Shortly after the Rebbe, Harav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, zy”a, accepted the position of Maggid in Horodok, it was clear that the city had experienced a spiritual transformation. The level of Torah learning increased dramatically in the community, as did the level of davening and other areas of avodas Hashem.
One of the townspeople approached the new Maggid with a question.
“Your predecessor as Maggid was a very pious Yid, and throughout the many years he served in his position he delivered a great number of drashos. Yet he was unable to accomplish in all those years what you have accomplished in such a short while. How were you able to do so?”
“Indeed, my predecessor was an ehrliche Yid,” Harav Mendele replied. “But there is a difference between [our approaches].”
He explained that the previous Maggid would give mussar drashos, stressing with great detail all that the townspeople were doing wrong, and declaring that these sins lead one to be sentenced to the depths of Gehinnom. The townspeople were shattered by the words of reprimand and did teshuvah. But they were so brokenhearted and depressed that they were unable to pull themselves together to learn Torah.
“I take a different approach,” Harav Mendele said. “I describe the greatness of Shabbos, the loftiness of Shabbos, what a Yiddishe neshamah is, the greatness of sitting and learning Gemara, of giving children proper chinuch and the performance of mitzvos and good deeds. I speak about the greatness and eternal kindness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”
After such a drashah, a listener feels uplifted and inspired. He is filled with cheshek to become “geshmak,” to be a Yid and keep Torah and mitzvos.
Three words, myriads of teachings.
As is true with every part of the Torah, there are numerous explanations (all of them true) for the first three words of our parashah, “V’hayah ekev tishme’un — and it will be because of your listening.”
Chazal tell us that the word “v’hayah” always connotes simchah. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh teaches, in his first explanation, that the word “eikev” can be understood as being at the conclusion of something. The Torah is informing us that it is only after we have listened to and observed all the mitzvos of Hashem that we can allow ourselves to be happy. As long as our observance of even one mitzvah is lacking, we cannot be joyful.
Among the other explanations offered by the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh is that the passuk is teaching us that Torah must be studied with simchah.
At first glance these two explanations appear to be contradicting each other, as the first teaching indicates that until all the mitzvos are fully fulfilled there is no room for joy. The Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, explains that in reality, there is no contradiction, for the two teachings are referring to two different types of joy.
He gives a parable of a pauper whose home is bare; he doesn’t even have a morsel of food to eat. Suddenly a small amount of bread falls into his possession. The starving pauper is filled with great joy.
Clearly his joy doesn’t derive from a feeling of financial stability. He still is desperately poor, and certainly still has what to be upset about. Right now, however, he is jubilant because he has with what to satiate his hunger. This joy doesn’t contradict the fact that he is far from satisfied with his general situation.
The same applies to our spiritual status. Until he reaches the sublime heights of serving Hashem with sheleimus, a Yid must never be satisfied with his spiritual situation. At the same time, like the pauper in the parable, he should be ecstatic over every mitzvah he is able to perform. He should rejoice over the very fact that he is able to learn Torah and, indeed, his learning must be with simchah. (Adapted from the sefer Amaros Tehoros.)
Through focusing on the astronomical merits we reap with every mitzvah we perform and every moment of Torah study, we will not only fill our hearts with joy, but be inspired to steadily grow in our avodas Hashem.