Happiness, said Aristotle, is the ultimate goal for which all humans aim. However in Judaism feeling ‘happy’ as a temporary state of mind is not necessarily that important. The closest hebrew word to happiness is ‘ashrei’. But when looking at its frequency in the Torah the words happy and happiness appears only about 30 times, while joy and rejoice are repeated over 300 times.
Rejoicing appears in two contexts in this week’s parasha. One relates to the bringing of first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem - “then you will rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your G-d has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst”…(26:11).
The other is quite different and at first perplexing. It occurs in the section relating to the curses - “because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with joy and gladness of heart out of the abundance of all things” …(28:47).
According to the Torah both ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ come as consequence of our actions, and are apportioned by G-d. Looked at more closely, we see curses arise from our harmful actions toward others, while blessings are given as a reward for the things we create. As it says, “cursed be the one -
- who slights his father or mother (impacting on our parental relationships)
- who moves his neighbours' boundary-marker (impacting on our standing in the community)
- who twists the rightful dues of an orphaned stranger or widow (impacting on our reputation)…” (27:15-17).
On the other hand, we often think of blessings as things that are bestowed upon us. But in fact, blessings are ‘a reward’ for what we produce ourselves and our positive engagement with the wider world -
- Blessed shall you be in the city and . . . in the field . . .
- Blessed shall be the fruit of your body … your soil . . . your livestock
- Blessed will you be when you come in …and go out” (28:3-6).
The things we ourselves create in this world lead to the blessings we receive in life, and when we are no longer here, the blessings are what we leave as our legacy. The Torah portion reminds us that the way we behave, the choices we make and how we treat others really matter in determining whether we are to be cursed or blessed.
(inspired by Rabbi Fettmann of the Chesed-El Synagogue, Singapore).