Sukkot II / Parashat Vezot Haberacha / Simchat Torah
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
Sukkot II / Parashat Vezot Haberacha / Simchat Torah
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.
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.
Vezot Haberacha—This is the Blessing
During most of Sefer Devarim, Moshe gave harsh words of rebuke and criticism of B’nei Yisrael’s past and future behavior. Here, in the final parasha in the Torah, Vezot Haberacha, Moshe gives his last words of blessing and hope for the Jewish Nation. His words are spoken with the love of a father, teacher, and mentor.
Vezot Haberacha should be the saddest of all the parshiot since it records the passing of the nation’s beloved leader. However, Moshe’s blessings to his people remain as vital and encouraging today as the day they were first given. His fierce love for the Jewish people fuels their unbending affection for Torah, and so we revel in joy the day this parasha is read, as it represents concluding and beginning anew.
Torah Is Our Life
Last week in Parashat Haazinu, Moshe sang, “Apply your hearts to all the words that I warn you today, which you are to instruct your children, which you are to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah (32:46).” Ramban says that as Jews, our purpose in this world is to have children and to teach them the ways of the Torah. The education of our young children has always been the key to our survival as the Jewish Nation.
Rashi says that the Torah is our life, and if someone finds it unsatisfying, the feeling must stem from that person’s learning because the Torah is not lacking. If the Torah doesn't intrigue and challenge that person, he must not have applied himself properly. We pray every morning, “Vehaarev na Hashem elokenu et divrei toratecha bephenu- Sweeten for us Hashem our G-D the words of your Torah in our mouths.” This prayer should encourage us to learn more and learn well, so we may achieve that sweetness from learning Torah. Our attitude plays a critical role in the success of acquiring the joys of the Torah. Studying and toiling will ultimately be the most rewarding thing in one’s life.
Parashat Vezot Haberacha says, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob (33:4).” Rabbi Twerski comments on this, saying, “Torah is like inheritance, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to see that their child's inheritance does not fall into despair as a result of neglect. The failure to preserve a child's Torah inheritance is a serious dereliction.” Suppose we deprive a child of his Torah education for any reason, financial or otherwise. In that case, we’re setting off a ripple effect that will hurt all the future generations that succeed him. And when we give a child a solid yeshivah education, we will nurture all the souls that follow him.
As we discussed last week, 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).”
Parashat Vezot Haberacha is read with joy and enthusiasm, with children singing and dancing on their fathers’ shoulders. Simchat Torah is a day filled with sweetness, light, and pure happiness. It is a beautiful note to conclude an incredible year of Torah and the High Holidays. We rejoice and celebrate the start of a wonderful new year while holding the very gift Hashem gave to the Jewish Nation at Har Sinai. We must live by the Torah and continue the legacy of the Jewish people, enriching our children and grandchildren's lives.
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 the 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.
Let us always desire to be better people, to learn more, and to come together as a nation as we did when we mourned the loss of Moshe Rabbenu ZT’L. 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. May the joy and optimism of Simchat Torah carry us through the rest of the year. May we be blessed with all the berachot Moshe had gifted us in this parasha and anticipate the arrival of Mashiach in our days! Amen!
Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
Are we in a state of pure simcha during the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah?
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