“Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with happiness while you still had all that is good” (Devarim 28:47).
The final days in the life of Moshe were rapidly approaching. All the people gathered to hear his last words of advice and reproof. Moshe chose to sting the people with the venomous words of rebuke contained in this week’s parashah in order to arouse them to adhere to the Torah faithfully throughout the generations after his passing. In graphically frightening terms, Moshe predicted that the people would stray from the path of Torah observance and Hashem would strike them with a series of brutal punishments at the hands of natural and human enemies. Drought, famine, pillaging marauders and murderers would punish the people for their unfaithfulness. Surprisingly, Moshe Rabbeinu adds that these curses would serve as a reminder to the people and to their offspring that they had not served Hashem “in happiness.” The focus changed from a lack of commitment to the mitzvot to a horrible punishment for doing the mitzvot without enthusiasm or happiness. What is the message Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to convey?
There was once a king who was unhappy. He asked his advisor: “How does one achieve satisfaction and happiness?”
The wise man answered: “Although it is difficult to reach the goal of a happy state of mind, there is a way to achieve it: you must wear the shirt of a happy person.”
The king immediately began his search for a happy person so that he could wear his shirt. He tried on the shirts of business people, princes, celebrities and military heroes, but to no avail. More depressed than when he left the palace, he headed homeward. On the way he met a farmer who was joyfully playing his flute. The vision the king saw was one of a truly satisfied, happy individual. Excitedly, the king approached the farmer and asked: “Are you happy?”
“Certainly,” replied the peasant.
The king then asked to wear his shirt. “What shirt?” asked the simple farmer. “I don’t own a shirt!”
People are under the misconception that “things” bring happiness. They confuse pleasure and comfort with satisfaction. Hunger, a physical need, is satisfied by food. Happiness, a spiritual need, cannot be filled by material objects. In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu’s message is that physical possessions not only fall short of bringing a person happiness — they actually block one’s pursuit of the goal.
The true happiness of life is to serve Hashem wholeheartedly — “va’avadtem et Hashem Elokechem b’chol levavchem.” A Jew’s challenge is to find happiness in the performance of the commandments of G-d, at least as much as one finds when acquiring a new “toy” of this world. One should feel true elation when putting on tefillin or doing a chessed — as one feels when making a profitable business deal or moving into a new home. Yet, more than one would like to admit, the pursuit of material happiness inspires while the performance of mitzvot tires. Is it so important? Yes! Hashem warns: “The sufferings of the people will be brought upon them by their failure to serve Me with happiness.”
May we all gain a true picture of the honor we have as the Chosen People to serve our Creator through adherence to His Torah. When one feels that special feeling, one can serve with true happiness and help bring the salvation speedily and in our days. Amen.