שבת טעם החיים סוכות תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Sukkos 5771
On Sukkos we are concealed and protected from the Evil Eye
תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו, blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed for our festive day (Tehillim 81:4)
Following Yom Kippur we celebrate the festival of Sukkos. One must wonder why we celebrate Sukkos immediately after Yom Kippur. The Tur wonders why we celebrate Sukkos in the fall if we are commemorating our exodus from Egypt which occurred in the spring. The Tur (Orach Chaim §625) answers that by celebrating Sukkos in the fall we are demonstrating that we are doing so because of HaShem’s command and not because we are seeking shelter from the heat. This explanation offers an insight as to why we celebrate Sukkos in the fall but does not suffice to answer why we celebrate Sukkos immediately subsequent to Yom Kippur. It is worth examining the various reasons offered by the commentators for celebrating Sukkos after Yom Kippur and then we can gain a greater appreciation for this holiday.
Reasons why we celebrate Sukkos immediately following Yom Kippur
The Medrash (Tanchumah Emor §18) states that the nations of the world and the Jewish People enter into judgment on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and from the fact that we exit with the Lulav in our hands is a sign that were victorious. As evidence of this victory, we wait five days after Yom Kippur and then we take the Lulav on Sukkos. The Vilna Gaon writes based on the Zohar that when the Jewish People made the Golden Calf, the Clouds of Glory that had been surrounding them for their protection disappeared. Once the Jewish People repented and HaShem forgave them for their sin, the Clouds of Glory returned, and this occurred on Sukkos. For this reason, we celebrate Sukkos five days after Yom Kippur. Other posit that it is possible that on Yom Kippur HaShem decreed that we are liable the punishment of exile, so to fulfill this punishment in a less stressful manner we go into the Sukkah.
Sukkos reflects on the miracle of being granted life on Yom Kippur
Perhaps there is another reason why we celebrate Sukkos immediately following Yom Kippur. The Rishonim (Daas Zikeinim Bereishis 22:19) write that following the miracle of the Akeidah, when Avraham came close to slaughtering his own son, Yitzchak, Avraham sent Yitzchak away . The reason Avraham sent Yitzchak away was so that Yitzchak would not be affected by an Ayin Hara, the Evil Eye. Apparently the explanation for this statement is that HaShem spared Yitzchak’s life through a miracle, so to protect him from the Evil Eye Avraham sent him away. In a similar vein we can suggest that on Yom Kippur our very lives are in the balance so when Hashem bestows life upon us, we wish to protect ourselves from the Evil Eye and we conceal ourselves in the Sukkah. The word Sukkah, when rearranging the letters, is similar to the word keseh, which means concealed. Furthermore, the word sach si similar to the word masach, which means a screen. Thus, we see that a Sukkah provides us with physical and spiritual protection. This idea si evidenced in the words of Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim 27:1) in the psalm of LiDovid HaShem ori, where it is said, LiDovid HaShem ori viyishi, by Dovid, HaShem is my light and my salvation. The Medrash states that the words “my light” refers to Rosh HaShanah and the words “my salvation” allude to Yom Kippur. Further on it is said (verse 5) ki yitzpineini bisukkoh biyom raah, indeed he will hide me in His shelter on the day of evil. Perhaps this alludes to Sukkos, and it is referred to as the day of evil because of the Evil Eye that seeks to harm the Jew who was granted life on Yom Kippur.
The judgment of Rosh HaShanah is revealed on Sukkos
For those readers who recall that I wrote similar words for last year Sukkos, I add the following. It is said (Tehillim 81:4) tiku vachodesh shofar bakeseh liyom chageinu, blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed for our festive day. The Gemara interprets this verse to be referring to Rosh HaShanah, as we are instructed to blow the shofar in the month of Tishrei at the time when the new moon is not visible. We can suggest that this verse also alludes to the festival of Sukkos. Based on the Medrash cited earlier, the verse can be interpreted to mean that we sound the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and bakeseh, which spells the word baSukkah, on Sukkos, we demonstrate our victory by taking the Lulav [it is noteworthy that the word chageinu (69) equals in gematria the word Lulav (68)].
The Shabbos connection
Shabbos is also a time when we conceal ourselves from the forces of evil, as Shabbos is a semblance of the World to Come. Thus, in a sense, on Shabbos we are residing in a different world, far removed from the harsh judgments that exist in this world. HaShem should allow us to merit the Ultimate Redemption, when we will merit to sit in the Sukkah fashioned from the skin of the Leviasan.
Shaking up our Priorities
R’ Yitzchak’s wife and children all knew there was no mitzvah quite as dear to their father as the mitzvah of Arba Minim – the four species taken on Sukkos; Esrog, Lulav, Hadasim, and Aravos. The Torah (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40) describes the Esrog as, “Pri Eitz Hadar – A magnificent fruit of a tree,” and R’ Yitzchak made it his business to settle for nothing less than the most magnificent. All year long he set aside a portion of his wages so that when the time came for the customary haggling to procure the rare and unique fruits, he could offer whatever it took. Not that R’ Yitzchak was a haughty man; he gladly allowed anyone who asked to use his Esrog as well. “Will the Almighty not have equally great pleasure from others using such a beautiful Esrog as well?” he would say. He simply had an inextinguishable love for the once-a-year mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog.
One year, as he always did before Sukkos, R’ Yitzchak gathered his belongings, including all the rubles that he had put aside, and left home to travel to a nearby town where the Four Species could be bought. Travelling along the roadside, he stopped suddenly when he heard the sound of someone crying. Indeed, a Jewish man sat in a nearby field, head in his knees, crying and moaning bitterly. R’ Yitzchak approached him. “Reb Yid, what’s the matter?”
“Don’t even ask,” the Jew said, “a bittere pekel tzures – what a bitter portion the Almighty has dealt me! Woe is to me. I had one horse. That might not seem like much, but it was enough to support my family. It was a good horse. I rode it from town to town, delivering people’s mail, parcels – whatever they needed. I didn’t make a fortune, but we had what to eat, and we were happy. But today I awoke, and – woe is me – I found her dead. She must have passed away overnight. As it is, we live from hand to mouth. If I have to deliver by foot, I don’t stand a chance of making a living. Woe is me!”
“Tell me,” asked R’ Yitzchak, “what would a new horse cost you. I’m sure she was a good horse, but there are other horses out there.”
“Of course there are other horses, for someone who has 300 rubles to spend! It would take me almost a year to earn that kind of money! So you see, all is lost!”
Without further ado, R’ Yitzchak took out his wallet and counted out 300 rubles, leaving for himself only the smallest sum from all the money he had so carefully put aside. He placed it in the pocket of the forlorn Jew, who had all the while never taken his head out from between his knees. Sticking his hand into his pocket, he was flabbergasted to find the entire sum he needed to buy himself a new horse. “What… What have you done. I… I never expected.” Completely choked up with emotion, he barely managed to thank R’ Yitzchak for his magnanimity. Little did he know, R’ Yitzchak himself was not a rich man, and that he had just parted with the lion’s share of his own savings.
That year R’ Yitzchak had to settle for the plainest of Esrogim, much to the surprise and wonder of his friends and family. Despite their best attempts to find out, he told no one of what had come of his plans to purchase the most beautiful Esrog, nor of his savings, except to say, cryptically, that “the money was not lost – in fact it had just galloped off and was being put to very good use.”
During Chol Ha-Moed (the Intermediate Days of Sukkos), R’ Yitzchak travelled to Lublin to visit his Rebbe, the famed Choize (Seer) of Lublin. At the festive Yom Tov meal, the Choize remarked to his disciples, “The mitzvah of Arba Minim must be performed with great joy. We must thank Hashem that we all managed to perform the mitzvah of waving the Lulav and Esrog. When we wave the mitzvos, all the Heavenly spheres and realms are awakened, and much joy and goodness permeate the upper realms, ultimately reflecting that joy and goodness back down to this world where we can reap its benefits. We all shook the Lulav and Esrog, but, R’ Yitzchak,” he said, turning as he did so to face him, “to wave a horse – now that is a truly original and exceptional way to perform a mitzvah!”
The Sukkah of the holy R’ Mottele Twersky zt”l was likely the most famous Sukkah in the Old City of Jerusalem. Its panels were made of the finest wood. When R’ Mottele emigrated from Russia, he brought along the panels which he had inherited from his saintly ancestors. Its walls were full of inscriptions and carvings, and those who knew said that its drawings depicted combinations of letters and esoteric meanings which mortal eyes could not even discern. There were seven panels, corresponding to the seven Sefiros – or Heavenly spheres. It was said that one merely had to pass by the Sukkah, and one would be enveloped with an aura of holiness. It is told that R’ Shmuel Salant, chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, once passed by this Sukkah. Though already blind, he stopped in his tracks and remarked to his shamash, “I can sense the aroma of Gan Eden!”
How shocking it was, then, when in the year 5676 R’ Mottele’s Sukkah never went up. All Sukkos people talked and hypothesized about what could have come of the famed panels. R’ Mottele himself had nothing to say. It was only months later that the elderly R’ Yisroel Meir Gottlieb revealed the answer to the mystery, at a meal he hosted at his home. “Several months ago,” he began, “My grandson Shlomo became critically ill. The doctors had all but given up hope. Thanks to HaShem’s great mercy, he has in fact had a complete recovery. It is necessary that I tell you how this transpired.
“The doctors concurred that the only way to save the boy’s life was to bathe him several times a day with hot water. But from where was one to squeeze a drop of kerosene or a branch of firewood in these bitter times? In my desperation, I turned to R’ Mottele, pouring out my tale of woe. He immediately rushed and led me to the place where his marvelous Sukkah was stored, saying, ‘Quickly, Yisrael Meir, take these boards and burn them for firewood!’ At first I was appalled by the suggestion. But R’ Mottele demanded that I obey by virtue of his rabbinical status. I had no choice. We burned the panels to prepare hot baths for the boy whose life was thereby saved.”
R’ Shaul Yitzchak Freund, who was also at the meal, was suddenly reminded of another story concerning the Sukkah. In 5668 the wealthy R’ Heshel Genichovsky arrived in Jerusalem for a visit. R’ Heshel was famous for collecting valuable Judaica. Having heard of the celebrated Sukkah, he offered R’ Mottele a price that could have supported him and his family for the rest of their days. Yet R’ Mottele refused to even hear of it. “Yet now,” R’ Shaul Yitzchak concluded, “when the mitzvah of saving a life presented itself, he did not hesitate for even a minute, but immediately gave his priceless Sukkah away to burn! How great is his love for a mitzvah!” (Adapted from The Heavenly City v. 2 pp. 156-178) (www.torah.org)
The Most Beautiful Esrog
I wish to share with you a beautiful short story about the wonderful festival of Sukkot. The story was authored by S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli Nobel laureate who won the prize for literature a number of years ago, and whose likeness adorns the 50-shekel note in Israeli currency.
It seems that Agnon, who was born in Poland, was a neighbor of a famous old rabbi from Russia. Both of them are now living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot. One year before Sukkot, Agnon met his rabbinic neighbor at the neighborhood store selling Esrogim — the yellow citron fruit which is symbolic of the Sukkot holiday. There Agnon noticed how meticulous his neighbor was in choosing an Esrog. Even though he was a person of limited means, the rabbi insisted on purchasing the finest, and hence most expensive, Esrog available. After examining many specimens, the rabbi finally chose the one he wished and paid for it.
Walking home with Agnon, the rabbi emphasized to him how important it was to have a beautiful, flawless Esrog on Sukkot, and how the beauty of the Esrog was part of the fulfillment of the Divine commandment for the holiday.
On Sukkot morning Agnon noticed that the rabbi was without an Esrog at the synagogue services. Perplexed, Agnon asked the rabbi where his beautiful Esrog was. The rabbi answered by relating the following incident:
“I awoke early, as is my wont, and prepared to recite the blessing over the Esrog in my Sukkah located on my balcony. As you know, we have a neighbor with a large family, and our balconies adjoin. As you also know, our neighbor, the father of all these children next door, is a man of short temper. Many times he shouts at them or even hits them for violating his rules and wishes. I have spoken to him many times about his harshness but to little avail.
“As I stood in the Sukkah on my balcony, about to recite the blessing for the Esrog, I heard a child’s weeping coming from the next balcony. It was a little girl crying, one of the children of our neighbor. I walked over to find out what was wrong. She told me that she too had awakened early and had gone out on her balcony to examine her father’s Esrog, whose delightful appearance and fragrance fascinated her. Against her father’s instructions, she removed the Esrog from its protective box to examine it. She unfortunately dropped the Esrog on the stone floor, irreparably damaging it and rendering it unacceptable for ritual use. She knew that her father would be enraged and would punish her severely, perhaps even violently. Hence the frightened tears and wails of apprehension.
“I comforted her, and I then took my Esrog and placed it in her father’s box, taking the damaged Esrog to my premises. I told her to tell her father that his neighbor insisted that he accept the gift of the beautiful Esrog, and that he would be honoring me and the holiday by so doing.”
Agnon concludes the story by saying: “My rabbinic neighbor’s damaged, bruised, ritually unusable Esrog was the most beautiful Esrog I have ever seen in my lifetime.” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Sukkos 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos, and a Good Yom Tov
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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