True Joy

Friday, 4 September, 2020 - 2:19 pm


This week’s Torah portion begins with the commandment of Bikurim – first fruit. Every person who owned an orchard of one of the ‘seven species’ with which the land of Israel was blessed was commanded to bring a basket of the first fruit to ripen to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gift to G-d, to be eaten by the Kohanim. The purpose of this Mitzvah is to ensure that everyone is aware that the source of their blessings and sustenance is from Hashem.

Upon arriving at the Holy Temple the person bringing the basket had to recite a few passages, expressing their gratitude for the Exodus from Egypt, the gift of the Holy Land and their specific piece of it – the source of their livelihood.  Once these passages are concluded, the Torah says: Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household.

At first glance, the meaning of this verse is that now that you have thanked G-d you may go home and rejoice in the wonderful gifts He has given you. This week, I experienced something that taught me a much deeper meaning to this verse.

On Monday I took my first flight since the pandemic began. I went to Oregon to participate in the wedding of my first cousin. The youngest of the 60 grandchildren my maternal grandparents had, it was a special occasion that I just could not miss. (Don’t worry, everyone on the plane wore a mask and I stayed out of downtown Portland…)

Chassidic weddings are usually large affairs with hundreds of participants and I was not sure what to expect from a small, outdoor wedding. Perhaps everyone felt the same, because all that were present were very involved and there was quite a bit of festive energy. It turned out to be one the most lovely and lively weddings I’ve been at, a truly joyous event.

I lived with my uncle and aunt when this boy was born and I’m closer to their family more than any other in my extended family. I can go on and on about the emotions of seeing them walk their 13th child down the aisle, the special “mezhinke tantz” – done when the last of a large family gets married, the radiance of ‘yiddishe nachas’ my aunt exhibited or the pleasure of meeting many cousins. Instead, I want to share with you one anecdote that touched me very deeply.

The father of the bride was the recent recipient of a kidney donation from ‘a stranger’ – a woman from Lakewood, NJ. After the successful surgery, the families became very close and the donor and her husband came to participate in the wedding. Several times throughout the evening– under the Chuppah, during the meal and in private conversations, the immense gratitude the family felt was expressed, the bride even composed an emotional song for the donor; but upon chatting with the couple and observing them through the course of the evening I noticed just how grateful they felt for being given this opportunity; just how much joy they received from seeing the man that has gotten new life due to their kindness dance at his daughter’s wedding. It was awe inspiring and very meaningful to see. I nearly cried.

The greatest pleasure and joy in life does not come from ‘having’ or ‘receiving’ but from ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’. When you give of yourself to others (and it does not need to be an organ, but anything that is part of you) you feel the greatest connection to the recipient and it brings with it the greatest and truest pleasure and joy.

I witnessed it firsthand. As each step of the new shul was being completed, I noticed how the biggest smiles and the greatest joy were shown by those who wrote the largest checks. Their excitement as they see part of themselves transform into something so wonderful was palpable.

Perhaps, the Torah concluding the portion of giving the first fruit with a wish for us to rejoice in what we have is not only a wish and blessing, but a prescription and a recipe. Do you really want to rejoice with what you have?? Give some to Hashem, give of yourself to others; for only then can you feel the greatest sense of joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

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