Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
The mitzvah of succah can bring us to experience the radiance of G-d’s abundance through holy inspiration. This experience is a special state of enlightenment granted to certain people when they are worthy of contact with levels of G-dliness that transcend the levels of attainment they have reached through their own efforts. For there are levels of Divine wisdom that are granted to people simply through G-d’s beneficence, without their having to work to acquire that level specifically. Indeed, man’s whole task in this world is to work on himself until he is worthy of being granted these transcendental levels. This is the true delight of the World to Come. — Rebbe Nachman’s Advice, Succos # 1
The merit of the mitzvah of succah brings purity of heart. When your heart is pure it is easy to express yourself before God. You will always find new and original words and prayers. — Rebbe Nachman’s Advice, Succos # 2
Today is Hoshanah Rabbah, a day filled with incredible opportunity. Hoshana Rabbah literally means “a great salvation.” We are taught that while our fate for the coming year is sealed on Yom Kippur, the official decree is not delivered until Hoshana Rabbah. Today we have the ability to overturn any harsh decrees.
The Talmud teaches that after one’s passing, the Heavenly court will ask him, “Did you await salvation?” (Shabbos 31a). The Gur zt’I explains that he is asked, “Did you look forward to Hoshana Rabba, the day Hashem bestows salvation?” As Rabbi Elimelech Biderman elaborates, “If you knew someone was giving you a fortune of money seven days from now, wouldn’t you look forward to that day? And if in seven days you or your child will get the shidduch you waited for, the refuah you need, or the job you hoped for, wouldn’t you look forward to that day? That is how we should look forward to Hoshanah Rabba. On this day, Hashem provides salvation to His nation.”
Similarly, Rav Avraham Shalom of Stropkov zt”I would say, “Hashem commands us to sing and dance on this holy day, but how can a Jew truly feel happiness while mired in this bitter exlie? The answer is that Hashem is challenging us to see how we will respond. Will we be sad and depressed, indicating that we have little faith in the coming Redemption, or will we fulfill His command joyously, because we believe that our Father, our King, will soon save us?”
Rabbi Yossi Katz writes, “If someone were to ask you how we know who won World War II, the Six-Day War or the Gulf War, the answer would be obvious – it’s the country whose enemy was defeated in battle.” However, the Zohar states, “How do we know who was victorious? The one who is holding the weapons in his hands.” But does the victor walk around bearing arms? When the war is over, we would think that weapons are no longer required. The answer is that the Zohar is referring to a spiritual war – one that is still very much alive. In this war, we cannot always see clearly who is winning the battle. Therefore, the Zohar teaches that as long as a person is holding the weapon in his hands, the lulav and esrog, and as long as a person strengthens himself in prayer by calling out to Hashem, then he is considered the winner of the battle. Staying in the fight is winning the fight. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, we must never give up!
Similarly, Hoshana Rabbah is also referred to as “The day of the Aravah.” As we discussed in our previous post, the aravah represents our lips. This alludes to the power of prayer. And as Rebbe Nachman teaches, “Our main weapon is prayer.”
The verse correlates each of the Three Festivals to a specific period of the agricultural cycle. Pesach is called “Festival of Spring” (when the fields are planted); Shavuos is called “Festival of Reaping”; and Succos is known as “Festival of Ingathering (Harvest)” The Maharal elaborates on this relationship between the festivals and working the land. There are three points of contact between an emissary and his dispatcher: the moment he is appointed to his mission; when his task is completed; and when he returns to the one who sent him to inform him that he has completed the mission. On Peach, the Jewish nation became Divine agents charged with the task of developing into a nation worthy of being chosen by the Almighty. On Shavuos, with the acceptance of the Torah, we became this “Chosen Nation.” Succos, writes R’ Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak), is when we, the Jewish nation, returns to our Sender, our Creator, and tell Him, “We have accomplished the task. We are prepared to return what we have harvested for You, the Master of the World.”
The beauty of Succos is that it crowns both the Festivals, as well as the Yamim Nora’im. It is the moment when we report back to Hashem, our hearts filled with joy and overflowing song, that we have completed our mission and are looking forward to representing the Almighty once again in the future.
After Hoshana Rabbah, we will be celebrating Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, a time fill with joyous song and dance (referred to as the hakafos). Throughout the Festival, seventy sacrifices were offered corresponding to the welfare of the seventy nations of the world. On Shemini Atzeres however, just one sacrifice was made in the Beis Hamikdash, corresponding to the Jewish People alone. As such, this is a momentous in the Jewish calendar, and signifies the deep connection that we have with Hashem. Using an analogy, Rashi writes that after the seven days of Succos, Hashem says to the Jewish People “Please stay with me just one more day, for it is difficult for me to part with you!” (Vayikra 23:36).
The Imrei Emes adds that the feeling should be mutual… the Jewish nation should also feel that they don’t want to leave the Festivals behind.
(The Chida wrote a prayer that some say prior to the hakafos. This prayer states that by dancing on Simchas Torah, we bring down all the barriers that separate us from Hashem. Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz zt’l said in the name of his father, Rebbe Shalom of Belz zt’l, “I can’t tell you what the hakafos are about. But this I can tell you: All the prayers that didn’t go up the entire year go up during the hakafos.” Similarly, the Beis Aharon zt’l writes, ‘Dancing on yom tov is the highest form of prayer… For it is with all one’s limbs.” Rebbe Nachman also speaks about the incredible effects of song and dance…)
In the Yom Tov prayers we say, “Hashem gave us as an inheritance… the holy Yomim Tovim.” The Sfas Emes explains that an inheritance is not something that leaves after a few days, it remains forever. So too, the holidays should always stay with us, even after the holiday is over.
Similarly, there is a prayer that some say before leaving the Succah for the final time that reads, “It shall be Your will that the angels associated with the succah and the Four Species… should come with us into our homes.” This is because we don’t want to leave the mitzvos behind; we don’t want it to be a thing of the past. We must make a conscious effort to bring the joy and inspiration along with us, to carry us throughout the year.
How do we ensure that we take something with us from the Festival; that it leaves a lasting impression? The verse states, “Three times a year all your males are to appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place He shall choose, on the Festival of Matzos, on the Festival of Shavuos, and on the Festival of Succos, and they shall not appear before Hashem empty-handed” (Devarim 16:16-17). This verse teaches us that when visiting the Beis Hamikdash, we are required to bring a korban (sacrifice). The word “korban” means to come close; by giving to Hashem, we draw closer to Hashem. If we resolve to make positive changes in our life, we will bring the Festival with us into the cold winter, and far beyond.
But how much are we expected to accept upon ourselves? The verse concludes, “Every man according to the gift of his hand, according to the blessing of Hashem, your G-d, that He gave you.” As Rebbe Nachman teaches, we must never compare ourselves to others. We are each gifted with our individual strengths, and we are each challenged with our individual obstacles. And as we’ve discussed, Rebbe Nachman warns us that sometimes the evil inclination will convince us to overreach, resulting in frustrated attempts at making concrete changes. Instead, we should accept small resolutions, “every man according to the gift of his hand.
Rebbe Nachman teaches us that we must never be discouraged. Regardless of our past mistakes, it is never too late to begin anew. Rabbi Moshe Kormornick relayed the following story: “The Homeler Rav was dancing joyously when he noticed a group of boys watching through the window with envious glares. The sight distressed him, because he knew that these boys had never received a Torah education because they came from extremely poor families, and their days were spent working in order to put some food on their family’s table. With tempered joy, the Rav came out of shul to speak to the group, saying the following, ‘Did you know that on Simchas Torah there are two chassanim (grooms): Chassan Torah and Chassan Bereishis. The Chassan Torah is the one who makes the final blessings of the entire Torah, while the Chassan Bereishis begins the Torah afresh. Now, we understand why we celebrate with the Chassan Torah, because he has finished the entire Torah and we join in his jubilation after a year of intense learning, but what is the Chassan Bereishis celebrating? The answer is that although he hasn’t finished anything, he has resolved to start, and that is worth celebrating just as joyously!’”
“The Homeler Rav then asked the group if they would be willing to start their Torah journey. The boys readily agreed, and the Homeler Rav learned with the boys every day from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. at which time they went off to work; thus beginning the famous yeshivah, Tifferes Bachurim.”
“As we approach Simchas Torah, we should certainly feel great delight over the Torah we have learned over the past year, but we should be equally excited over what we are committing ourselves to learn for the year to come. And even if we know that we could have achieved more with our time, we can and should commit on this very special day to push ourselves harder; and with that determination, we have even more reason to celebrate!”
(We can also connect the concept of new beginnings with the Festival of Succos, as the rule states that a succah is not deemed kosher unless it is built anew each year.)
Lastly, as we mentioned in our previous post, the Four Species teaches us an important lesson in unity. There is a place for everyone, regardless of what spiritual level that may find themselves. Similarly, Reb Avraham Yaakov of Sadegeira zt’l said that this is the reason a succah is made from the leftover branches of the vineyard and the wasted stalks of crops (see Succah 12a); to teach us that the succah is even for those who feel they are insignificant or inconsequential.
In the final Torah portion, the verse states, “Moshe commanded us with Torah; it is the heritage and inheritance of the Jewish people” (Devarim 33:4). Rabbi Moshe Schochet writes, “The Ksav Sofer offers a beautiful insight to help understand this verse. He explains that the Torah cannot be observed in its entirety by one individual person. There are certain mitzvos that only a man can do and certain mitzvos only a woman can do. Some mitzvos can only be performed by a kohen, while others can only be fulfilled by someone from Shevet Yehudah. The possibility for the Torah to be observed as a whole is contingent on a unified Klal Yisrael. Therefore, the Ksav Sofer explains the verse in the following way: ‘Torah tzivah lanu Moshe,’ the Torah that Moshe commanded us – which is ‘morasha,’ our inheritance – is dependent on ‘kehillas Yaakov,’ the congregation of the Jewish people coming together as one group to observe the Torah in harmony.”
The greatest joy a parent has is when they see their children seated together at the table in peace and harmony. As the verse states, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”
Similarly, Reb Noson writes, “One should concentrate on being part of the entire people of Israel, with intense love and peace, until it may be considered as if all of Israel dwells together in one succah.”
Wishing everyone an incredibly joyous Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah!