Pareshat Haazinu/Succot

Leilui Nishmat Yosef Ben Zakieh by his wife and children

Pareshat Haazinu/Succot

This week’s Parasha is written as a song to B'nei Yisrael, which is the culmination of the previous Parshiot where Moshe spoke to the Jewish people about all the good that Hashem will bestow upon them if they follow the ways of the Torah. He also told them of the calamities that will befall them if they don't follow the Torah and stray to the ways of the idolators when they leave the desert and enter the land that Hashem promised to our forefathers. Then Moshe describes the ultimate joy that will come to them as they enter the land of Israel and keep the ways of the Torah until our final redemption!

In Perek 32 Pasuk 10, speaking of our forefather Yaakov, we read the poetic passage: "He discovered him in a desert land, in desolation, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He granted him discernment, He preserved him like the pupil of His eye". Rashi comments that Hashem discovered Israel's loyalty during the forty years in the desert and they proved their worthiness. In the desert Hashem surrounded B'nei Yisrael with clouds of glory and protection from the elements and gave them the Maan as food to sustain them. He also granted them the discernment and wisdom of the Torah and preserved them in the dangerous conditions of the wilderness.

This alludes to the upcoming holiday of Succot when we are commanded to leave our comfortable homes to sit in our temporary Succot. The Chida, R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulay, writes that there is a significance to the juxtaposition of the holidays. During Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our homes and move to a temporary dwelling outdoors. The Chida says this move sends a strong message to us. We have just celebrated the holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, days during which we have spoken about spiritual matters and how they need to be primary in our lives, so that we may dedicate ourselves to serving Hashem instead of our passions. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we serve Hashem out of fear and we have asked forgiveness for our pursuit of earthly pleasures. Now we are coming to the Holiday of Sukkot when we will serve Hashem out of joy. The Sukkah highlights what we have just been contemplating, reminding us that our life in this world, like our dwelling in the Sukkah, is only temporary. Hashem is giving us a booster shot, so to speak, so that after the serious thoughts and emotions of the High Holidays have slipped away, the Sukkah reminds us again of our decision to pursue the spiritual. When we sit in the Sukkah, we strengthen our resolve to do what is right by reminding ourselves that our goal is to prepare ourselves, through our accomplishments in this world, for our Next Life in Olam Habbah.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments, “When I sit in a Sukkah I think to myself: that is how our ancestors lived. Not just in the desert in the days of Moses, but for most of the twenty centuries of exile, not knowing from one year to the next whether they’d still be there, or whether they’d be forced to move on, as Jews were so often. Between 1290 when they were expelled from England and 1492 when they were expelled from Spain, Jews knew what it was like to have no fixed home: to know that the place you were living was just a temporary dwelling, which is what a sukkah is. Yet what did they call Sukkot decodes for us the secret of joy. Joy doesn’t come from great houses of brick or stone; it doesn’t come from what we shut out but from what we let in. Joy comes from a roof open to heaven, a door open to guests, and a heart open to thanksgiving.” So on this holiday of Succot more than on any other we must follow the instruction "Samachta Bechagecha": to be "Happy on this Holiday!"

This poses an interesting question, because the Torah is clearly saying that this is the holiday to be happy, so wouldn't we be happier and more content if we were enjoying our meals in our comfortable dinning room rather than battling the elements outside in our Succah?

The Torah is teaching us that happiness is not solely contingent on material possessions. One man who lives in a small apartment can be happier than another man living in a mansion. Happiness is contingent on our attitude and knowing that everything we have is from Hashem. As it says in Pirke Avot: "Ezeh hu HaAshir? Hasameach Bechelko!" Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has!" We learn from this that happiness comes from within because material possessions will never give us a lasting satisfaction. Another reason is to show that we're all equal in the way that we all must have our meals outside in our Succah. Therefore on Succot we are obligated to reenact what B'nei Yisrael experienced and how Hashem protected them through the clouds of glory which the Succah represents. On Succot we learn that our happiness will come from spending quality time with our family and through the learning of Torah, so that we may perform the mitzvot that Hashem gave us for our benefit.

The Succah that we sit in also symbolizes that this life is only temporary and our obligation is to earn our place in Olam Habah that will last for eternity! Succot follows the forty day period of teshuvah which begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and ends with the conclusion of Yom Kippur. This is the perfect opportunity to absorb a fundamental lesson of the Succah so that we will consider our time on this earth as a temporary dwelling. As it says in Pirke Avot (4/21) "A vestibule before the world to come." This should motivate us to spend the limited time that we have in this world to learn Torah and pursue spiritual goals.

On Sukkot there is also a commandment to take of the four species and wave them together:

The Etrog, which both tastes and smells good.

The Lulav from a Date palm, which produces tasty fruit but not a pleasant aroma.

The Hadas stems, which are aromatic but not pleasant to eat.

The Willow stem, which has neither taste nor smell.

In this way, the four species are comparable to those who have both spoken words of Torah and performed good deeds, those who have done one but not the other, and those who have done neither.

What do we do on Sukkot? We take all four different types and wave them together – if even one of the species is missing, one is unable to fulfill this Mitzvah. We learn through the four species that every Jew is integral to the whole. Another idea about the 4 species is that we wave the Lulav and Etrog in all 4 directions saying “Hoshiana” which symbolizes that we’re searching for salvation. Then we stop and say “Hatzlichana” which symbolizes that when we have found our salvation we should stop searching and stay put.

On Sept 1st 1939, in the middle of the month of Elul, Germany attacked Poland. The bombardment continued for three weeks and didn't stop until just before Sukkot. As soon as there was a ceasefire, an amazing phenomenon happened: in spite of their bombed-out homes and devastation everywhere, the Jews of Poland ran out to build their Sukkot with whatever kosher materials they could find. How great is the Jewish Nation who sacrifice in order to do the mitzvot, which nation will pay $100 and more for an Etrog fruit which just a few days later after the holiday, you can literally buy for 25cents?

This was to show, that if Hashem protected B’nei Yisrael in the desert 3000 years ago, then so did the Jews throughout the generations build their Succot and show Hashem that we have Hakarat Hatov (gratitude) for how He cared for our ancestors by protecting them with the ananeyim hakavod (clouds of glory) that they benefited from through the for 40 years in the desert!

May we all truly appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us our families and our community. May we have a clear Torah understanding of the value of what our obligation is in this world so that we can all earn a special place in Olam Habah! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Leiluiy Nishmat....

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