Let’s speak a little
about what a person needs in order to be happy. First, the Torah says that being
happy in Avodas HaShem is extremely important. It’s not good enough to be
keeping Torah and mitzvos. If you’re not happy about it, if it doesn’t give
you simcha, it leads to golus. Tachas asher lo avadetah es HaShem Elokecha b’simcha
u’vtuv leivav. Further, the Rambam says that even though there’s no
reward for mitzvos in this world, if a person does the mitzvos with simcha and
tuv l’vav, HaShem will give him the material needs to accomplish more mitzvos.
All the promises in the Torah—of rain in the proper time, that the crops will
grow, peace and tranquility—are conditional upon the fulfillment of the
mitzvos with simcha and tuv leivav. So, simcha is extremely important: With it,
we merit material prosperity; without it, we are on the path to exile.
The Torah says that the Jewish people should multiply like
fish in the midst of the earth. We are compared to fish. The Midrash says that
when it rains, the fish swim to the surface of the water and gobble down the
raindrops at the surface. It sounds crazy. Is there a shortage of water down
What the Midrash is telling us is that it’s a phenomenon of
nature, that since a fish needs water, and if it would get tired of water, it
would die; so HaShem made it so that every drop tastes different to the fish.
Every drop of water is a new experience.
The Midrash says there’s another creature like that—the
human infant. Imagine that all you had to eat was one food. Ice cream, let’s
say. No matter how much you like ice cream, you’d get pretty sick of it after
a while. Take a baby, milk for every meal. You’d think that soon the baby
would be tired of milk and refuse it. But here, too, the nature of a baby is
that every drop tastes different. So it never gets tired of it. HaShem gave it
this capacity to find something new and tasty in every drop, because without it,
it wouldn’t survive.
Pappus ben Yehudah asked Rabbi Akiva: How could he go on
teaching Torah and endangering his life and the lives of his students in the
face of the Roman decree against it? Rabbi Akiva offered him an analogy: A fox
noticed some fish in a pond, scurrying back and forth. The fox asked them, What
are you afraid of? The fish told him, We’re afraid of the nets of the
fishermen. Come and join me on the dry land, the fox proposed, and I’ll
protect you from the fishermen. The fish told him, You’re a fool. For if the
place where we have our life, we’re afraid, certainly if we move to a place
where we don’t have our life-support system, we’ll be afraid. Rabbi Akiva
said, It’s the same with Torah. Torah is life. If we take ourselves out of the
Torah environment, how much more dangerous it will be for us. Torah is as
necessary to sustain the Jewish people, as the water is for the fish, and the
milk for the baby. And since it’s life, it has to be something that is
constantly new and interesting. It’s possible for a person to find a new taste
even in divrei Torah he’s heard before, if he wants to.
The Maharal (Gur Aryeh, Yisro) explains how the imperative
nature of Torah was an essential part of the experience at Sinai. Hashem forced
the Jewish people to accept the Torah, holding the mountain over their heads.
Tosafos asks, But they already said na’aseh v’nishmah? The answer is
that HaShem wanted to impress upon them that there really was no choice. Had
they said “No,” there would have been their grave, because the Jewish people
cannot live without the Torah. HaShem said to them, “I’m giving you the
choice, but you have to realize that the alternative to Torah is oblivion.”
Something which is necessary has to be fresh and exciting;
because if it isn’t, it will be impossible to live. It has to bring one simcha,
because one’s life depends on it. Since our life depends on Torah, we have the
capacity to find something new and exciting in every single drop. And that’s a