavo – Suffering For Lack of Joy
In this week’s Torah reading we go through the terrible litany of reproof – 96 curses in all. Unfortunately, these have all materialized over the course of our long and tragic history. Our spirit has been crushed and broken time and again. The desperation brought about by excessive poverty and persecution has made many of the words in this Parsha appear even understated. And many of the words resonate to this day.
What is the cause of all this? What triggers these consequences? The Torah states that all this will occur “because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with gladness and with goodness of heart, out of an abundance of everything.” (Deuteronomy 28:47)
What is that supposed to mean? Because we failed to smile while performing a Mitzvah? Because we were lacking in joy and enthusiasm? I can understand that the value of a Mitzvah is diminished when it is not performed with a full heart and a sense of joy, but it is still a fulfillment of the Mitzvah. And it is certainly not deserving of such devastating consequences as are described in the Torah here!
The Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, suggests that the reproof is a result of failure to observe the Mitzvot altogether. He suggests that the lack of pleasure in fulfillment of Mitzvot is ultimately the cause of eventual failure to observe them altogether. This is because human nature is to reject doing anything we don’t enjoy. And if we lack pleasure from fulfilling a Mitzvah we will cease to observe it.
Think about it. How many of us would come to shul if there wasn’t something about it we enjoy? There are plenty of things we could be doing now that are pleasurable. There is clearly some gratification or satisfaction that we gain from coming to shul. Without some incentive we wouldn’t be there (even if the incentive is the sense of guilt for not coming).
Without incentive there is no performance. In communist Russia the economy lagged behind. Workers did not earn more for better service and business executives did not profit from a higher turn of product. They therefore put little effort into their work. The same is true for observance of Torah. There must be some incentive and the Torah here is stating that because there was no incentive, no sense of joy or gladness, there was no observance.
It doesn’t take much for observance of Mitzvot to become a burden. In fact, it is only natural for that to be the case when there is no learning and exploration into the meaning of Mitzvot. Without a relationship to God there can be no satisfaction in contributing to that relationship by abiding God’s wishes.
We enjoy that which we feel has value. Any accomplishment will give us a sense of satisfaction. We just need to see value in the accomplishment. This is the greatest challenge we have today – demonstrating value in observance of Torah. It is essential to us and it is critical for our children. We cannot hope for our children to continue to cherish the culture that we treasure unless we properly communicate its value.
Rabbi Frand tells a story about a close friend of his, who contracted lung cancer although he never smoked in his entire life. He succumbed after two years of fighting the disease. Rabbi Frand visited him in the last month of his life. By then he was frail, his body ridden with disease. He needed constant care and was terribly burdened by the fact that he was so dependent on the help of others, but more than that he was troubled by the fact that he was unable to give to others. He told Rabbi Frand that recently his son in law had come to see him and he had an idea. He asked his son in law to bring him his shoe shining kit from the closet. He had an old fashion, professional shoe shining kit. He asked if he could shine his son-in-law’s shoes for him. He was absolutely glowing when telling this to Rabbi Frand. He had found a way in which he could give, even in his state, and it just made him feel so good.
Giving had great value for that man and he was motivated to give because of the tremendous pleasure it gave him. Anything we value will similar make us feel good and we need to reinforce those values and remind ourselves how important they are.