Joy Amidst the Rebuke

The beginning of the Torah Portion of Ki Tavo begins with the Hebrew word VeHaya:

And it will be,( Ve Haya) when you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it,( Deuteronomy 26:1) .

We are told by the Midrash Rabba that “ VeHaya” is a code word for joyful expectation. .”Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman came and declared, ‘In any place where it says “And it was (VaYehi ) “ it signals distress; and when it says “And it shall be (VeHaya) ” it signals rejoicing.'”

The Torah then goes on to describes the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits of one’s produce to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple:

“It will be when you enter the land that HaShem your God gives you as an inheritance….that you shall take of the first of every fruit…and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that HaShem your God will choose…” (Deuteronomy 26:1).

That would be a good enough reason for rejoicing and would explain the use of the code word “VeHaya” .

Yet further on in the parsha we read of the great Tochecha, the great rebuke, wherein ninety eight curses are declared on the people of Israel if they stray from their path. Most dramatically, though, the Torah then states that these curses will befall the people “because you did not serve HaShem, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart, when [you had an] most of everything ( Rov Kol) ( ibid 28:47).

Furthermore, after completing the whole ceremony of bringing in the Bikkurim ( the first fruits) the farmer is commanded the following:

And you shall rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given unto you, and unto your house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of you. ( Devarim 26:11).

Why must the farmer be commanded to rejoice in this time of obvious rejoicing?

All these three happiness-centered narratives must be intricately connected. Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook z”tl explains the Midrash Rabba’s statements regarding VeHaya and VaYehi .According to Hebrew grammar rules, when the letter “Vav” (which means ‘and”) is placed before a verb that is in the past tense, it transforms the verb into the future tense ( and vice versa). This “Vav” is called the Vav Hahippuch or the “reversing vav” . Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook explains that the word “And it shall be (vehaya)” is made up of the verb “haya” which is in the past tense ( it was) and the vav at the beginning of the word which transforms it to the future tense .The same occurs with the verb “ Yehi” which translates as “ It will be” . With the addition of the Vav HaHippuch the verb transforms into the past tense ( and it was). The verb “And it was (veyehi) “ signals distress; and the verb “And it shall be (vehaya) ” always signals rejoicing.'”

Rav Tzvi Yehudah goes on to explain that our past and our future are intricately connected. Yet the way that connection is made, greatly affects our present sense of being. There are those who are imprisoned by the difficult journey of the past and have taken their vision of destiny and have diminished it. They have taken the future and have cast it into the past. That is the sadness of “VaYehi”.( Esther 1:1, Ruth 1:1)

On the other hand, there are others who have looked back on their difficult journey and have overcome its despair and pain and have harnessed it into the future. They have taken their past and have retransformed it in light of their future sense of destiny. That is the joy expressed by the word “VeHaya.”

The word VeHaya then implies connecting to the past and bringing it into the present in light of the future detiny and promise. The farmer who makes his declaration says the following:

” And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to HaShem, God of our fathers, and HaShem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And HaShem brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”( ibid 26:6-9)

The farmers bringing these first fruits had never seen Egypt and they were never enslaved. They were never redeemed and were probably all born in this land. Yet the farmers talk about “the Egyptians treated us cruelly..So we cried out…And HaShem brought us out from Egypt…And He brought us to this place,” This is the secret power of the ” VeHaya” joy experience.

Why then must the farmers be commanded:

And you shall rejoice in all the good which HaShem your G-d has given unto you, ( ibid 26:11)? This becomes clear upon reading the warning given amidst the curses; “because you did not serve HaShem, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart, when [you had an] most of everything ( Rov Kol) ( Devorim 28:47).

The difficult trap of abundance and plenty is that mankind usually has a tendency to want more. Mankind is never happy with what he has but is saddened by what he still does not have. You were saddened “when [you had an] most of everything ( Rov Kol)” because you still did not have ” all the good.

Yet is all this reason enough for the curses? Curses that come from on high are not punishments. They are results!

HaShem does not bring difficulties as judgment for judgments sake. They are there to remind and redirect .They are usually also a result of our frame of mind and attitude. Those difficulties occur when we lose perspective and lose an awareness of all the good that is around us. When we lose a our sense of purpose and future directed vision ( the ” VeHaya” experience) then we can never be satisfied with what we have been blessed with. If we lose sight of the joy of our spiritual walk with HaShem and lose the wonderment of being able to fulfill the desires of our Beloved then we will stray from that arduous journey. The curses are the result.

Without ” VeHaya” vision , the threats all around this land seems like a curse. Without that perspective then life and all its twists and turns become overwhelming. Bereft of such an approach would have made the swamps of the Hula valley, the wilderness of the Negev and the constant attacks of our enemies insurmountable obstacles.

Only by becoming reminded of the miracles of our existence and the nourishment of our faith will we have the eyes and the perspective which can turn all curses into blessings once again.

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Parshat Ki Tavo

This portion focuses on the centrality of Joy in our lives and in our walk with our Creator

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