Parashat Haazinu / Sukkot

Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel, Yehudah ben Rachel, Miriam bat Rachel, Leah bat Rachel, Daniel ben Rachel, and Rav Eliyah Dov Ben Chavah Esther

Parashat Haazinu/Sukkot

Heaven and Earth

This week’s parasha is written as a song to B’nei Yisrael. In the previous parshiot, Moshe spoke to the Jewish people about all the good that Hashem would bestow upon them if they followed the ways of the Torah. Moshe described 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!

About to begin the song of Haazinu, Moshe says, “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter (32:1)!” The heavens began to tremble. An incredible commotion erupted above the world because a human being dared to silence the universe.

Rashi asks why Moshe called upon Heaven and Earth, rather than humans, to bear witness to what would happen if B’nei Yisrael kept the Torah or not.

Rashi gives multiple answers. “Moshe thought, ‘I am a being of flesh and blood (mortal); tomorrow I shall be dead. If the Israelites would say, ‘We have never accepted the covenant.’ who can come and refute them?’” Therefore, he called heaven and earth as witnesses against them — witnesses that endure forever (Sifri Devarim 32:1).” Moshe chose witnesses that would be around forever, instead of humans, who die off.

Rashi also says, “And a further reason was that if they should act worthily, the witnesses might come and give them their reward.” The midrash explains that the witnesses will keep an eye out to enforce the mitzvot, and they will reward in kind. The heavens would testify before Hashem if the people were keeping the mitzvot related to it, such as sanctifying the new moon and observing the holidays, while the earth would testify if the people kept the laws of tithing and other halachot of agriculture. If the mitzvot are held, the skies will give rain, and the soil will be fruitful and productive.

Open Door Policy

Moshe sings, “For the name of Hashem I proclaim; Give glory to our G-d (32:3)!” Rabbi Naftali Reich explained that Moshe was telling B’nei Yisrael how privileged they were to be able to call out to the Almighty whenever they needed Him. Hashem, in all His glory, allows His people to raise themselves spiritually and connect to the Divine.

A king was once very displeased with the behavior of one of his sons. Despite being warned many times, the young prince persisted in his mischievous ways, and the king could no longer tolerate the situation. With a heavy heart, he banished the prince to a distant province and decreed that he live the rest of his life as a commoner without any of the privileges of royalty.

On the day the prince was to leave the palace, the king came into his room and handed him a tiny, sealed box. “Take this, my son,” he said. “Although you are banished from the palace, this box may help you in times of dire need.”

Years passed. The prince managed to survive without the protective cocoon of privilege, but not without exceedingly great difficulty. In the hardest of times, however, he knew in the back of his mind that when all else failed, he could break open the sealed box and use its riches.

One time, he was in such a desperate situation that he had no choice but to open the box. He fully expected to find it filled with diamonds, but to his surprise, it contained a piece of paper folded over many times. With trembling hands, he unfolded the paper and read it. Then he burst into tears. It was a letter from the king allowing the banished prince to enter the palace and present any request directly to him. This letter, the prince realized, was a more precious gift than a boxful of the finest jewels.

In our own lives, when we stand before Hashem and pour out our hearts in prayer, we need to realize that the very act of prayer is its own reward, that the relationship we form with Hashem through intense spiritual communication is far more important than many of the things for which we pray. Hopefully, during this season of hope and prayer, Hashem will grant us all long life, health, prosperity, and joy. But it is important to remember that even before all these blessings are delivered to our doorsteps, we have already been immeasurably enriched through prayer.

Samachta Bechagecha

The wonderful holiday of Sukkot is marked by a unique command to “live” in the Sukkah. We are commanded to eat our meals in the Sukkah, and many people even sleep in the Sukkah.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said, “When I sit in a Sukkah, I think this is how our ancestors lived. Not just in the desert in the days of Moses, but more recently, when they didn’t know whether they’d still be somewhere from one year to the next or whether they’d be forced to move on. Between the expulsion from England, the eviction from Spain, and the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews know what it is like to have no fixed home: to know that the place you are living is just a temporary dwelling, which is exactly what a Sukkah is.”

Vehayita ach sameach – And you should be solely in a state of happiness (Devarim 16:15).” On Sukkot, more so than any other holiday, we are supposed to be happy – Samachta Bechagecha! Sukkot also marks a change in the mood of the holidays during the month of Tishrei. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, holidays of awe and solemnity, we have Sukkot, a holiday on which we are commanded to be happy and rejoice.

The Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulay, writes that there is a reason these holidays are so close together. We just celebrated the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Those days, we spoke about how spiritual matters should be primary in our lives. We dedicated ourselves to serving Hashem and asked forgiveness for our frivolous pursuits. During Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our homes and move to a temporary dwelling outdoors. The Sukkah highlights what we have just experienced, reminding us that our materialistic values in this world are inconsequential and unstable.

After the serious times of the high holidays have slipped away, the Sukkah reminds us about our decision to pursue the spiritual. Sitting in the Sukkah, we are reminded that our goal is to do mitzvot in this interim world for our next long life in Olam Habah. As it says in Pirke Avot, this world is “A vestibule before the world to come (4:21).” Eating and sleeping in the Sukkah are intended to assist us in clarifying our outlook on life. The Sukkah is a sanctuary of spirituality; the message of the Sukkah must remain with us during the long winter so that the year we asked Hashem for on Rosh Hashanah is the one that we'll merit to have.

Never Forget the Source

The Torah writes, “You shall observe the feast of Sukkot for seven days after you have gathered in your grain and your wine (Devarim 16:13).” Why do we observe Sukkot at this harvest time? The Rashbam explains that the key to the answer is in Vayikra, “That your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (23:43).”

When we sit in the Sukkah, the Torah tells us we should remember how Hashem provided shelter for the nation of Israel for 40 years after they left Egypt. B’nei Yisrael had no land to call their own, and they had to wander and be sheltered by G-d. When we harvest our crops, we tend to lose sight of how lucky we are to have Hashem’s protection.

The Torah warns us of this danger, as it says, “When you have eaten and are full, and have built your homes, and lived there; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart may be lifted, and you will forget Hashem, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, who brought you water out of the rock, who fed you in the wilderness with the mann, so that He might humble you, and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end, and you will say in your heart...it was my power and the might of my hand that has gotten me this wealth (Vayikra 8:12-17).”

To make sure that we don't come to the point of denying G-d’s Providence, we go out into the Sukkah to remind ourselves that just as Hashem provided for those who lived in the desert with Sukkot to live, so too does He provide for us now. So we don't forget the Source of our livelihood, G-d gave us the holiday of Sukkot as we harvest, the time when we are most likely to be blinded when we see the literal fruits of our labor.

The Mann Mindset

Rabbi Joey Haber spoke about how the mann can be interpreted as both a blessing and a curse, depending on one’s mindset. If a person does not know where his livelihood is coming from tomorrow, but like B’nei Yisrael in the desert, he fully trusts in Hashem, then he is truly blessed. But if a person does not live with this mindset, he will be filled with anxiety and worry and never be happy, no matter how much money he has.

On Sukkot, we leave the comfort of our homes and live in simple shacks. This is precisely why Sukkot is known as Zman Simchatenu—a joyful time. On Sukkot, we see that true happiness comes not from our material assets but from our trust in Hashem. One man who lives in a small apartment can be happier than another man living in a mansion. Therefore, eating our meals outside in a temporary dwelling can be just as fulfilling as being in our comfortable homes.

Happiness is knowing that everything we have is from Hashem. “Ezehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko! — Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has! On Sukkot, the joy comes from being with our families, having a door open to guests and ushpizin, and gratitude to Hashem for all He gives us.

Vehayita Ach Sameach

Being joyful is an all-year-round mitzvah, so why do we have a specific commandment to be in a state of simcha during Sukkot more than any other time of the year? Seemingly bothered by this question, the Rambam wrote that though there is a mitzvah to be joyous during every Yom Tov, we find that during Sukkot in the Bet Hamikdash, there was an exceptional amount of great joy and happiness (Hilchot Lulav 8:12). But the question remains, what is so special and unique about Chag HaSukkot?

The answer is that Sukkot is the simcha-source of the entire year! The Baal Hatanya explains that the simcha of Sukkot can be likened to a concentrate; just as using a little concentrated juice will enable a person to make an entire bottle of a drink, so too, the simcha we can draw from Sukkot will flavor all the days of the year with happiness and joy. The talmidim of the holy Arizal wrote that one who follows this mitzvah and is in a state of simcha and without any distress during this holy chag, is guaranteed to have an enjoyable, joyful year!

But being happy during this holiday is more than just a segulah. During the year, there are times when our happiness is to be limited or even restrained, such as when we repent and say vidduy as we are pained by our sins. However, during Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we are not allowed to have even a slight lack of simcha—not even for a moment! We are commanded to be happy and have only joy – ach sameach.

The simcha on Sukkot is so crucial that even if someone, chas veshalom, stumbled and transgressed the most serious and terrible of sins after Yom Kippur and he wants to do teshuvah, he is not allowed to pour his heart out in repentance by saying vidduy and being pained! He must not let anything get in the way of his being besimcha!

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman quotes the Chatam Sofer in his Sukkot booklet of Torah Wellsprings. “Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret are even greater than Yom Kippur,” he teaches, “because during Yom Kippur we love Hashem through affliction, and on Simchat Torah, we love Hashem through joy. The mitzvah and the holiness of the holiday come from the Jewish people’s happiness.

On September 1st, 1939, in the middle of the month of Elul, Germany attacked Poland. The bombardment continued for three weeks and didn't stop until September 27th, Erev Sukkot, when the Polish commander surrendered. As soon as the ceasefire went into effect, an amazing phenomenon happened. Despite their bombed homes and the devastation everywhere, the people began to climb out of their shelters.

Hundreds of Warsaw’s Jewish survivors leaped from the cellars and rubble, grabbed broken doors and window frames, and pulled them together to construct Sukkot. By the arrival of sunset – 5:40 pm that day – numerous makeshift Sukkot greeted the holiday, and a few hours later was the first night under German occupation. Gratitude to Hashem is not conditional. Just as He was and is there for us, our appreciation of Hashem will always prevail.

May we never hesitate to knock on Hashem’s door, pray, and connect to our Creator. May we all truly appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us, our families, and our community. May we have plenty of simcha on these holidays and let it flavor all our days in the future!

Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

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