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D'varim/Deuteronomy 12:7 And you shall eat there, before the L-rd your G-d, and you shall rejoice in every sending of your hand, you and your household
The trope marks help us to divide this text up into its three parts so that we can see and group the words correctly. Using '//' as a marker, it goes like this:
And you shall eat there, before the L-rd your G-d //
... and you shall rejoice in every sending of your hand //
... you and your households
The first thing we need to ask is who is 'you'? If we go by "Three times a year -- on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths -- all your males shall appear before the L-RD your G-d" (D'varim 16:16, NJPS), we might suppose that 'you' is just, or mainly, the men of the community: the fathers, husbands and sons. But since both verses 12 and 18 of the current chapter use the phrase, "your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves" (12:18, NJPS), it appears that the womenfolk of the community are also expected to be there, and that 'you' must therefore mean the heads of the families: husbands and wives. So the last phrase, "you and your household" must be an inclusive term: the whole family - men, women and children - any extended family and household staff, are to eat and rejoice before the L-rd. As Gunther Plaut explains, "The household is society's basic economic unit. Here, 'you' means male householders and their wives. Implicitly, 'you' would also include the relatively rare instances of single (i.e. widowed) women living in a household not headed by a man."
Although offerings are not mentioned in this verse, they are a feature of the previous verse - "you are to bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices, your tithes and contributions, your votive and freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks" (12:6, NJPS) - so that we can answer the question, "what is everyone to eat before the L-rd?" The ancient rabbis said that "the rejoicing spoken of here refers to peace offerings" (Sifrei 64). Defined in Vayikra chapter three and 7:11-18, the peace offering or freewill offering is only a partial offering; the blood is poured out around the altar and all the fat is burned on the altar, but the person or family making the offering then have the rest of the day (and the next day, in the case of a freewill offering) to eat as much as they want of the meat before what remains is burnt on the altar. Jeffrey Tigay points out that "Although each type of offering has a specific purpose, D'varim emphasises their overall value in providing occasions for celebration over G-d's bounty. These occasions serve to inculcate love and reverence for G-d and D'varim stresses the effect that the offerings have on people rather than any effect they may have on G-d."
So we are to rejoice beforeHaShem. The Sforno points to a verse from the Psalms - "worship the L-RD in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy" (Psalm 100:2, NJPS) - and comments that this "befits all who serve with love." Commenting on that, Rabbi Pelcovitz1 adds that, "Although fear of the Almighty is of paramount importance, it is gladness and rejoicing which brings man to the love of G-d." Considering the command to rejoice, Rabbi Hirsch eulogises that, "this feasting and this living and joy of life in the Presence of G-d in the vicinity of His Sanctuary of the Torah in which the Jewish 'worship of G-d' reaches its highest point is one of the characteristic features of Judaism. Thus the real core of your joy lies in the fact that you may consider all that you possess as G-d's blessing, accordingly, as proof of His satisfaction. This feeling of having G-d's approval is the purest joy of our lives; and no egotistic personal way of thinking can attain this feeling, only in joining in with the community is it to be found, in the consciousness that the weal of each individual is only to be sought in the general well-being of the whole community." Joy is incomplete and cannot be truly experienced without a community with whom it can be shared.
Lastly, within the original text, we have just the phrase "every sending of your hand". This is a idiom,2 translated by Richard Elliott Friedman as "everything your hand has taken on." Jeffrey Tigay prefers, "the fruits of your labours", explaining that "mishlakh yad means both 'labour' and the products of one's labour." Put another way, each family is to rejoice over all that they have accomplished; in those days this would have encompassed the harvest and yield from crops, the increase in their flocks and herds, artisan products and skills such as weaving, pottery, carpentry, jewelry and so on. The ancient rabbis paraphrased this into G-d's mouth as "in whatever you put your hand unto I will send a blessing for it" (Sifrei 64). That is perhaps a little broad, but makes the point that those who work hard and put in plenty of wholesome effort will be rewarded by appropriate return. Strictly, however, the rejoicing may be just as much over the time and resources invested rather than the return achieved, suggesting that the satisfaction of having done the right thing and done it well, regardless of yield, is its own reward and be a cause of rejoicing before the L-rd.
How are we to find similar blessing and fulfillment is our work and whatever else we do today? Is it possible that we will be able to find blessing in everything we do? Perhaps part of the answer to that question can be found by asking another: Do we set our hands to something of our own devising and designing and then ask G-d to bless it, or we seek the L-rd for what He wants doing and then do that, knowing that His will is where the blessing is to be found? James draws the distinction in his letter, when he writes, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that'" (James 4:13-15, NASB). We dare not focus on our plans, but must spend however long it takes to find out what we should be doing and then order our schedule to match.
The Torah commands the Israelites to rejoice in all the work of their hands, knowing that it has defined the life of Torah so that - if kept - then the yield of that labour will be honest, fair and acceptable to bring before the L-rd. The word 'rejoice' is not often recorded in Yeshua's conversations; not at all in this context. Similarly apart from well-known exhortations such as "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4, ESV), Rav Sha'ul uses the word sparingly and never over the work of our hands. Perhaps because both Yeshua and Sha'ul take the life of Torah - or at least its principles - for granted. Although the scope of 'you' has widened to include merchants, import-export agents, lawyers and government officials (to name but a few), if they do their work honestly, look after their clients or customers, are "not greedy for dishonest gain" (1 Timothy 3:8, ESV and make provision for the oppressed in society (such as widows and orphans), then their income may be enjoyed and be a cause for rejoicing before the L-rd. This situation now applies to us in our times as we do many and varied jobs, run businesses and work in so many different fields. The key here is remembering, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Messiah" (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV).
1. - Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz is the translator, editor and commentator for the Artscroll edition of the Sforno's commentary on the Torah
2. - idiom - noun; an expression peculiar to or characteristic of a particular language, especially when the meaning is illogical or separate from the meanings of its component words.
Further Study: D'varim 26:1-11; Ecclesiastes 9:9-10; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
Application: Do you always do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? Can you rejoice before your G-d with all the fruits of your hands?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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