Sukkot / Simchat Torah
Dedicated In Honor Of My Eshet Chayil Wife Sandra by Isaac Zaafrani 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 to 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. The nation had no land to call their own and they had to wander and be sheltered by G-d. When we harvest our crops, we may tend to lose sight of how lucky we are that G-d provided for us. 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 up, 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.” To make sure that we don't come to the point of denying G-d’s providence, we go out into the Sukkah in order to remind ourselves that just as Hashem provided for those who lived in the desert with Sukkot to live in, 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 at this time when we are most likely to be blinded by the fact that it’s our harvest time, when we get to see the fruits of our labor. Zman Simchatenu—A Joyful Time Rabbi Joey Haber spoke about how the mann could have been 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, and he is anxious and worried, then it doesn’t matter how much money he has. He is not going to be happy. He’s always going to feel anxiety and uncertainty. 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. We see that the greatest joy is living under Hashem’s protection. There was a man in the 1950’s who owned a successful store in Philadelphia, selling curtains and linens. His son, who worked with him in the store, urged him to expand, to open outlets all over the country. The father declined, saying he didn’t want to have all that pressure. His son urged him to at least have a chain throughout Pennsylvania, or at very least, throughout the Philadelphia area. But the man still refused. He felt he had enough hard work and pressure managing his store, which provided him with enough income and comfort. This ambitious son, whose name is Steven Schwartzman, eventually founded what became Blackstone, one of the largest investment companies in the world. He is now a multibillionaire who has donated millions to charity. It may seem as though the ambitious son was wealthier than his father. However, the father was comfortable with his modest income from Hashem, and that is true wealth. Prosperity can be a wonderful blessing and great source of joy, but only if one lives with the “mann mindset,” living with peace of mind knowing that he is cared for by Hashem. It may very well be that the son lives with this outlook, but his physical wealth means nothing compared to his mindset and attitude. This is the special idea about Sukkot – the joy of living under Hashem’s care, of acknowledging that the true source of happiness is not our material assets, but the comfort we experience placing our trust in our Creator. The Four Species On Sukkot there is a commandment to take 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 Aravot, or willow stem, which has neither taste nor smell. Among many other lessons, the rabbis compare ‘taste’ to the knowledge of Torah— Hashem's Word— which is inside a person, and ‘aroma’ to the good deeds performed by a person, which spread like a pleasant smell. In this way, the four species are comparable to the four different types of Jews: Those who have both knowledge of Torah and good deeds, those who have one but not the other, and those who have neither. So on Sukkot, we take all four different types and wave them together – if even one of the species is missing, we are unable to fulfill this mitzvah. We learn through the four species that every Jew is integral to the whole. After pondering our failings and inadequacies on Yom Kippur, the four species are a strong validation of our importance and self-worth. When we shake the lulav, we say Hoshiana, which means, save me. Symbolically, a person shakes the lulav and looks for salvation in all four directions: north, south, east, and west. Salvation, whether financially, health-wise, or any other aspect where someone needs Divine Assistance, can come from any direction. And when we complete the mitzvah of lulav, we say Hatzlichana and stay still, because we do not move from the place we found hatzlacha, success. Hakarat Hatov If the Sukkah is a reminder of the clouds of glory that Hashem created for the protection of B’nei Yisrael while they traveled through the desert, then why isn’t there a holiday for the mann or for the water that Hashem provided them as well? The first answer is that food and water are basic needs for humans to survive, and although they were gifts that we are grateful for, they do not require the yearly reminder of a holiday. The second answer is that B’nei Yisrael complained about food and water, so Hashem gave it to them. But they never complained about the elements, so Hashem gave them a beracha with the Ananei Hakavod. The third answer is the Erev Rav were not able to receive the blessing of the clouds. Therefore, Sukkot is a holiday celebrated to commemorate the extra love and beracha that Hashem gave to the Jewish nation as a luxury, like traveling first class versus coach. It is essential that we have an abundance of Hakarat Hatov for all that Hashem blesses us with—food and water yes, but also the luxuries: beautiful clothing, nice homes, family, education, and of course our community. Vehayita Ach Sameach Next week, we will be celebrating the end of Sukkot and the very joyful holiday of Simchat Torah. Men, women, and children of all ages celebrate the love of Torah by dancing and singing, while holding the very gift Hashem gave to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. This gift of Torah is not something to take lightly, and each one of us has an obligation to continue the legacy of the Jewish people by learning every day. We must keep the words of our Torah close to our hearts, so that we can live by them and benefit, and have it enrich our children and grandchildren's lives. As we discussed earlier, the main theme of these chagim of Sukkot and Simchat Torah is simcha, as it is called z’man simchatenu – the time of our joyfulness. We had been commanded, “Vehayita ach sameach – And you should be solely in a state of happiness (Devarim 16:15).” The question asked, is that being besimcha 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, during Sukkot we find that 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 actually the simcha-source of the entire year! The Baal Hatanya explains it, saying 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 the simcha of Sukkot will flavor all the days of the year with happiness and joy. In fact, the talmidim of the holy Arizal write that one who will be in a state of simcha, happy-hearted without any distress during this holy hag, is guaranteed to have a good year, and will be incessantly happy! But being happy during this holiday is more than just a segulah. Whereas during the course of 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, 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! Rather, he must constrain his ill-feelings until after the holiday, when the time comes that he will be allowed to say vidduy and offer his supplications. Rabbi Elimelech Biderman says in his Sukkot booklet Torah Wellsprings that the Chatam Sofer teaches that Shemini Atzeret is even greater than Yom Kippur, because during Yom Kippur we love Hashem through affliction, and on Simchat Torah we are to love Hashem through joy. He says we see this because Shemini Atzeret has no special mitzvah. Rosh Hashanah has shofar, Yom Kippur has fasting, Sukkot has the Sukkah and the four minim, but what does Shemini Atzeret have? The mitzvah and the holiness of the holiday specifically comes from the joy of the Jewish people. The Ramban states “Eno tzarich ki hu atzmo hadar – one does not have to [take the four minim on this day] because the essence [of Shemini Atzeret] is gloriful.” Rabbi Yoel Gold told a story in his Behind the Music video about Abie Rotenberg, a singer who wrote a song with Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan. Rabbi Kaplan was sitting at a table at a wedding, and the people were complaining about all their parties they had to go to that week. “We have a wedding on Monday, a bar mitzvah on Tuesday, a sheva berachot on Wednesday, an engagement on Thursday…” An elderly man at the table banged his hand on the table, shaking it, and said, “You people are complaining about going to a simcha? I remember a time when we didn’t know if there would ever be Jewish semachot ever again.” He began to tell his story. In 1945 when he finished serving for the Russian army, this man returned to Vilna to check if he had any living family left. There were 400 Jewish survivors back in Vilna, and they all decided to go to shul on Simchat Torah. The shul was in ruins. The books were destroyed, the Sefer Torah was nowhere to be found, and the people were truly heartbroken after the war. The man saw a little boy holding his father’s hand, and he said to the boy’s father, “I just traveled hundreds of kilometers, and I had not seen one Jewish child. Can I please pick him up on my shoulders and dance with him to celebrate Simchat Torah?” As much as Hitler tried to destroy our people, he failed miserably. And even without a Sefer Torah, and with only two children among 400 people, the survivors of Vilna danced around the bimah for hours. They carried the children on their shoulders, knowing that they were holding the future of B’nei Yisrael, and that the nation would survive and flourish. May we all truly appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us, our families, and our community. May we be zocheh to teach our children and grandchildren according to the sweet ways of the Torah, enabling subsequent generations to do the same. And may we have plenty of simcha on these holidays and all days in the future! Amen! Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
How does sitting outside in our flimsy Sukkah make us feel Hakarat Hatov to Hashem?
The Sukkah reminds us that our materialistic values in this world are only temporary, just as our dwelling in the Sukkah.
We go out into the Sukkah in order to remind ourselves that just as Hashem provided for those who lived in the desert with Sukkot to live in, so too does He provide for us now.
Hashem gave B’nei Yisrael a beracha with the Ananei Hakavod, extra comfort that wasn’t a necessity. Sukkot is a holiday celebrated to commemorate the extra love and beracha that Hashem gave to the Jewish nation as a luxury, like traveling first class versus coach. It is essential that we have an abundance of Hakarat Hatov for all that Hashem blesses us with—food and water yes, but also the luxuries: beautiful clothing, nice homes, family, education…
These chagim of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are called z’man simchatenu – the time of our joyfulness. 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 the simcha of Sukkot will flavor all the days of the year with joy!
Shemini Atzeret is even greater than Yom Kippur, because during Yom Kippur we love Hashem through affliction, and on Simchat Torah we are to love Hashem through joy.
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