Sermon given by Alison Dollow
12th August / 25th Av
Today’s sermon is taken from ‘Limmud on One Leg’ and is a sermon by Rabbi Barry Kleinberg:
Moses sets before the people the choice of a blessing if they obey God or curse if they do not. Moses details many laws including those of Kashrut. Details of the tithe system are set out as well as the three pilgrim festivals.
This week’s parasha is overwhelming. It is not the fact that it contains 126 verses but rather the number of mitzvot that can be found in the parasha. There are 17 positive mitzvot and 38 negative mitzvot in Parashat Re’eh. Nearly 10% of ALL of the mitzvot contained in the Torah are found in this one parasha.
The range and scope of the mitzvot is remarkable. We are told not to eat a limb taken from a living animal (12:23), not to add or detract from the mitzvot (13:1), to give charity, as well as many mitzvot dealing with tithing and sacrifices.
In his essay ‘Collective Joy’ Rabbi Sacks asks what key word epitomises the society the Jewish people were to make in the Promised Land. After proposing several options (including justice, compassion, holiness, responsibility etc), Rabbi Sacks settles on the word Simcha, joy.
In fact, in our parasha, seven mitzvot make reference to joy (i) the central sanctuary (12:7), (ii) Jerusalem and the Temple (12:12), (iii) sacred food eaten only in Jerusalem (12:18), (iv) the second tithe (14:26), (v) the festival of Shavuot (16:11), (vi) the festival of Sukkot (15:14) and (vii) Sukkot (again) (16:15).
These mitzvot are varied in that they do not all refer to, say, the temple or festivals. It is a mixed bag. The question we need to ask ourselves is what is this joy that crops up again and again in relation to our fulfilment of mitzvot?
Rabbi Sacks defines Simcha as follows:-
"Simcha is usually translated as joy, rejoicing, gladness, happiness, pleasure or delight. In fact, Simcha, has a nuance untranslatable into English. Joy, happiness, pleasure, and the like are all states of mind, emotions. They belong to the individual. We can feel them alone. Simcha, by contrast, is not a private emotion. It means happiness shared. It is a social state, a predicate of “we,” not “I.” There is no such thing as feeling Simcha alone."
In a very different approach, Rav Kook was once asked: how can we stimulate feelings of joy and enthusiasm when we serve God?
In his response, Rav Kook wrote:
"It is difficult to properly explain this fundamental aspect of serving God in a letter. The principal method to increase one’s motivation is to dedicate time to rigorous study of the spiritual [non-legalistic] areas of the Torah, and not let it be relegated to haphazard reading. The soul’s inner light shines in this study, and a spirit of joy and vitality invigorates those who sincerely seek out the truth."
These two approaches may seem to be worlds apart. However, I believe that one message we might take from these two approaches is that whilst happiness (Simcha) may refer to a shared experience, and it may at times be easier to experience joy with friends and family. we also need to approach our own personal relationship with God with joy. Whether in learning, or personal prayer or those short, small quiet moments. We can only hope for joy in our relationship with God and our fellow human beings on both an individual and communal level.