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D'var Torah

9/19/2019 by Rabbi Raskin

Recently, I led a shiva minyan in home where throngs of people came to perform the mitzvah of nichum aveilim...comforting mourners. The home where this minyan took place had a large, open floor plan, high ceilings, and plenty of room for the crowd to spill into the kitchen, the foyer, the dining room...

Near the end of the service, when I asked family members to share some thoughts about their departed with the community, one relative remarked about how beautiful it was to hear his home filled with the sounds of Jewish prayer. He spoke about how much his loved one would have enjoyed listening to everyone singing the words of the Siddur together. I must admit, the acoustics in the room made everyone’s heartfelt participation in the service sound all the more resonant.

In the parasha this week, there is a long and challenging list of curses, should the Jewish people violate the covenant they are entering as they cross into the Land of Israel. Some of the curses are downright uncomfortable to read (hint, “techorim,” a hemorrhoid affliction, is mentioned in Deut. 28:27!). But at the end of this litany of plagues the Torah says “Tachat asher lo avad’ta et Hashem Elohecha be’simcha u’vtov levav” [all of these curses will befall you] “because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness...” (Deut. 28:47). I thought about this verse as I stood among what must have been a few hundred people at this shiva minyan. Serving God with joy doesn’t only take place in ‘happy’ settings...festivals, Shabbat meals, dancing on Simchat Torah, lighting Hanukkah candles, etc. Serving God with joy means approaching every mitzvah, whether intrinsically ‘happy’ or not, with a full heart. It means saying blessings with intention, singing soulfully in shul, having an awareness of serving God in all of our words and deeds...

From Moses’s instruction to the Jewish people in Parashat Ki Tavo, it is clear to me that God doesn’t only want us to fulfill the covenant to the letter, but also in the spirit of the law. Judaism is a sacred practice; a way of life; a worldview that makes demands on our actions as well as our attitudes. Serving God joylessly is tantamount to not serving God at all. This is implied by the name of our High Holiday machzor, “Lev Shalem,” meaning “a full heart.” I hope that you bring your full heart to your Jewish life all year round, and that when we gather soon to welcome a New Year, we do so together with joy and gladness!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Raskin

Tue, September 24 2019 24 Elul 5779