The Joy Ride
Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )
You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God. (Deut. 29:9)
It was the first day of the new school year, and the principal entered the classroom with a stern look on his face. He announced, "There will be absolutely zero tolerance for any mischief this year. Anyone caught misbehaving or leaving school grounds without permission will be immediately expelled from the school." He stormed out of the room.
The teacher stood up and said, "Guys, you have nothing to worry about. I've been in this school for 10 years and every year he makes that announcement, but no one has ever been expelled, nor even been suspended!"
What was the teacher thinking?! He completely destroyed any fear that the principal instilled on the class. Now they will not take anything the principal said seriously!
The preceding Torah portion dealt with the many curses that will befall Klal Yisroel if they violate the Torah. In the beginning of this week's Torah portion Moshe tells the Jews, "You have nothing to worry about. You have done many sins in the past and you got God angry, but look: you are still standing; God didn't destroy you." (1) Wasn't Moshe ruining any fear that the Jews were supposed to feel because of the curses? What was he trying to accomplish?!
When the Jews heard the 98 curses their faces turned white and they said, "Who can bear these?" They were frightened to death and turned into zombies. However, that was not the intention of the curses. God wants us to do the commandments with joy. He created us for pleasure and the Torah is our guide for how to get the most out of life. The curses were intended merely to instill fear in them so that they should know that their actions have consequences. The problem was that the Jews took the curses the wrong way and became terrified. Moshe therefore attempted to remove that intense fear enabling them to function normally.(2)
The verse states, "Serve God with joy." The way to attain this joyfulness is by studying the meaning of the mitzvot, which will help you to understand and appreciate what you are doing.
2. R' Shmuel Berenbaum.