Torah Portion for week 47: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17
Happiness is something people pursue their entire lives; in the process, they are willing to spend much time, energy, and money to reach that goal. But what is true happiness? Can it truly be found? You might, at this very moment in your life, be in total despair and frustration from what life has offered you so far; you may even be carrying hurt and anger, which are the very opposite of happiness. The Bible has much to say about happiness and how it is truly found. Our weekly reading speaks exactly about this matter. Are you surprised that the topic of happiness even appears in the book of Deuteronomy, since most people think that this part of the Old Testament only deals with commandments and warnings given by a distant and unkind God to an ancient people group called Israel?
Consider these verses for a moment: “You shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut 12:7). “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns” (Deut 12:12). “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake” (Deut 12:18b). “And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deut 14:26b). “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut 16:11).
In this week’s portion alone, the word “rejoice” appears seven times; these chapters have more references to joy or rejoicing than all the rest of the Pentateuch. This begs the question: What does Israel have so much to rejoice about, that even the servants, the fatherless, and the widows are part of it? The answer is that Israel has a lot for which to thank God. As they are being prepared for entry into the promised land, Moses is reminding Israel that God in his mercy and love chose them and redeemed them from slavery in Egypt; faithfully went with them, providing their needs for the past forty years in the wilderness; and has given them laws and commandments for a healthy and blessed life (which even includes rights for the slaves, the fatherless, and the widows).
As if this is not enough, the context of the verses we just looked at explains that God is also about to bring Israel to their own land where they will be able to live and cultivate the land and be a free people, no longer in bondage to Egypt. And the climax of our passage also reveals to Israel that God is about to drive out all idolatry from the promised land and choose a place for himself to be worshiped and served through the sacrifices and feasts. It is a beautiful prophetic picture of an entire nation gathered as families – even with the strangers and servants of the land – enjoying fellowship and the worship of their God during the biblical feasts.
Are you longing for happiness that you can’t seem to find in money, pleasure, or any other thing the world is offering you today? The key to true and lasting happiness is found in the One who is bigger than you and me, the One who has laid down his life for you and is waiting for you to turn to him to receive love, forgiveness, and joy – Yeshua, the Messiah.
For us as Jews and Gentiles following Yeshua the Messiah, this portion is a clear reminder that we have all the reasons in the world to rejoice, even though life seems tough at times. We have been chosen, redeemed from idols and sin, forgiven, and welcomed into a right relationship with the God of Israel. He has also provided for our needs faithfully until this very day. It is actually interesting to see that in the Hebrew grammar the word “rejoice” is written as a command and not a feeling that can pass any moment, which explains why Paul says in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” This is what true happiness really is. Decide today to rejoice and remember all that God has done for you.