Dancing for Jerusalem (file)
Dancing for Jerusalem (file)Flash 90

Dedicated in memory of Yaakov ben Avraham and Sarah Aharonov z"l

In Parashat Re’eh, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that when they enter the Land of Israel, they will not be allowed to worship Hashem with sacrifices anywhere they want, on private altars, but will instead have to come to “hamakom asher yivchar Hashem” - the place that Hashem chooses as His capital - a phrase that he repeats no less than 16 times!

Moshe emphasises that this is very different from what idolatrous nations do, from those who set up altars and sacrifices all over the place. But why is worshipping Hashem in a single, centralised place so important?

When Moshe discusses coming to the place Hashem shall choose, two other ideas seem to pop up. One is the command to “rejoice before Hashem”. So for example:

  • If you pledge to bring offerings, korbanot, you must bring them there and rejoice before Hashem.
  • You must bring certain tithes, maasersheni, to that place and eat it there and rejoice before Hashem.
  • 3 times a year you must come to that same place and rejoice before Hashem.

Coming to Hashem’s special place is meant to be accompanied by simcha - by joy. What is the connection?

The other idea that Moshe repeats again and again is that when you come to that place, you must remember those who are in need and rejoice with them. The Levi’im, who were not granted a portion of the land, depended on the other tribes for maaser. Moshe says that it’s not enough for you to rejoice before Hashem, you must also rejoice with the Levi, as well as the convert, the widow and the orphan.

So what is the relationship between these 3 ideas:

1. Having a single place to worship Hashem, the place that Hashem shall choose,

2. That when you come to that place, you shall rejoice before Hashem, and

3. When you rejoice before Hashem, you must rejoice with those who are needy and dependent?

Let’s start with having a single place of worship, unlike the pagans. What’s the difference? The difference is who is at the centre. Do you have to go to Hashem or do you have Hashem come to you? Does your relationship with Hashem revolve around yourself - OR - is Hashem at the centre of your world? The pagans saw their relationship with their gods as revolving around themselves. They owned their own idols and could take it with them to help them wherever they went. They would set up local altars to sacrifice wherever they want. But Moshe is telling us לא תעשון כן לה’ אלקיכם - you must not do this with Hashem. You must go to the place Hashem chooses. Hashem is at the centre and we must all come together to serve Him.

This is very important for us today, even without a Beit Hamikdash. The focus of our religion should not be on what it does for me, that it makes me happy, that it gives me a sense of purpose - that’s all true, but my objective is not for Hashem to serve me, but for me to serve Hashem.

That doesn’t mean that the Torah is not interested in our happiness, but that we have to reframe our happiness to not be about putting ourselves in the centre. Happiness is what we should feel when we are achieving what we are meant to be achieving in this world, which is putting Hashem at the centre of our lives and drawing close to Him, which is what we do when we come to His holy abode.

Additionally, Hashem doesn’t just want me and my family to experience our own private joy in His presence. As the Rambam says, if you celebrate on yom tov just with your family and ignore the needs of the have-nots, that is not the simcha of a mitzva, but merely שמחת כריסו - the joy of one’s stomach (Hilchot Shvitat Yom Tov 6:18). True happiness is the kind that one seeks to share with others.

The message is that happiness is not something we should seek for ourselves, but something we feel when we look beyond ourselves, when we come close to Hashem and when we bring joy to others.

Shabbat Shalom

Torah MiTzion stands in the forefront of the battle for the future of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, offering religious-Zionist Torah scholarship to Jewish communities throughout the world and strengthening the bond between the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in Israel via the study of Torah.

Dvar Torah by Rabbi Danny Eisenberg, currently a Director of the Sydney Kollel. comments: [email protected]