Shabbat I learned with two young men Rambam’s introduction to Chelek and I had an insight that explained to me an interesting Halacha in MT. In a lengthy discussion about Reward and Punishment and Olam Haba in that context, Rambam explains that physical wellbeing is only a facilitator for the greater good which is the intellectual apprehension of eternal truths. The pleasure a person gets from this apprehension has an element of Olam Haba in it. It allows man to get in touch with eternity.
The objective of the Torah is not for the earth to become verdant and for people to live long and healthy lives. These things are only facilitators [for doing good – in context – intellectual apprehension of eternal truths]. Should people transgress, their punishment will be that all kinds of barriers will prevent them from doing good. As it says: because you did not serve the LORD thy God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart by reason of the abundance of all things. (Devarim 28:47)
The verse Rambam uses as proof text is found in the middle of the Tochecha in Devarim where the Torah lists a series of mishaps and tragedies that will befall the Jewish people in their land. Rambam reads the verse as telling us that all this came about because we were not happy and satisfied when things were abundant. We should have dedicated our lives to serving God with joyfulness and gladness of heart when things were going well for us. Our material wellbeing is only there to allow us to serve God not for its own sake. Our ignoring this basic principle, pushed us to act in irresponsible ways eventually bringing about the downfall of our society.
As I was learning this with my Chaverim, a Rambam in MT at the end of Hilchot Lulav (8:15), came to mind –
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"
For the joy that a person has for doing the Mitzvot and loving God who commanded them, is a great service. Anyone that refrains from this joy deserves to be punished, as it says: “Because you did not serve the LORD thy God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart by reason of the abundance of all things.” (Devarim 28:47)
I have always struggled with this Halacha. It never spoke to me. How can one be commanded to have an emotion? If I am not happy, how do I become if commanded to be? Noting the common verse Rambam uses as proof text, here and in the Pirush Hamishna above, a light went off in my head. I think I finally get what this Halacha is telling us.
At the end of the agricultural year, after gathering all the products of the land, we look back at our accomplishment and we experience feelings of satisfaction. In corporate
The attitude the Torah is trying to teach is that all this material wealth is essential but is not the goal. The goal is to have enough to allow us to spend time and effort on intellectual growth. If we have a bountiful year, our material needs have been satisfied and we can dedicate ourselves to the more lofty pursuit of acquiring knowledge. Material well being is only a necessary requirement not a goal in itself. The joy that one has when we have a successful crop is that it will allow us to serve God by getting to know Him – loving Him, which is synonymous with knowing. For the joy that a person experiences for doing the Mitzvot and loving God who commanded them, is a great service. That is why only the intellectuals and the sages actively partake in this rejoicing.
מצוה, להרבות בשמחה זו. ולא היו עושין אותה עמי הארץ, וכל מי שירצה--אלא
גדולי חכמי ישראל וראשי הישיבות והסנהדרין והחסידים והזקנים ואנשי מעשה,
הם שהיו מרקדין ומספקין ומנגנין ושמחין במקדש בימי חג הסוכות; אבל כל העם,
האנשים והנשים--כולן באין לראות, ולשמוע:
It is a Mitzvah to rejoice a lot. The masses did not partake nor anyone that just wanted to. Only the greater of the wise of
The masses watch and hear but do not really have the same feeling of joy that the perfected individuals experience. They however see that it is not those who were instrumental in having a successful crop, that rejoice. Material rewards per se are not reason enough for joy. It is what material success can bring in spiritual and intellectual growth that is the reason for the happiness and joy. Forgetting that will bring about the collapse of our society through greed, injustice and the distortion our moral compass.