This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman z"l. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
This week's Torah portion sets lofty goals for klal Yisrael. The first passuk begins, "See (Re'eh) I present before you today a blessing and a curse." (Devarim 11:26). There is language throughout the parsha encouraging people to follow the mitzvot G-d lays out, in order to live a good and blessed life.
In addition to all of this, we find a mitzvah to be happy! It says, "...and you will be happy before Hashem your G-d in all your actions. (12:18). As if to help with this commandment, a few paragraphs later we are given permission to eat meat "to your heart's content", which brings a smile to the face of many people. Based on this week's Torah portion, it doesn't seem like much of a challenge to live a Torah lifestyle - being happy and eating steak will equal being blessed. Sounds great, right?
Of course, there is more to the 613 mitzvot than just these. There are rules to be honest in business (even when it can cost you money), not to bear a grudge (even though that guy was such a jerk!), to give part of your salary to the needy (even though if you didn't you could afford that vacation to Iceland), and to observe the rules of kashrut (so long lobster rolls). At the end of the day - we don't have to follow the mitzvot at all. The parsha says that we are given a choice as to how we want to live our lives. It might seem like an obvious choice when presented as 'blessing vs curse', but life isn't so black and white. These are the less glamorous mitzvot, the harder ones to keep, the ones that are just less fun and actually provide more of a challenge than simply refraining from eating blood or getting married and having kids (a few more of the more pleasant mitzvot).
When framed as 'having limited food choices vs being able to eat anywhere' or 'behaving in a refined and dignified way [tzniut] vs making people laugh and attracting an audience by telling crude (but funny) jokes and gossip', the choice becomes a little harder. Who doesn't want to be like everyone else - being able to eat with all your coworkers or dress in this season's fashions? When we pull our heads out of the Torah and are immersed in the often drudgery of everyday life, it is easy to forget that living according to Torah is the right way for Jews to live, and is in fact comes with a guarantee for blessing. Even the secular nineteenth century Jewish writer, known by his pen name of Ahad Ha'am (One Nation) famously said, "More than Jews keep Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews."
The Torah acknowledges that sometimes it can feel too difficult to keep all the mitzvot, and that is natural. As we've mentioned before, Sefer Devarim is all about reviewing the commandments given by G-d to the Jewish people over the previous 40 years. Here we see a clear reminder that following this guide to life comes with a warranty for a life that is everything we could want and more. The key is to see that even when things seem cloudy or too much to handle, we have the owner's manual to life, along with all the directions for how to choose for a blessed life. Even when we slip and do the wrong thing, the Torah makes it clear that we still get credit for the right things, and at the end of the day (and hopefully at the beginning of the year at Rosh Hashanah) we've had the clarity to see and choose blessings over curses.
So the next time you are in a bad mood and want to pout, it could be worth it to force yourself to be happy - you never know if that mitzvah will put you over the edge for a blessed life!