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When is God really angry? When WE’RE not happy!

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8). As with most of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is sharing his final words –mostly rebuke- with the Jewish people. All this is taking place just days before he is about to pass away and the Jewish people are about to enter the Land of Israel. Some of this rebuke is actually frightening: drought, famine, pogroms, inquisitions, holocausts, and more. But what is quite unexpected is what the cause of such curses might be. No, it’s not for any of the real bad sins that might come to mind, but rather: “Because you did not serve your God with happiness while you had it good.”

Wow! What gets God really angry? When we’re not happy! Sure, a lack of commitment to the Torah and mitzvot doesn’t help anything, and may merit its own punishments, but what is the “straw the breaks the camel’s back”? Serving God with happiness. Once that is gone, once we aren’t serving God in happiness – we’ve lost all our defenses. Nothing is protecting us.

What is this “not serving God with happiness while you had it good” all about?

Perhaps we can illustrate with a parable. The story is told of a King who was never happy. One day he asked one of his advisors how he could find happiness in life. His advisor told him that it is indeed difficult to reach a state of happiness, but one way to do so was to “wear the shirt of a happy person.”

Ok, so the king was now on a mission to seek out a person who was truly happy so he could wear his shirt. The king found himself trying on many different shirts, of many different people, from many different walks of life – but nothing worked. Giving up, he soon made his way back to the palace even more downtrodden than he was before he began his search for happiness. However, on the way back to the palace, the king encountered a farmer sitting in his haystack playing his flute. The man looked so happy, so at peace. So the king approached this simple man and asked him if he was happy in life. The farmer said that he was indeed happy, so the king asked him if he could please wear his shirt. To the king’s surprise, the farmer man said that he didn’t own a shirt!

The lesson of this parable is simple. People are under the impression that certain possessions –material items– bring happiness. They don’t. High end possessions might bring pleasure, but they do not bring happiness. When a person is hungry, a hot bagel with butter will do the job and hit the spot. You don’t need wine and caviar. You need four wheels and an engine to get around town – you don’t need a Porsche or Ferrari.

Moses’ message: God blesses each and every one of us with what we need – not necessarily with what we want. He knows what’s best for us—even better than we know ourselves. True happiness is simply being happy with what we have. Once you realize that everything is from God, there is little excuse not to be happy. Being happy and serving God with happiness shows appreciation to God for all that He does for us, and that, my friends, makes Him really happy.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel