Parshas Ki Tavo: Blessings, Curses and Joy

This week’s Parsha, Ki Tavo, tells us a lot about laws and offerings. But the most famous part is the end of the Parsha, where it also tells us about blessings and curses. The promise that G-d presents the Israelites with is simple; if they obey his commandments, they will be rewarded beautifully. Their crops will grow, their livelihoods will flourish, and everyone will live happily ever after. But if they stray from the derech, the path, then they’ll be punished harshly. Everything they love and care for will wither away, if they are to forget that it all comes from G-d. It sounds simple. But wait. There’s a catch.

The Parsha doesn’t just read, “if you don’t observe My commandments, then all these terrible things will happen to you”. It specifically states; if you don’t observe my commandments with joy. It isn’t merely the doing that matters. It’s how we do it. Ways and means and motives all come into play here, not just end results.

It’s clear that we need to perform mitzvot joyfully. The Parsha makes that quite obvious. But how are we to do this? How can we smile as we grate maror for the Seder, how can we feel happy as we fast on Yom Kippur, how can we be glad when we sprinkle salt over a joint of meat? Isn’t observing Hashem’s commandments hard? Some of the mitzvot are painful and difficult. Others are almost impossible to understand. Others we don’t know the reasons for. And let’s be honest, many of them bring ridicule from not yet observant or non Jewish acquaintances when we perform them. So what’s the answer to this dilemma?

There’s an easy answer. Chassidism. The whole point of it is joy. While non-Chassidim aren’t breaking this commandment to serve G-d with joy, they are bypassing the easiest way to fulfil the mitzvah of joyous worship. Mainstream orthodoxy gives you Mesorah, it gives you beautiful traditions, and it let’s you work everything out for yourself. That’s fine. That’s very possible. And indeed, many- most?- orthodox Jews manage to serve G-d with joy and love. But at the same time, Chassidism is offering them those traditions, but given with a guiding hand, a running commentary, on how to perform the commandments with joy. It couldn’t be simpler.

But Chassidism isn’t always easy, either. We encounter hardships like everyone else. Obstacles. Difficulties. Sometimes we are even prevented from practicing our Judaism by external forces (chas v’sholom!) In the end, though, emunah- faith- will always prevail. And that’s the speciality of Chassidism. Giving us emunah which can withstand the hardest challenges.

As you perform the difficult and confusing mitzvot of the High Holy Days, remember Parshas Ki Tavo. And remember the rewards for serving G-d with joy.

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