Serving with Joy by Rabbi Benny Berlin

This upcoming Shabbos is filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Shabbos is a time of happiness and uplift. On the other hand, we are in the midst of the nine days and Tisha B’Av is next Monday night.

Yes, there are times when we sit on the floor and mourn, and days in which we desist from eating and other worldly behaviors. “Yirat Shamayim”, awe of G-d, is carefully cultivated. “A time to weep…and a time to wail…” (Kohelet 3:4). But, there is also a time for “serving Hashem with joy”—“A time to laugh…and a time to dance” (Kohelet 3:4). This Shabbos embodies that dichotomy. Judaism requires us to celebrate, to rejoice and to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the gift of life even amidst sadness.

Simcha, joy, is best shared with others. In the first year of marriage, the husband is obligated to stay at home for the entire year, “and gladden his wife (v’simach et ishto”) whom he has married” (Devarim 24:5). Another example is the mitzvah to bring Bikkurim, the first-fruits to the Bet Hamikdash. “You shall rejoice with all the goodness (“V’samachta b’chol ha’tov”) that Hashem has given you and your household–you and the Levite and the convert who is in your midst” (Devarim 26:11). The community is a prerequisite for joy. Being a part of a community is of paramount importance and this is something we consciously can work to develop during this time of the year. If hatred of our fellow destroyed the temple, we can actively work on loving our fellow.

Rabbi Sacks noted that the root “S-M-Kh”, joy, appears only one time each in Genesis, Exodus, Vayikra and Bamidbar, while it appears 12 times in Sefer Devarim. Perhaps this lopsided emphasis of the word “simcha” in the last book of the Chumash, as the Jewish People are poised to enter the Land of Israel, is to drive home the idea that true joy is the emotion that we should feel when we are home in Eretz Yisrael. This is the place where we can live our lives fully as Jews, both in the private sphere and the public realm.

May we be able to experience the ultimate joy of being home in Eretz Yisrael, together with the community, with the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.