Our Parsha starts out with two mitzvot (commandments) that are unique to living in the land of Israel: offering of the first fruits and the clearing out of tithes. Both of these are mitzvot performed in joy and celebrate the wealth that G-d has blessed us with. Both of them require a declaration from the person performing them. Remarkably, both declarations, while joyous in nature, also refer to tragic events of the past. When offering the first fruit we recall how, on more than one occasion, others sought the annihilation of our nation; regarding tithes we state that they were not eaten in a state of mourning. Why do we recall the tragic in the time of our triumph? And if we are recalling tragedy, what is the problem with eating tithes while mourning our dead?
Our tradition values joy. We are commanded to be joyous during the holiday, to help a bride and groom rejoice and long for the joy of settling peacefully in our land. This joy is always accompanied by remembrance of tragedy; the tragedy helps us to realize just how happy we are and tempers our joy so that it does not cross over into hedonistic excess. What, then, is the problem with invoking such joy in times of mourning? Joy is not the denial of sadness; it is the transformation of it. The greatest impediment to joy is not allowing ourselves to mourn loss.
This week we see that all joy, even that of a mitzva, must be tempered and understood as a realization of the tragedies we have overcome and not a denial of them.
May we all be written in the book of good life!
Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis