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Jewish Joy

Jewish Joy

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This week we read about Bikkurim, the first fruit offerings Jewish farmers in the Holy Land were commanded to bring in thanksgiving to G‑d for the land and its produce. On a basic level, Bikkurim remind us never to become ungrateful for the things we are blessed with in life.

Interestingly, the law only took effect fourteen years after the Jewish people entered the Promised Land. It took seven years to conquer and another seven to apportion the land amongst the twelve tribes of Israel. Only when that process was completed did the law of the first fruits become applicable.

But why? Surely there were quite a few tribes who were settled earlier. No doubt, some of the farmers who had received their allotted land had planted and seen the first fruits of their labors. Why then were they not required to show their appreciation immediately by bringing the Bikkurim offering?

The Rebbe explains that in commanding this mitzvah the Torah uses the phrase, "And you shall rejoice with all the good that the L-rd your G‑d has given you." In order to be able to fully experience the joy of his own blessings in life, a Jew must know that his brothers and sisters have been blessed as well. As long as one Jew knew that there were others who had not yet been settled in their land, he could not be fully content. Since simchah, genuine joy, was a necessary component in the mitzvah of Bikkurim, it could only be fulfilled when everyone had been satisfied. Only then can a one experience true simchah, a sincere and genuine joy.

Knowing that our friends and cousins are still fighting to conquer the land -- or even not yet enjoying their own share in of land -- somehow takes away the appetite for celebration, even if we personally may have reason to rejoice. One Jew's satisfaction is not complete when he knows that his brother has not yet been taken care of.

I remember reading a story from the diary of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, describing his arrest and imprisonment by the Communists in Russia back in 1927. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was the heroic spiritual leader of Russian Jewry at the time, and the Soviets sentenced him to death for his religious activities on behalf of his people (miraculously, that sentence was subsequently commuted and the Rebbe was released after three weeks in prison and after serving only nine days of a three-year sentence of exile). Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was an expressive writer and he described his incarceration and the tortures he suffered at the hands of the sadistic warders in that notorious Soviet prison.

One of the prison guards was unbelievably cruel. He himself told the Rebbe that when he would beat and torture a prisoner, he would derive so much pleasure watching the man suffer that he would drink his tea without requiring its usual dose of sugar. Just watching the torture sweetened his tea...

Such was a vicious anti-Semite. But a Jew must experience the reverse sensation. He cannot enjoy his tea or his first fruits knowing that his fellow Jew is still unsettled. The sweetest fruits go bitter in our mouths feeling the need of our brethren.

So, if you have a job, think of someone who doesn't. If you are happily married, think of those still searching for their bashert and try making a suitable introduction. And as the holiday season is almost upon us, if you will be privileged enough to be able buy new outfits for your family, spare a thought for those who cannot contemplate such a luxury. And when you plan your festive holiday meals with your family and friends, remember to invite the lonely, the widow and the single parent, too.

In this merit, please G‑d, we will all be blessed with a joyous and sweet new year.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul since 1986, president of the South African Rabbinical Association, and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. His book From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading was recently published by Ktav, and is available at Jewish bookshops or online.
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S U.K. September 18, 2016

Joy There is much joy in reading this article, knowing that there are people in this world who keep aligned with HaShems will and always think of those in need. Reply

Anonymous manila September 2, 2015

Joy like honey Amen. We must never get drunk on happiness to the exclusion of others in the sweetness of shared success. Reply

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