Give, Serve, Joyously: Parashat Ki Tavo
Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile. -Pierre Coneille
At the beginning of his commentary on this week’s Torah reading, Rabbeinu Bechaye enjoins us to adhere to charitable commandments with an unshakeable belief that God will pay us back, manifold, in this world. We have an obligation to be charitable with our money, but also with our time and our personal talents. God has given each of us some unique trait, strength, talent, something we’re good at or that we enjoy doing. We must make charitable use of those divinely granted gifts for the benefit and well-being of others.
However, this belief that God will “pay us back” in this world may seem counterintuitive to other areas of Jewish faith. God doesn’t typically bargain or make deals. There are commands. You follow them, you get rewarded; you don’t, you get punished. However, reward or punishment is or may be delayed until the afterlife, which may prove either unsatisfactory or a relief to those of us still very much in this world.
But there seems to be a major exception to the above. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 26:15 (Ki Tavo) brings our attention to the Temple’s first fruit ceremony. In the prescribed liturgy of that rite we call upon God to gaze down upon us, see that we’ve fulfilled our part of the bargain of bringing the first fruits to the Temple, and now it’s God’s turn to bless us, in this world.
In all other cases where the Torah uses the term of God “gazing down,” it’s not good. It’s usually because God, in His attribute of Justice, is “examining” the deeds in question (think Sodom) and getting ready to severely punish the wrongdoers.
But there is a particular power to performing the commandments with joy, and specifically the charitable ones, which gives us the ability to convert God’s attribute of Justice to the attribute of Mercy. We can have the temerity to call on God to gaze down, examine this particularly good deed, performed with joy, and reward us accordingly or even disproportionately.
He adds (on Deuteronomy 28:47) that the command to perform God’s commands joyously is its own separate unique command. Therefore, whoever performs a commandment, but doesn’t do so joyously, while he may have performed a command and gets credit for it, violates the separate all-encompassing commandment to do so joyously and in fact has also sinned.
The bottom line is, be charitable, give of yourself, your time and your resources joyously and feel free to then call upon God to pay up. At least in that department, He’s ready to make a deal.
To Cheyn Shmuel Shmidman on his Bar-Mitzvah celebration and his unbelievably impressive reading of the entire scroll of Isaiah.