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Ask the Rabbi #24

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Ask the Rabbi

June 4, 1994; Issue #24

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Contents:
  • Does the Torah say that we should be happy?
  • How do you tell someone that they are doing something wrong?
  • Subscription Information
  • Back issues are indexed both by issue no. and by subject
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  • Does the Torah say that we should be happy?

    Josh from Baltimore wrote:

    I have befriended a guy on the Internet who is asking me many questions about Judaism. He wants to know if Judaism specifically says anything about enjoying life? I thought I once heard that the Torah says one is obligated to benefit from the pleasures that G-d gave us, (obviously within reason), and we were meant to be happy. Can you please confirm or correct this.


    Dear Josh,

    The Torah in Parshat Ki Tavo writes:

    "Tachat asher lo avadata et Hashem b'simcha...."

    "Because (tachat) you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with happiness and a glad heart when you had plenty of everything, you will therefore serve your enemies when G-d sends them against you..."

    Maimonides states that from here we learn that one is supposed to serve G-d with joy and gladness.

    If you stop and think about it, we shouldn't need a verse in the Torah to tell us this. It should be common sense that we should be happy. So why command us to do something that is common sense? A parable told by the Alexander Rav provides an answer.

    There was a boy who was trained by his tutor to read the Aleph Bet. One day the father proudly stood by to watch his son recite the letters with the vowels. The boy began, "Komatz Aleph Aw, Komatz Bet Baw, etc." until he came to Komatz Hey...suddenly he couldn't continue. The father was embarrassed and threatened his son with a beating. "Come on you can do it. Just look under (tachat) the Hey, what's under the Hey? WHAT'S UNDER THE HEY?"

    At which point the boy burst out in tears and declared "But father, you told me not to tell anyone that you hid a stolen calf under the hay."

    Just as this easy task for the boy was blocked by something underneath and behind the scenes, so it can be with happiness. Happiness should come easily in life. However, sometimes something underneath prevents this happiness. The Torah reminds us that our job is to deal with these underlying factors and open the way to serving G-d with happiness.

    Sources:

    • Devarim 28:47
    • Maimonides - The Codes, The Halachot of Lulav, 8:15
    • Maayana Shel Torah - Devarim, 28:47


    How do you tell someone that they are doing something wrong?

    Harlan from Jerusalem wrote:

    Recently someone came over to me and asked me if I shave with a razor. When I told them that I do, he told me that the Torah says that this is not allowed, and that I must use an electric shaver or grow a beard. I was very hurt by this and angry that a stranger mixed into my affairs. Later I heard that the person was actually obligated to rebuke me by Torah law. I can't believe that the Torah would command someone to hurt another person's feelings. Was he really right in 'butting in'?


    Dear Harlan,

    The Torah in Parshat Kedoshim writes:

    "You should not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your countryman and do not bear a sin on his account."

    Maimonides and other Halachic authorities quote this verse as the source for a positive commandment to rebuke someone who has transgressed a law. This applies to both Biblical and Rabbinic laws. In your case we are talking about the violation of a Torah commandment so he was obligated to admonish you.

    But that's not all there is to it. Although we've established that there's a commandment to rebuke, we must understand that there are also laws that govern the method of rebuke.

    Maimonides in his Codes writes that the one who rebukes must do so due to pure motivation of returning him to the path of Torah. If the transgression was done privately, then the rebuke should also be in private. It should be done with care, compassion and with honor. The point is not to sting the person or to satisfy some perverse sense of pleasure -- rather to help him do the right thing.

    In short he did the right thing but probably could have done it in a more sensitive way. (I personally would never rebuke anyone holding an open razor!)

    Sources:

    • Vayikra 19:17
    • Maimonides - The Book of Mitzvot, positive commandment 205.
    • Sefer Hachinuch - positive commandment 239.
    • Avotot Ahava, by Rabbis Moshe Newman and Mordechai Becher, Sifrei Nof Publishers, Jerusalem, pp. 54,62.
    • Maimonides - The Codes, The Book of Knowledge, 6:7.


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