chol hamoed sukot
October 22nd, 2016
Tishri 20th 5777
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The Sukkah ––– Shadow of Faith
Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
“You shall celebrate it as a festival for your G-d, for a seven-day period in the year... You shall dwell in booths for a seven-day period; every native in Israel shall dwell in booths. So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 23:41-43)
Chazal (Sukkah 2a) expound, “The Torah mandates that one leave his permanent home for a seven-day period and sit in a temporary dwelling. What is this temporary dwelling? It is the sukkah, termed by the Zohar (Emor 103a) ‘the Shadow of Faith.’”
The Shadow of Faith is a protective shield of sorts, designed to envelop a person and protect him from harm. The Gemara (Sukkah 11a) states in the name of Rabbi Eliezer that our sukkah is a commemoration of the Clouds of Glory with which Hashem enveloped Bnei Yisrael when they left Mitzrayim.
A few questions arise when we study this subject:
After instructing us “You shall dwell in booths for a seven-day period” what is added by the directive “Every native in Israel shall dwell in booths”?
What is the intention of the Zohar in calling the sukkah “the Shadow of Faith”?
Why do we find the word Sukkot sometimes written in full (סכות), and at other times, without the letter 'ו (סכת)?
Hashem performed a great act of chessed with us by giving us the festival of Sukkot in the month of Tishrei, following Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the festivals when we do teshuvah, erasing our previous sins.
Everyone feels a spiritual elevation on these festivals. They are aroused from Above in merit of the arousal they made below (Zohar I, 86b; 88a). Everyone trembles on the Yamim Noraim, for all are remembered either for life or for death. Everyone passes before Hashem like sheep and fears the great judgment which takes place.
But, after Yom Kippur has passed, and a person stands at the peak of perfection, cleansed from sin, he needs an added measure of protection to prevent him from falling into the trap of the Yetzer Hara. He has elevated his spiritual level and become great by doing teshuvah. However, Chazal (Sukkah 2a) state, “One who is greater than his friend has a greater Yetzer Hara.” The Yetzer Hara tries mightily to bring about his downfall. For this reason, as soon as Yom Kippur ends, we are instructed to begin building the sukkah in honor of the upcoming holiday. This mitzvah protects us from the Yetzer Hara (Rema, Orach Chaim 624:5).
As soon as one is purified of his iniquities on Yom Kippur, it is imperative to fill the vacuum within his soul with holiness and purity, in order that the Yetzer Hara should not find a place to reside within him, causing him to transgress all over again.
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day” (Vayikra 23:40). This pasuk refers to the mitzvah of taking the four species on Sukkot. It is called “the first day,” for it is the starting point of accounting each person’s sins for the coming year. One must be vigilant not to fall into the trap of sin.
The sukkah is a miniature Tabernacle, as it says (Yechezkel 11:16), “I have been for them a small sanctuary.” The Shechinah resides within each one of us. Building a dwelling place for Hashem in this world immediately after Yom Kippur is as if we are inviting Hashem to dwell among us.
Hashem considers one’s good thoughts as an intrinsic part of a mitzvah (Kiddushin 40a). Although the holiday of Sukkot does not arrive until the 15th of the month, one’s efforts in preparing for the festival are considered as part of the mitzvah. When one does a mitzvah, he is imbued with its kedushah. When one makes preparations to do a mitzvah, he is imbued with the illumination that is connected to the root of the mitzvah. Thus, when one builds a sukkah, even though he has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of dwelling in it, he is imbued with the kedushah connected to the root of the mitzvah of sukkah, which is to invite Hashem into our hearts.
When one builds his sukkah, he must believe that it has the same qualities as the Clouds of Glory that enveloped our nation in the Wilderness, safeguarding them from all forms of danger (Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach 228). Hashem protected Bnei Yisrael with these clouds from the cold and heat and all the dangers of the desert. Bnei Yisrael clearly felt the Shechinah in their midst. Likewise, the Shechinah resides within the sukkah and protects a person from all harm.
Just as a shadow shields one from the sun’s relentless rays, so too, does the sukkah, and the Shechinah within it, protect a person from the Yetzer Hara, so that he should not fall into his trap. This is in the merit of the simple faith which we display by keeping the mitzvah of sukkah.
The Torah instructs us to leave our permanent dwellings and enter temporary ones. We invite the seven shepherds of our nation to spend time with us in the sukkah. These are the holy ushpizin from on High (Zohar III, 103a). Although we cannot see them, they come to visit us every day of Sukkot, in the merit of our faith.
The Words of the Sages
Nothing is More Urgent
In a few days, we will all be dancing around Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah, when our joy will be immense. The Zohar praises those who study Torah, clinging to the Tree of Life and meriting great benefits. It states, “Happy is the lot of one who constantly occupies himself with Torah, for if a man abandons the Torah for one moment, it is as if he abandoned eternal life, as it says: ‘For it is your life and the length of your days’ [Devarim 30:20]” (Zohar I:92a).
One day the gaon Rabbi Israel Gustman Zatzal (the author of Netzach Israel) telephoned the offices of the rabbinate in Heikhal Shlomo and asked to speak with the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Shapira Zatzal. Since there was a board meeting underway at the time, the secretary apologized, saying that it was impossible to speak to the Chief Rabbi. However Rav Gustman replied, “Tell Rav Shapira that Rav Gustman urgently needs to speak to him!” The secretary became alarmed and transmitted this message to Rav Shapira in the conference room. When Rav Shapira heard it, he immediately left the meeting to speak with Rav Gustman and find out what was wrong. When Rav Shapira picked up the phone, Rav Gustman said to him: “Rabbi Avrom, in the conversation that we had, it is difficult to understand what Rashi is saying, but now a clear interpretation of his words has come to me.” He then began to explain his point of view. Rav Shapira listened until the very end, at which point he began to raise issues with his viewpoint in order to refute his argument. Rav Gustman explained his concept further, expressing one idea after another as these two great Torah figures immersed themselves in a different world – the world of study – which was their true world, forgetting everything around them.
After their conversation, Rav Shapira returned to the conference room and apologized for the delay. He then explained to everyone in the meeting what had just happened: Rav Gustman had called him with an urgent request. What was so urgent? He had difficulty understanding certain remarks by Rashi, which prevented him from studying, and for him that was the most urgent thing in the world. Hence he told the secretary that it was extremely urgent. What do you think of that? He was actually right! It was truly the most urgent thing to understand what Rashi means in order to continue learning Torah. This is a true gaon, for whom urgencies mean something completely different. Nothing exists other than his learning, which is the most urgent and important thing in the world.
His student, Rabbi Yitzchak Dadoun, discusses such behavior in his book Rosh Devarcha: “Our teacher would follow his own advice. One day a group of prominent rabbis and dayanim arrived at Heikhal Shlomo and waited to meet with him. Arriving at the same time was a youngster from a yeshiva holding a Gemara, which he was diligently studying. This youngster had encountered a difficulty in his studies, and he had come to ask for an explanation from our teacher. When the latter saw a yeshiva student in line waiting to see him, he summoned him and asked what he wanted. When the boy explained the reason for his visit – that he had difficulty understanding a certain sugia and wanted to ask him for an explanation – he said to him: ‘You’re first. The Torah goes before all else.’ ”
Along the same lines, Rav David Samson Shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lech Lecha in Jerusalem, recounted the following story: “During a study session at the yeshiva, I and my chavruta, Rav Pessach Yaffe Zatzal, had difficulty understanding an issue being discussed by Tosaphot, and we couldn’t find an answer to it. After several attempts, I decided that it was a good opportunity to go see the Rosh Yeshiva Zatzal and ask him for help. In this way my chavruta, who wasn’t as close to him as I was, would get to know him. We arrived at the home of the Rosh Yeshiva and knocked lightly at his door. The Rebbetzin answered, and when she saw us she said that the Rav was in an important meeting, and we had to wait until it was over.
“The Rosh Yeshiva had invited several important community leaders to his home, and they were discussing matters of importance to the public. Then suddenly, in the middle of the discussion taking place in his office, he left for some reason and to his surprise he saw us studying there. He approached us and asked what we wanted. We explained that it wasn’t important, since he was in a meeting, and we would wait until he was free. However the Rosh Yeshiva insisted, wanting to understand why we had arrived. We then explained that we had a problem in Tosaphot that we couldn’t resolve. He looked at us carefully and then said, in a tone of criticism: ‘This isn’t important? This is the most important and urgent thing in the world! There’s nothing more urgent than this!’
“He immediately wanted to hear what the problem was, and as his prominent guests waited for him in his office, he sat with us discussing our problem and offering solutions. After a long discussion, he provided us with a solution, but before leaving he said: ‘This solution is only so you can sleep tonight. By tomorrow I hope to find a better one.’ ”
In fact it is a love for Torah that beats in the hearts of those who study it. Rav Yosef Binyamin ben Yaakov also recounts that the Rosh Yeshiva Zatzal told him that when people come to discuss Torah with him, it truly strengthens his health and reinvigorates him. One day, when some of his students arrived to discuss Torah with him, he said to them: “Thank you for having come. I had a bad headache, but because of you it’s now gone.”
Guard Your Tongue
Because of our numerous sins, the evil inclination, which is the Satan, has found a new trick to make our Jewish brothers sin through mockery, thereby causing divine influence to leave this world. I’ve identified it as the reading of newspapers, which has greatly expanded in our time. They are filled with mockery and Lashon Harah, slander, ungodly and sacrilegious discussions. If nobody read them, they would not be printed. No one realizes that everyone will have to answer for this when they give an accounting before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
This pertains to those who print them, those who sell them, and those who read them: For many of our Jewish brothers, it has become absolutely essential for them, so much so that they can’t live a single day without a newspaper, which people lose hours reading.
– From the Letters of the Chafetz Chaim
At the Source
The Torah and Those Who Support it
The Gerer Rebbe (author of Imrei Emet) said, “The roof of the sukkah alludes to the Sages. Hence it must be comprised of material that cannot contract impurity, and must be made of vegetation, for a scholar must absolutely be free of all impurity. However the walls of the sukkah represent those who support the Torah. Hence even if they are not perfect, being comprised of material that can contract impurity, they are still suitable for being an integral part of the sukkah.”
Rejoicing in Looking Upon the Four Species
Rabbi Moshe Bolvine recounts that in Grodno one year, he was the only person who had the four species.
Obviously, he went early in the morning to bring them to the gaon Rabbi Shimon Shkop so he could be the first to hold them together for the mitzvah, at which point he gave them to the other residents in town.
Yet when everyone had performed the mitzvah, Rabbi Shimon asked if he could keep the four species at his home. In this way, he could place them on his table during the day and rejoice in looking upon them.
He Would Kiss the Etrog
The gaon Rabbi Shmuel Shinavir recounted the following about his teacher Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib of Lentshna:
“When he performed the mitzvah of the four species, he became crazed with a love for the mitzvah, kissing the etrog each time he recited Hallel.”
The Walls of the Sukkah
Rabbi Yitzchak of Letzan said the following about the gaon Rabbi Chaim Leib of Stevisk:
“A trustworthy man who was invited into his sukkah told me that he saw him get up on several occasions while he thought that his guest was sleeping, and he would kiss the walls of his sukkah with an incredible degree of enthusiasm and love. Furthermore, he almost never left the sukkah throughout the entire festival.”
This is the Beauty of the Sukkah
Rabbi Elchonon Halpern recounts a story that his grandfather, Rabbi Shemuel Engel, would often tell: On the eve of Sukkot, the Rebbe of Sanz (the Divrei Chaim) would enter the sukkah. His grandchildren would then show him the beauty of their sukkah, as well as the decorations and ornaments that they had hung inside. For the sake of education, however, the Rebbe said: “Is this the beauty of the sukkah? The true beauty of the sukkah resides in the fact that we study tractate Sukkah while dwelling in the sukkah!”
In the Light of the Parsha
By Cleaving to the Torah, We Yearn to Serve G-d
Shemini Atzeret is called Simchat Torah (“the joy of the Torah”), for on this day we conclude the yearly cycle of Torah readings. I would like to provide a nice explanation as to why our Sages instituted the conclusion of the Torah readings precisely on this day, after all the festivals and awe-inspiriting days have ended.
We know that the number seven represents everything pertaining to the realm of nature, whereas the number eight represents things beyond the realm of nature. In fact Hashem created the world in seven days, and everything in this world corresponds to seven: The seven planets, the seven middot, the seven days of the week….
Yet since the number eight represents the realm beyond nature, the festival of Shemini Atzeret alludes to what preceded the creation of the world, when there was only G-d and the Torah. It is therefore the best time to rejoice with it.
Furthermore, let us examine the interpretation cited by Rashi and the Midrash in the Aggadah: During the festival of Sukkot, the Children of Israel make an offering of 70 bulls, which correspond to the 70 nations of the world. As they prepare to conclude the festival, G-d says to them: “Please, bring Me a small meal. Stay with Me a little longer.” He employs a language of affection, like a father telling his children who are about to leave him: “It is difficult for me to see you go. Stay with me for another day.”
All of us must therefore experience a sense of longing for the days of the festival that have concluded, feeling difficulty in parting from their sanctity as well as the divine service we performed. Through this sense of longing, we can extend the holiness of the festival and sense of closeness with Hashem throughout the year. Hence this is the main goal of Shemini Atzeret: To feel the difficulty of parting from G-d and the conclusion of the festival, so that the holiness of these days influences the rest of the year and our connection to Hashem endures as well.
Now the only way to remain influenced by these days, to feel connected to our Creator and prolong the sanctity of the festival throughout the year, is to study Torah. In fact by taking this approach, we will yearn to serve Hashem and draw closer to Him.
It was for this reason that our Sages instituted the conclusion of the yearly Torah readings on the final day of the festival, and to surround this event with great joy. This enables us to adhere to the Torah, and to cherish and prolong the sanctity of the festival (as well as the exhilaration we felt during these holy days) throughout the rest of the year.
This is also why we conclude the yearly Torah readings and restart them immediately afterward on Shemini Atzeret. During the festivals and holy days, all Jews have completely repented and committed themselves to rectifying their deeds and acting only in accordance with the way of the Torah and the will of Hashem.
Through their great wisdom and profound insight, our Sages wanted us to begin a new life immediately after the festivals, in accordance with our commitment. Hence they instituted that the yearly Torah readings should restart as soon as the festival ends. Furthermore, the first parshiot we read upon restarting the yearly Torah readings describe the creation of the world and its renewal, and as such we too must act like newly created beings.
In the Footsteps of our Fathers
The Etrogim that Saved the Jews of Warsaw thanks to the Chiddushei HaRim
There was a worrisome and sad atmosphere one year among the Jews of Warsaw. The lack of kosher etrogim for the festival of Sukkot, which was soon approaching, drained them of all their joy.
Etrogim, as we know, are not grown in Poland. Merchants would therefore normally import magnificent etrogim each year from tropical countries. This wasn’t easy, and it was extremely expensive. However a love for this mitzvah outweighed all other considerations, financial or otherwise, and whoever had the means made every effort to purchase a beautiful etrog for the festival of Sukkot.
The weather was particularly bad that year, making everything more difficult about growing etrogim, which are extremely sensitive to variations in temperature. This naturally produced an extremely small harvest, with the result being that in the Jewish districts of Warsaw there wasn’t a single kosher etrog upon which people could make a blessing.
In the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, the residents of Warsaw beseeched the Almighty to see their anguish and enable them to find beautiful etrogim with which they could properly fulfil the mitzvah of the four species. In their hearts, they believed that the Holy One, blessed be He, would certainly not leave their great city without etrogim for the mitzvah of the four species.
As it turned out, less than a week before the festival of Sukkot, hopeful news spread through the city like a flash of lightning. A Greek merchant had arrived on the Vistula River with a boat filled with beautiful etrogim. Not long afterward, a Jewish crowd made up of young and old began running toward the riverbank, their eyes wide open as they saw market stalls filled with highly coveted etrogim.
Yet once the crafty Greek merchant realized the great value of his merchandise, he ordered the crowd with a proud voice to move away from the stalls and to purchase etrogim in small groups. In doing so, he hoped to control the situation.
The eyes of people in the crowd glistened with joy at the sight of these superb etrogim, which they so ardently yearned for. In fact they were prepared to do everything the merchant told them, just as long as they could purchase an etrog for the festival, which was not a trivial matter.
However their joy didn’t last very long. The first group of buyers returned to town greatly disappointed. “The merchant went mad,” they murmured in disbelief. Apparently the crafty merchant had demanded a colossal price for each etrog, a price equal to a hundred etrogim sold the year before.
Every effort made by the leaders of the Jewish community to convince the merchant to lower his price was useless. Even when they threatened to purchase only one etrog from him, he didn’t soften his stance or lower his price. From the desperate look that he saw in people’s eyes, he thought he could actually sell all his etrogim for his asking price.
The leaders of the community were therefore faced with a serious dilemma: Despite the exorbitant price, should they use public funds to purchase a few etrogim for performing the mitzvah for the entire community, or should they pressure the merchant until he lowered his price? They expressed their concerns to the Gerer Rebbe Zatzal, the author of Chiddushei HaRim, who was in Warsaw at the time.
The Gerer Rebbe, who was known for his keen insight, carefully listened to every detail. He then thought about it for a few moments, and eventually asked his faithful assistant to summon Rabbi Nachum and Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya, two well-known merchants of etrogim in Warsaw, for he wanted to discuss the situation with them.
The Rebbe’s assistant obeyed, and both etrog merchants were quickly summoned before the Rebbe. After speaking with him for a short time, both merchants were seen leaving his office with a mysterious smile on their faces. When asked what the Rebbe had told them, they didn’t say a word.
On the morning before the festival of Sukkot, a new rumor began to spread along the streets of the city, namely that a new shipment of etrogim had arrived in the shops of the two etrog merchants, Rabbi Nachum and Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya. People heard that they would open their shops at a certain time and furnish the community with an abundance of etrogim.
The residents of Warsaw were stunned, unable to contain themselves. They gathered around the shops of the two merchants a few hours before opening time. In fact through the glass window, people could see large cases resting on layers of linen, where beautiful yellow etrogim were seen.
Among the crowd gathered at the entrance of these shops was the Greek merchant, who had also heard this rumor and hastened to see if there was any truth to it. When he saw the mountain of cases through the shop window, he turned as white as chalk because he realized that his merchandise would very soon be worthless. His heart was racing because he hadn’t had enough sense to slightly lower his prices, which would have still earned him a fortune. How he regretted it!
The Greek merchant immediately announced that whoever would hurry and purchase an etrog from him in the following hour, before the shops of the Jewish merchants opened, could do so at a trivial price. In fact the price he set for his etrogim was ridiculously low.
Hundreds of people quickly gathered around the stalls of the Greek merchant, who made no fuss this time. In fact all he cared about was getting rid of his merchandise as quickly as possible.
It was only when the last Jew in Warsaw had purchased a beautiful etrog that the merchant went away in great sadness. The tremendous intelligence of the Chiddushei HaRim had proven itself: The beautiful etrogim that people had seen through the store window of the two Jewish merchants, these “etrogim” had been carefully carved out of wood and painted yellow!