Friday, August 18, 2006

“The Key is Rejoicing”

The root “shin, mem, chet” — be happy, rejoice — appears in the parsha seven times, and it is always in the context of the family and the community. You should rejoice in the place your God has chosen, with your sons and daughters, and servants, with the sojourners and with the Levites who have no permanent residence in the land of Israel.

This key phrase is an insight into what Judaism considers to be the true way of serving God. It is a way of life that is imbued with happiness and gratitude. It is sharing your blessings with family, friends and the less fortunate. It is one of the main reasons for the agrarian laws, which guarantee social justice and equality, as well as a partial reason for the rejection of paganism.

A bitter, angry man can only wreak havoc, even more so if he thinks he represents God. Jacques Barzun, the famous historian tacitly described the motive for religious wars: “Be my brother or I will kill you.”

This is exactly the pagan attitude shunned in Re’eh. The Torah warns against the pagan practice of wounding one’s flesh as a sign of mourning or spiritual fervor (Deuteronomy 14:1) and against the horrifying practice of offering one’s offspring as a burnt sacrifice to the gods (Deuteronomy 12:31).

These two practices not only are linked but they are the breeders of religious fanaticism.

— Rabbi Haim Ovadia, “The Key Is Rejoicing”, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Aug 18, 2006

Am reading, with O, Tartuffe in Richard Wilbur’s translation. In Act 3, Scene 6, Tartuffe says:

Though the world takes me for a man of worth,
I’m truly the most worthless man on earth.
(To Damis:)
Yes, my dear son, speak out now: call me the chief
of sinners, a wretch, a murderer, a thief;
Load me with all the names men most abhor;
I’ll not complain; I’ve earned them all, and more;
I’ll kneel here while you pour them on my head
As a just punishment for the life I’ve led.


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