By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
I can’t stand when people tell me to cheer up. How dare they tell me to be happy. It is infuriating. If I want to sink into a deep and dark depression, I will do so. And I generally do, at every party and celebration.
You can’t force someone to feel something, which is why I was surprised when I got to the following verse as I was reading about the first fruit sacrifice:
And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that Hashem your God has bestowed upon you and your household. (Deuteronomy 26:11 The Israel Bible, p. 501)
The Hebrew word translated as “enjoy” is וְשָׂמַחְתָּ (v’samachta), which literally means “and you shall be happy”.
I can accept that God can command me how to act, but can he command me what to feel? Can He really command me to be happy?
If we can be expected to be happy at specific times, then the Torah must provide us with a clue as to how we can achieve this magical shift in emotions. What is the secret?
Some people might be tempted to say that anytime we do one of the commandments, we should be happy. But the Torah doesn’t say that. In this context, it specifically tells us to be happy when we bring the bikkurim (first fruits). Indeed, when the farmers brought the baskets of fruit to Jerusalem, the storekeepers would shut their doors and join in the festive parade to the Temple. Even the king would join in.
How did they do that? What caused this general air of happiness?
Rabbi Chaim Mirvis, the current Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, cited Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (11th century Spain) who emphasizes the fact that the verse states specifically that the strangers and the Levites were included in the celebration of the first fruits. These are both groups that are landless and do not live among their tribes. The Levites were spread throughout Israel and came to serve in the Temple a few weeks a year. The foreigners had no family or support structure. Giving to these groups went beyond the normal type of help that people gave to their family or neighbors.
Including them in the celebration of the first fruits and sharing food with them would certainly make them happy. The benefit they received would be magnified due to their isolation.
The lesson, according to Ibn Ezra, is that happiness is not a state of mind that comes from shiny balloons. Rather, happiness can be brought on unfailingly by a simple act; giving to others.
Happiness is a direct result of sharing what you have with others and including them in your happiness. When it comes to happiness, the secret is that you receive it by giving
The first fruits are a celebration of God’s bounty. But we can not keep it to ourselves. He expects that we share what we have with others, and when we do so, our own happiness is the inevitable result.