Tzorres. Reproach. Dire predictions and horrifying forecasts of the curses and calamities we will encounter in our lives if and when we should stray from the good and G‑dly path. The portion we read this Shabbat is known as the tochachah, or rebuke. It is always read in close proximity to Rosh Hashanah, and is Where is our enthusiasm and passion?intended to sober us up to the realities of life so that we can do some soul-searching and introspection in order to improve our behavior before the coming Days of Judgment.

And in the middle of all these terrifying and ominous curses, there is a one-liner that seems to suggest the root cause of our problems. All this calamity will befall you “because you did not serve the L‑rd, your G‑d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.”1

The simple meaning of this verse is that we will experience these curses because we did not serve G‑d in the “good times,” when we were enjoying prosperity and abundance. We became smug, complacent, and forgot our Maker and our higher calling—why we were put here in the first place.

Commentaries offer various other interpretations, including the idea that we simply did not serve G‑d b’simchah, with joy. We may have done all the right things, but we did them with a heavy heart. We served G‑d and observed His commandments reluctantly and without any feeling. There was no enthusiasm, no joy. Being Jewish had become a burden. We found our joy and satisfaction in other areas of life, perhaps even in the undesirable and unholy domains.

The Talmud tells us that the Jews at the time of the Purim story brought Haman’s terrible decree of a Final Solution upon themselves because “they took delight in the feast of that wicked man [King Ahasuerus].”2

According to many opinions, the food the king served the Jews at his royal banquet was in fact kosher. But the problem was that the Jews “took delight” in participating in this drunken orgy, where the sacred vessels of our Holy Temple were desecrated and used as party props for the evil king’s pleasure.

Where do we find our delight? Where is our enthusiasm and passion? Is it in leading good Jewish lives, or in partying with princes?

The story is told of a Jew in Russia of old who was doing some business with the poretz, the local Russian squire. The squire invited the Jew to a business lunch, where he offered him pork chops and non-kosher wine. When the Jew declined to partake, citing the Jewish dietary laws, the squire asked, “What if you were stranded in a desert and had nothing to eat but this? Would you not eat it to save your life?”

“Well, if it was matter of life and death, then I would be permitted to eat it,” replied the Jew.

Suddenly the squire jumped up from the table, pulled out a revolver and, pointing it at the Jew, shouted, “Drink the wine or I’ll shoot!”

Immediately, the Jew gulped down the wine.

The squire burst out laughing and said, “I was only joking.” Whereupon the Jew turned red with anger and glared furiously at the squire.

“Why are you so angry?” the squire asked.

“Why am I so angry? I’ll tell you why!” the Jew replied. “You couldn’t have forced me to eat the pork chops?!”

That Jew kept kosher, but was he doing it happily or begrudgingly? While keeping kosher, was he fantasizing about pork chops?

The 19th-century Russian czars tried to Russify young Jewish boys by drafting them into the army for a 25-year stretch. These children, known as cantonists, would be separated from their families, their people and their faith. Despite their extreme suffering, many maintained their allegiance to the G‑d of Israel with total commitment and heroism. Indeed, too many paid with their lives.

The story is told of some of these young men who were forcibly conscripted and taken far away from their families. They wrote a letter to one of the leading rabbis of Russia, asking for his advice about what Is there joy in our Judaism, or is it tedious and tired?to do about kosher. Should they eat the non-kosher food, or allow themselves to suffer malnutrition and perhaps even starve to death?

The wise rabbi answered them as follows. “If, in order to stay alive, you have no choice but to eat treif, then so be it. But, please, I beg of you, don’t suck the marrow bones.”

Where is our enjoyment, our pleasure, our geshmak?

Is there joy in our Judaism, or is it tedious and tired? It is not enough just to do the right thing. G‑d wants our joy, our enthusiasm, our fervor and fire.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to do whatever it takes to find the inspiration we need to energize and invigorate our Jewish lives. Let us serve G‑d. And let us serve Him with joy.