Rabbi Yishai Lisner
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
“All these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you, until they destroy you; because you did not heed the voice of Hashem, your God, to observe His commandments and statutes which He commanded you. And they will be upon you as a sign and a wonder; and upon your offspring, forever. Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with happiness and with goodness of heart; when there was an abundance of everything.” (Devarim 28:45-47)
The Torah teaches us that the reason behind all the calamities is, “because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with happiness and with goodness of heart; when there was an abundance of everything.”
Chazal (BT Arachin 11a) observe that this pasuk is the source of the leviim’s shirah (literally, song):
“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel, ‘From where do we learn the principle of [the leviim’s] shirah in the Torah?’… Rav Matanah said, ‘From here; “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with happiness and with goodness of heart; when there was an abundance of everything.” How does one serve with happiness and with goodness of heart? Conclude from this – with shirah.’”
According to the Torah Temimah, Chazal’s teaching does not reflect the pasuk’s simple meaning (pshat). Rather, it is an asmachta (an allusion) to the halachah of shirat haleviim. Nevertheless, we can infer much about the nature and character of the leviim’s shirah in the Beit HaMikdash from the fact that Chazal chose to learn this halachah specifically from this pasuk.
The Rambam (Hilchot Temidin U’Musafin 6:8) rules that shirah is only recited in the Mikdash for regular korbanot tzibur (public sacrifices) but not for occasional or voluntary korbanot tzibur. Yet, simple logic dictates that the reverse should be the case. After all, a korban nedavah (a voluntary sacrifice) involves offering more than the halachah demands. Why, then, are the leviim prohibited from praising and glorifying Hashem in this case?
The Meshech Chochmah (Devarim 28:47) has a novel approach to this pasuk, which provides us with a deeper understanding of the leviim’s shirah:
“And the reason that you did not serve was that you had ‘happiness and… goodness of heart – when there was an abundance of everything.’ ‘Rejoice not, O Israel, on joyous occasions, like the nations,’ (Hoshea 9:1) who rejoice where there is a profusion of good. Not so did Hashem provide for you, who must live with contentment, and the ‘abundance of everything’ is the result of ‘happiness and… goodness of heart.’ And as Chazal said, ‘Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot.’ (Avot 4:5) And as it says above, ‘And you shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem, your God, has given you,’ (Devarim 26:11) – that this must be the happiness. Since Hashem provided for him, he certainly found favor in His eyes and is acceptable to Him. And therefore, he should rejoice!”
The Meshech Chochmah explains that the pasuk does not mean that you were not happy. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, your happiness stemmed from the “abundance of everything.” You only rejoiced when you were granted an unusual overabundance. And this is the problem! The premise that Hashem’s benevolence is only manifest in exceptional situations is false. Hashem’s benevolence is revealed in each and every situation – even the most ordinary and simple matter.
Now we can understand that by connecting shirat haleviim to this pasuk, Chazal are teaching us that we must praise Hashem specifically under routine circumstances. Hence, the leviim were forbidden to sing for a korban nedavah and only recited shirah for regular and routine korbanot.
Similarly, one must adopt this model when serving Hashem in one’s own private Beit HaMikdash – i.e. one’s own home. One must thank and praise Hashem for everything in one’s life, and one must understand that everything is a manifestation of Hashem’s grace and benevolence. Moreover, one must recognize that life itself is a shining example of Divine chesed (benevolence).
“R’ Levi said in the name of R’ Chanina, ‘For each and every breath that man breathes, he must praise the Creator… “Let every soul praise God.” (Tehilim 150:6)’” (Breishit Rabah 14)