Season of Thanks
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The theme of the beautiful pesukim that comprise Shir Hashirim focuses on the Ribbono Shel Olam’s boundless and enduring love for His people. The lyrical account written by Shlomo Hamelech portrays the depth of the relationship between Knesses Yisroel and their Shepherd.
Shir Hashirim describes Klal Yisroel’s departure from Mitzrayim and how the newly-formed nation followed Hashem into a desert, displaying ahavas kelulosoyich, which is a zechus we still call upon as a source of merit in our day, many centuries later.
One of those gloriously poetic pesukim is “Uri tzafon uvo’ie Seiman - A call to the winds from the north (tzafon) and the south (Seiman) to blow on to my garden” (Shir Hashirim 4:16). The Rokeiach understands this posuk as a plea for the mercy and goodness of tzafon, which the Vilna Gaon teaches is a repository of good, and Seiman, where middas hachessed resides.
Essentially, the posuk represents the cry of the Jew in golus, beseeching Heaven for a bounty of goodness and chesed. The Rokeiach adds an interesting tidbit. He writes that the words uri tzafon are the acronym of eitz [referring to the lulav]. We hold the lulav and wave it in all four directions, pleading for Hashem, kevayachol, to come to us, bo’i Seiman: with middas hachessed.
Even if we understand the allusion to the garden at the end of the posuk as a hint to the species that come forth from the ground and serve as a cheftzah shel mitzvah, what connection is there between the words uri tzafon and the mitzvah of lulav? What is the connection between waving the lulav and asking Hashem to come join us?
The Torah describes the Yom Tov of Sukkos as Chag Ha’osif, the festival celebrating successful harvests. It is a season of ingathering.
The Sefer Hachinuch (324) develops this idea and writes that the mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim is also part of this theme. We take in our hands the four minim because they bring joy to those who behold them. It is a time of “yemei simcha gedolah l’Yisroel, ki eis asifas hatevuos upeiros ha’illan babayis, ve’oz yismichu bnei odom simcha rabbah, umipnei chein nikra Chag Ha’osif.” As we celebrate the bounty that Hashem has given us, we translate that joy into kedushah and mitzvos.
The Chiddushei Harim shares a similar thought to explain why Yaakov Avinu recited Krias Shema when he was reunited with his beloved son, Yosef, in Mitzrayim (Rashi, Vayigash, 46:29). Yaakov had waited many long years for this moment to arrive. When it finally did, he channeled his happiness of the moment into service of Hashem and recited Shema Yisroel.
We merit Hashem’s kindness when we appreciate the goodness He has blessed us with and use it for kedushah. We turn to Hashem and say, “Thank you for all you have done for me in the past year. Please bless me in the coming year.”
Sukkos is when we gather in the harvest. We grasp the Arba’ah Minim close to our hearts. We focus on the blessings, pulling together the various streams of good in our lives in a single ode of thanks.
Sukkos is the most joyful time of year. We gather our hard-earned bounty, place it over our heads as s’chach, and recognize that everything we have is thanks to Hashem’s chessed. We grab hold of what He has given us and turn it in all directions, spreading kedushah wherever and however we can. As we do so, we whisper a tefillah: “Uvena’anui osam tashpia shefa brachos. Hashem, we appreciate what You have done for us. We pledge to do more for You and ask that, in return, You continue to bless us. Mimcha hakol.”
Yet, there is another element to this wonderful Yom Tov as well. While the Torah in Parshas Mishpotim (23:15) and Parshas Ki Sisa (34:22) describes Sukkos as a Chag Ha’osif, a festival celebrating the annual harvest, the Torah later refers to the Yom Tov by the name with which we refer to it, Sukkos. The Torah states in Parshas Emor (23:42) that the reason for the mitzvah is so that the future generations will know that Hakadosh Boruch Hu fashioned sukkos for the Bnei Yisroel to live in when He redeemed them from Mitzrayim. (This is a kavonah that the Bach says is me’akeiv, necessary, for the fulfillment of the mitzvah.)
How are we to understand the dual message? Is Sukkos a celebration of a good harvest or is it a memorial commemorating the sukkos in which we took refuge in the desert?
The Meshech Chochmah (Parshas Mishpotim 23:15) explains based on the Vilna Gaon that until the time the Luchos Shniyos were given, Sukkos was a Chag Ha’osif, a celebration marking the end of the harvest season. After Hashem forgave Am Yisroel for the chet ha’eigel, and after Moshe returned with the second Luchos and the Ananei Hakavod returned on the 15th day of Tishrei, Sukkos became a Yom Tov commemorating the sukkos in the midbor, namely, the Ananei Hakavod which covered and protected us wherever we went. We celebrate the great joy of teshuvah.
The two concepts - the joy of accomplishment and the joy of proximity to His Presence - are interwoven. Chag Ha’osif celebrates man’s efforts invested in planting, cultivating and eventually harvesting his produce, yet still recognizing that the fruits those labors produce are essentially a gift from Hashem. Man knows that it wasn’t his toil or expertise that brought forth the fruits. It was not kocho ve’otzem yado, but a gift from Shomayim. Chazal refer to Seder Zeraim as “emunos” because of the inherent faith of the farmer as he plants yet another season of crops.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the unique joy of that first Sukkos. A people redeemed through bitachon and who followed Hashem blindly into the midbor fell into the abyss of sin and were misled into fashioning the Eigel. After they were admonished, they lifted themselves and repented. And their teshuvah was accepted. Their emunah and bitachon were once again intact, and the Anonim returned, remaining with them throughout their sojourn in the midbor.
Additionally, according to the Vilna Gaon, the 15th of Tishrei was not only the day on which the Ananei Hakavod returned to Am Yisroel. It was also the day on which the Mishkon was first erected and the Bais Hamikdosh was completed. It is a day that marks what we can reach with proper emunah and bitachon, and the heights we can attain.
It is because they appreciated the fact that everything they have is from Hashem, and because they celebrated the Chag Ha’osif by thanking Hashem for His goodness and kindness, that they merited the Divine protection of the Anonim. “Lemaan yeidu doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti” is a lesson that those who maintain their belief in Hashem and appreciate what He does for them merit His protection.
The joy of Chag Ha’osif - and the mandate to use that euphoria as a springboard for gratitude - is just as relevant today in our society. Too often, we work very hard. We look at other people and it seems to us as if they have easy lives. They seem richer, better and happier, and we become jealous of them and of what we view as their accomplishments. They have more, so we imagine that they are better off and we become angry at them for succeeding more than we have.
It appears that for some, earning a livelihood comes easier than others and therefore their lives are blissful, unlike ours. We become blinded by the bling and apparent success, and either we don’t see or aren’t cognizant of the struggles and failures even such people endure.
The one whose belief in Hashem is not complete wonders why he can’t be like the other guy and why he can’t be as blessed. What he fails to realize is that he really is. Hashem cares for every one of His subjects. Sometimes the blessings are evident and sometimes they are concealed. But we must know that they are there.
Most writers and historians play up the image of the Jew in the ghettos and concentration camps as feeble and pathetic, submitting to their Nazi oppressors with nary a whimper. Yet, reading the accounts of Moshe Prager or the halachic shailos posed to Rav Ephraim Oshry, the Veitzener Rov and others during the war years causes one to be awed by the heroism of these individuals. Books by religious writers depicting the Holocaust era leave the reader astonished by the indomitable spirit of those Yidden. You are amazed, knowing that the Jews were stronger than any Nazi beast. Part of that strength was an acceptance of Hashem’s will, plan and design.
Instead of engaging in self-pity over their situation, through their emunah and bitachon they summoned their inner strength, accepted their circumstances and resolved to make the best of what they had in order to survive the inferno and to live another day. Those with that attitude survived and thrived after liberation. Depressingly cursing their fate and wondering why other people and nations were spared of G-d’s wrath, caused those with such thoughts to give up and perish.
Similarly, books of lore depicting the modern-day settlement of Eretz Yisroel typically gloss over the First Aliyah and concentrate on the Second Aliyah. This is because those who made up the first were largely religious and did not fit the narrative that the secular Zionists sought to inculcate. The Second Aliyah immigrants were largely irreligious or worse, and their ascension to Eretz Yisroel had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with nationalism.
What kept the early immigrants of the First Aliyah going in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable hardships? Sam Finkel, in his exceptional book, “Rebels in the Holy Land,” quotes Avrohom Yaakov Gellman, who arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 1882: “Many difficult and terrible hardships befell us. So many people died… So many men and women became blind…because the air of this locale was unhealthy [and because of disease-carrying flies]. We could barely sleep at night without evading the malarial fever that struck us. We literally put our lives at risk. Through our efforts, we have improved the air quality of the settlement, but at the cost of the lives of our dear ones and with such pain and anguish.”
So how did they do it? “They coped and managed because they believed that they were the shlichim fulfilling a holy commandment.”
That is the true strength of the Jewish people, reflected in the Yad Hachazakah of the Rambam, not in the clenched fist of kochi ve’otzem yodi.
On the Chag Ha’osif, everyone equally celebrates the fruits of their shlichus. The posuk doesn’t say that only the top one percent who can afford a private jet, a personal chef, and housekeepers should observe the Chag Ha’osif. The Yom Tov is for the farmer who plows one acre all by himself and the mega-producer whose expanse is thousands of acres. Every person appreciates his gifts and the challenges surmounted on the path to achievement, and he arrives in Yerushalayim to offer thanksgiving, to bring korbanos and to dwell in a sukkah.
The Chag Ha’osif offers everyone a moment of rest and time to catch their breath and assess their accomplishments. The nisayon of pride is daunting. The ability to raise eyes heavenward and give thanks, with the recognition that we are nothing without Hashem’s blessing, is empowering. We are thankful for this interlude to take inventory and count our blessings.
I was present when a person seeking a brochah from the Toldos Aharon Rebbe asked for a segulah he could undertake to merit salvation from his situation. The Rebbe made a suggestion. “There are so many wonderful organizations,” he said. “There are so many gemachim filling all sorts of needs, from crucial to mundane. But there are so many tzubrochene people who need support. Seek out tzubrochene Yidden and offer them chizuk.”
Everyone needs chizuk. Everyone has their own pekel of tension, challenges, and things that don’t seem to be going right. Sometimes people look happy, but if you scratch the veneer you’ll find pain looking to be assuaged, loneliness looking to be comforted and a black hole looking to be filled. A few simple, nice words can lift anyone’s spirit.
Also, by being big enough to dispense words of chizuk to others, complimenting them on their attributes and congratulating them on what they have achieved, we join them in thanking Hashem for the blessings bestowed upon them. Sometimes, all they need is a small pick-me-up to appreciate the good they have. We can be the ones to provide it, making them - and us - feel so much better.
Approaching Sukkos, in this season of thanks, I merited to taste the joy of harvest when my sefer, Peninei Chein, arrived from the printer in boxes of neatly stacked, attractive volumes. Cognizance of the labor and exertion that went into each piece made the joy of completion much greater. The divrei Torah and ideas that fill the sefer are culled from these columns, each a gift from Hashem, who has enabled me to arrive at these thoughts and attempt to express them in a way people can find uplifting.
We all have what to be thankful for and should offer thanks to Hashem, who enables us to work, providing us with strength and ability, and presents opportunities to allow us to feel a sense of achievement, when, in fact, our role in the accomplishments is quite small.
Perhaps we can derive a similar message from the minhag of Hakafos, when we circle the bimah. Every day of Sukkos, we walk around with our Dalet Minim. On Hoshanah Rabbah, we march around holding aravos. And on Simchas Torah, we again circle the bimah in spirited dance bearing Sifrei Torah.
Maybe the circuits we complete reflect the circle of osif that we celebrate on Sukkos, from when the seeds are sown until a complete fruit merges. Chag Simchoseinu reflects the joy of seeing a process culminated, dreams realized and hopes fulfilled.
The peirush Siach Yitzchok on the Siddur HaGra, on the tefillah of “vesechezenah eineinu,” states that the Bnei Yisroel will be redeemed from golus in the merit of their emunah despite all that happens to them in golus, just as our forefathers in the time of Mitzrayim were redeemed in the zechus of their emunah.
We will merit the imminent geulah by recognizing that all we have is from Hashem and by maintaining our belief in Him. This is the same belief that enabled the Chag Ha’osif to be transformed into a chag commemorating the Shechinah’s embrace through the Ananei Hakavod and later the Mishkon and the Bais Hamikdosh. Just as their emunah and bitachon were rewarded then, so will they be soon in our day.
This Sukkos, as we go into the sukkah every morning betzeilah demeheimnusah to take hold of the Dalet Minim, we will draw them close and contemplate the blessings and steady kindness that abound on the road we have traveled. We will merit being enveloped by those holy clouds once again. May this be the year when we dance not just around the bimah, but all the way back home.
Ah gut Yom Tov