Sunday, May 20, 2007

How does one rejoice? Vesamachta Bechagecha.

I am extremely busy working on a project and have not had time to write a post. However I feel that I have to start getting myself into the Shavuot mood so here are a few thoughts.

In MN 3:43 after discussing Yom Kippur Rambam explains the reason for Chag in general as follows:

Other holy days are all for rejoicing and for such pleasurable gatherings, which in most cases are indispensable for man. They also promote friendship that men should have to each other in their social and political relations.

In Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18 we are told how this rejoicing and practical gathering is put into practice.

[יח] כיצד: הקטנים, נותן להם קליות ואגוזים ומגדנות; והנשים, קונה להן בגדים ותכשיט כפי ממונו; והאנשים, אוכלין בשר ושותין יין, שאין שמחה אלא בבשר, ואין שמחה אלא ביין. וכשהוא אוכל ושותה, חייב להאכיל לגר ליתום ולאלמנה עם שאר העניים האמיללים. אבל מי שנועל דלתות חצרו ואוכל ושותה הוא ובניו ואשתו, ואינו מאכיל ומשקה לעניים ולמרי נפש--אין זו שמחת מצוה, אלא שמחת כרסו.


To the children one should give them candies (literally: Roasted wheat, nuts and sweets) to the wives, one should buy them clothing and a piece of jewelry, each according to his abilities. Men eat meat and drink wine, for there is no rejoicing except with wine. When one eats and drinks one must also feed the convert, the orphan and the widow together with the other unfortunate poor people. For someone who closes his doors, drinks and eats with his wife and children, and does not feed the poor and the bitter souls, it is not a rejoicing that is considered to be a Mitzvah, but the rejoicing of his belly.

And as we mentioned eating and drinking, as usual there is a cautionary note.

כשאדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל, לא יימשך ביין ובשחוק ובקלות ראש ויאמר שכל שיוסיף בזה ירבה במצוה, שהשכרות והשחוק הרבה וקלות הראש, אינה שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות. ולא נצטווינו על ההוללות והסכלות, אלא על השמחה שיש בה עבודת יוצר הכול, שנאמר "תחת, אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלוהיך, בשמחה, ובטוב לבב"
, הא למדת שהעבודה בשמחה. ואי אפשר לעבוד את ה'--לא מתוך שחוק, ולא מתוך קלות ראש, ולא מתוך שכרות.

When a person eats and drinks on the Chag, he should not let himself be pulled along with wine, laughter and lightheadedness assuming that as it is a Mitzvah, the more the better. Drunkenness and lightheadedness [lack of seriousness] are not rejoicing but stupidity. We were not commanded to act stupidly! We are told to rejoice in a way that is a service to the Creator. The verse says [the reason you are punished is] because you did not serve God with rejoicing and a good heart (Devarim 28:47). We see from this that rejoicing is seen as service. It is impossible to serve God through laughter, lightheadedness and drunkenness.

So what is rejoicing?

Hil Lulav 8:15

שהשמחה שישמח אדם בעשיית המצוות ובאהבת האל שציווה בהן, עבודה גדולה היא; וכל המונע עצמו משמחה זו, ראוי להיפרע ממנו, שנאמר "תחת, אשר לא עבדת את ה' אלוהיך, בשמחה, ובטוב לבב

After describing the special rejoicing that occurred in the Beit Hamikdash on Sukkoth where only the leaders and the sages partook in the dancing while the people watched, Rambam explains:

For the rejoicing a person experiences when he performs Mitzvot and in his love of God who ordered him to do them, is a great Service. Whoever refuses to rejoice is worthy of punishment

I believe the addition here of the “his love of God who ordered him to do them” is the key. Love of God to Rambam is synonymous with knowing God. It is only through knowledge that one can love Him just like one can only love a spouse when there is intimacy between the couple.[1] Doing the Mitzvah and meditating about why I am doing it, who ordered me to do it, who that entity is and remembering to continue in the quest to find and know Him, brings about an intellectual high. That is the real joy that Yom Tov is supposed to bring about. The good food and the wine are the props that help us get into the right frame of mind to concentrate on the existential questions we face all our lives.

Chag Sameach.

[1] See Hilchot Teshuvah 10:6 and Ra’avad gloss there.

1 comment:

  1. >>>The good food and the wine are the props that help us get into the right frame of mind

    RYBS similarly formulated it - the ma'aseh mitzvah is the achilas basar and driking wine, but the kiyum mitzvah is the sense of being in Hashem's presence (the Brisker Rav abd RYBS both noted that the concept of simcha is always expressed by the yamim tovim as being 'lifnei Hashem').
    Have a Good Yom Tov in advance!