Ki Tavo – Be Happy
The Mishnah in Berachot (9:5) states that one must bless the Lord for calamities as well as for the good. An example of such a blessing is Barukh dayan ha’emet, recited by mourners upon losing a loved one. Commentaries explain that the intent of the Mishnah is to obligate one to recite the blessing over tragedy with the same fervor and joy with which one recites a blessing over something good. This concept is also reflected in the Psalms we recite in the Hallel prayer. In chapter 116 the Psalmist invokes the name of God when he raises the cup of salvation. Earlier in that chapter the Psalmist invokes the name of God, the very same terminology, when he is beset by trouble and sorrow. The similar terminology indicates a parallel of emotion. The same sense of joy expressed during success and prosperity is recalled at a time of great and dire need.
In our Parshah, Ki Tavo, we are subjected to reading a very long segment of terrible suffering which may befall us (and which has all tragically materialized, especially in the last century). In the course of this passage, dropped in the middle, is a verse which sheds some light on the reason that such tragedies might befall us. “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfullness and with gladness of heart, in abundance of everything.” (Deuteronomy 28:47)
This is a curious verse, and commentators extract different lessons from it. On the surface the complaint is not so much that we have failed to serve God, rather the complaint is that when we did so our service lacked joy and gladness.
Our observance of Mitzvot is sometimes reduced to routine, becoming plain and boring. We go through the motions mindlessly, even dragging our feet with the tedium of repetitive ritual. Joy and gladness? We can stray very far from such spirit. Excitement and enthusiasm for wrapping tefillin around our arms every morning can take a big effort, specifically an effort in mindfulness. A Bar Mitzvah boy will likely feel excitement, wrapping his new tefillin for the first time, but day after day, month after month, the excitement wears off. Stopping to light Shabbat candles on Friday night has also become quite routine. While it is not done daily, its repetition each week c