More Than Happy: Re’eh 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What does true joy feel like? How do you know when you’re experiencing it? To what extent is it a feeling you pursue, and to what extent is it something that just happens?

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, the text introduces us to the concept of true joy in the context of the autumn holiday of Sukkot.

The Pitch: “You shall hold a festival for your God Adonai seven days, in the place that Adonai will choose; for your God Adonai will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.” (Deuteronomy 16:15)

Swing #1: “Idleness is a source of evil-doing and sin. Abundance is one of the causes of idleness. … How then could the Almighty command us to rejoice by means of a cessation from work? What else could such rejoicing lead to except to estranging man from his Creator? … You should indeed work and not sit idle and then you will be really joyful, i.e. with a true joy and inspired by the right purpose.” – Melehet Mahshevet

Swing #2: “The expression ‘nothing but’ is a ‘diminishing’ term, and here it means: On the first day we are commanded to take a lulav, build a sukkah, and to rejoice; for six days to have a sukkah and joy; and on the eighth day ‘nothing but joy.’” – Vilna Gaon

Swing #3: “In these verses, the commandment to rejoice is joined with a careful enumeration of all those who should share in the rest and the joy of major holidays. Essentially everyone who shares in one’s society is counted. The inclusiveness of the mitzva to rejoice is mentioned twice within this short passage for the Feast of Weeks and for the holiday of Sukkot. The implication seems to be that complete joy is only possible when it is fully shared, when no one, rich or poor, slave or free person, Jew or non-Jew, is excluded. The theme of much of the legislation at the conclusion of this Torah reading is the need to equitably distribute the blessings of life, material blessings as well as time to rest and rejoice.” – Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, Torah of Reconciliation

Late-Inning Questions: To Melehet Mahshevet, “nothing but joy” refers to taking pride in our work. To the Vilna Gaon, “nothing but joy” refers to experiencing smaller amounts of joy throughout Sukkot. To Rabbi Lewis, “nothing but joy” refers to the satisfaction of inclusiveness. Which comment comes closest to your understanding of the best kind of joy? Do you see any contradiction in being commanded to enjoy life?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I hope that everyone in Charleston, and indeed the Southeast USA, is staying safe today. While you’re enjoying a quiet day indoors, please consider joining us for our Adult Education offerings beginning next Tuesday. You can choose from the following classes that will meet on Tuesdays in September ONLY:

  • 6:45PM-8:00PM: Basic Digital Photography for Your Next Jewish Tour (Dr. Robert Lovinger)
  • 7:00-8:00PM: The Study of the Book of God and Man (The Book of Job) (Rabbi Yosef Levanon)
  • 8:00-9:00PM: The Voice of Jewish Art from Betzalel to Today (Dr. Mindy Seltzer)

Or, consider the following classes that will meet weekly from September to May:

  • Tuesdays, 7:00-8:00PM: Adult B’nai Mitzvah (Rabbi Rosenbaum & Pam Coyle)
  • Tuesdays, 8:00-9:00PM: Judaism 101 (Rabbi Rosenbaum)
  • Thursdays, 9:30-10:30AM: A Touch of the Bavli (Talmud) (Rabbi Rosenbaum)

Classes are free and open to the public. Please join us!

The Big Inning at the End: With college football – and soon afterward, professional football – season upon us, baseball tends to take a back seat to these more popular sports … just as the playoff push gets in gear. It’s sad to me that baseball is no longer the national pastime. But in a sense, it’s almost more fun to take the road less traveled by choosing to watch or follow baseball while everyone else is focused on the gridiron. Sometimes, it’s comfortable to be in the minority.

Shabbat Shalom!