Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Happy Sukkos

The Simcha of the Sukkah
We all know that a happy frame of mind is most conducive to a good life as well as serving Hashem properly, as the Posuk states, “Ivdu Es Hashem Besimcha.” Atzvus, sadness, is frowned upon and can interfere with the proper observance of Torah and Mitzvos.
The Torah commands us to rejoice on every Yom Tov, but Succos is singled out as the z’man simchaseinu. This is the time to really revel in happiness. Why is that? What is special about Succos that the Torah defines it as a period of time permeated with the highest level of Simcha?Normally, if you are looking to upset someone, tell them the truth. If your friend asks you how he looks in his new Yom Tov outfit and you tell him it really is not that well-fitting or well-made, he is bound to be deeply insulted. If someone asks you if he should have spoken out of turn and antagonized half the people in shul and you tell him what you really think, chances are he will explode at you, as well.
Only someone who, besides being intelligent is also a Mevakeish HaEmes, will appreciate that you really care about him and accept your words. Someone who is seeking self-improvement will thank you for setting him straight. A modest person who does not have an inflated self-image, will, after asking your opinion, seriously consider it even if it is not flattering to him.
But there is one time of the year—from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur—when, despite our tendency to practice denial, we must all face reality. Every believing Jew who wants to live; everyone who hopes for a prosperous year recognizes he must deeply and seriously inspect all of his actions during this time. It is only by honestly examining ourselves and our behavior that we can make the proper repairs.
We do our best to review all the year’s activities and figure out where we went wrong. We analyze the way we spoke to people; we look back at our dealings with them. We look back at the way we conducted ourselves in Tzedaka; in Limud and Hachzokas Torah; in our observance of Mitzvos; and if we do a good job of introspection we are bound to find ourselves lacking in so many areas.Such serious introspection has the potential to be depressing. Anyone who penetrates his inner defenses and peers honestly inside his soul is bound to find plenty of room for improvement. That can be discouraging.
And that is why the Torah commands us to be especially happy on the Yom Tov of Sukkos. For the Torah is telling us that a person who has honestly undergone that process and engaged in serious self-examination has no reason to be morose. Such a person, having gone through the Teshuva process, should no longer look backwards. Someone who has expressed regret on his past sins, and has done Teshuva, can now look forward. Now is the time to look ahead to the New Year. Following Yom Kippur, those who did true Teshuva are almost like Tinokos Shenoldu, they are like new people ready to take on all the challenges that life will throw their way.
All our sins are behind us; our mistakes and wrongs, forgotten. All the people whom we have slighted have forgiven us. We begin life anew with a clean slate. It is a new beginning; a new day; a new you.
To show that we are confident in our status and to demonstrate our emunah, we engage in the Simchas Hachag. We walk to shul holding high our Lulavim and Esrogim. We sit in our Sukkahs and invite the Ushpizin to sit with us.
We say to our holy forefathers, “Until now we would have been embarrassed from your gaze; until now we never would have felt worthy of inviting you into our homes. But now that we have looked deeply into the recesses of our hearts and cleansed ourselves, we can confidently ask you to join with us in our humble abode.”
The concept is that ordinarily, we would be reluctant to invite an important guest into a humble dwelling constructed of non-permanent materials, with a leaky roof and drafty windows and floors. However, now that we have undergone a transformation, we recognize that our esteemed guests are not impressed by large, luxurious homes. Having gone through the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, we have gained a new appreciation of what is important in life. We now recognize that there is no need to be embarrassed by our sparse surroundings.
We have learned that the exterior is not what counts. It is not the size of our home that defines us or enables us to reap satisfaction with our lives. It is by realizing that all that we posses is a gift from Hashem. The way we make our lives meaningful is by the way we deal with what we have been handed.
If we are grateful for our gifts and take pride in what we have, then we can be happy. If we appreciate the home G-d has provided for us and care for it properly, we can merit living under the dominion of the Shechina and hosting holy men in our homes, no matter what the house’s size and real estate value.
We say to the Avos, “Please come and sit with us as we sit with our children around the table.” We ask them to look at how we have improved; to see how we are trying to follow in their ways. Look at how we were medakdeik to build a Sukkah Na’ah!
We say, “Look at how everyone in the family did their part to build and beautify the Sukkah. Look at how proud everyone around the table is of how they have contributed to the construction and beautification of the Sukkah. Look at how we all count our blessings and are grateful for the abundance of gifts bestowed upon us.”
We say Bematusah Minach, Shvu Itanu Btzeilah D’Heimnusa, “Please sit with us in the shadow of the Shechina.”
We sit in the Sukkah, look up at the sechach and remember that Hashem delivered us from Mitzrayim. We explain to our children the reason for the Mitzva of Sukkah.We delve into understanding the Remozim behind the Mitzvos that we perform over the Yom Tov to enhance the experience. And most of all, we do this with great Simcha.
As we daven Shemonah Esrei on the Yomim Noraim, we feel as if we are on an elevated plane; as if we are engaged in a conversation with G-d. We enunciate every word carefully. We study those words and hang on to each one of them. Trance-like, we take leave of our surroundings and pettiness as we daven. We feel as if we have become different people, cured of trivial pursuits.
But when we finish the Tefilla and step backward; we often revert to our old selves once again. As hard as we try, it is very difficult for us to maintain those elevated Dargos as we interact with other people and fall prey to our old habits.
The Sukkah affords us the opportunity to live a life on a higher level not only while we daven Shemonah Esrei. The Sukkah gives us a chance to live the life that we pleaded for during the Yomim Noraim. The Sukkah envelops us in Kedusha and shows us that we can realize those lofty ambitions and sustain them.
We enter the Sukkah and recognize that we are able to live a life worthy of receiving visits by the Ushpizin. Under the Kanfei Hashechina, we are reminded that it really is possible to live differently. We don’t have to be stuck in the quicksand of the man-eat-man world that holds sway outside the Sukkah.
On Shabbos Chol Hamoed, we read Megilas Koheles; even though this Megillah has the ability to sadden us as it discusses the vanities and frailties of life. How does Koheles harmonize with the Mitzvah of Simcha so central to the Yom Tov of Sukkos? Why aren’t we afraid that Koheles will blight our festive mood? Why not read it on a holiday which does not stress happiness?The answer is that it is only now, following Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva that we have been released from our fear of facing the more sobering truths about life’s vanities and pitfalls.
This release comes only now, as we sit in the shadow of the Shechina and remember that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim and sheltered us in a Sukkah in the desert. We remind ourselves that in every generation he rescues us from terrible danger and fashions Sukkahs for our deliverance.
During these days we can rise above the fear of facing the truth. In these days of Tishrei we can accept the truths of Koheles without them causing us to feel despondent.
Now that we have been cleansed of sin, we are shorn of the insatiable drives and ambitions of our evil inclinations. Now that we are purified and eager to take on a new world and its challenges, we welcome the wisdom of Koheles to guide us and help us maintain our higher and more spiritual levels.
We then progress to the Simcha of Simchas Torah as we demonstrate that we are prepared to accept to study the Torah anew, with heightened anticipation and contentment. Purified and uplifted by the avodah of all the preceding holy days; properly infused with feelings of inner satisfaction; strengthened with our accurately rearranged priorities; recognizing the truths of life; we are now properly energized to begin anew our study of Torah.
On Simchas Torah, we see extraordinary sights: frail-looking people and others who do not appear to be in top physical shape dance as if they had all the energy and strength in the world. We witness the men and boys who sit hunched over a Gemorah all day jump and fly though the air as if they were professional dancers.
The same people who seem so serious and too engrossed in their studies to have time for physical activity all year round, hold you spellbound as they twist and whirl to the strains of “Lulei Sorascha Sha’ashuay.” You stand there marveling, wondering how long they can keep it up before getting overcome by exhaustion.
You look in the faces and see no signs of letting up; their faces shine with an otherworldly happiness. Without missing a beat, they finally change the tune, they trade in one golden oldie for another and you know they will just keep on going.
Ironically, those who seem to be in fine physical shape, the ones who regularly exercise; the ones who play ball every Sunday, are the very ones who sit around waiting for the Hakafoh to end already. They stand there with their stopwatches, announcing that 15 minutes have elapsed and it’s time to move on.
What is it about Simchas Torah that brings such ecstatic levels of Simcha to the faces of Ehrliche Yidden throughout the ages?
The Simcha of the Beis Hashoeiva is reserved for Talmidei Chachomim. The Rambam points to the Simcha and vigorous dancing of Dovid Hamelech as an example for us to emulate. The Mishna Berura cites the unbounded Simcha of the Arizal and the dancing of the Vilna Gaon as inspiring models for us to pattern ourselves after.
For it is people of this caliber who realize that true Simcha is not derived from temporal possessions; real happiness does not result from satiating our material and physical appetites. Simcha Amiti, the real Simcha we all so desperately seek to attain, is achieved by observing the timeless Mitzvos. Simcha Amitis belongs to those who dwell in the house of the L-rd, pursuing the study of our eternal Torah.
Eitz Chaim Hi Lamachazikim Bah Vesomcheha Me’ushar. The Torah grants life to those who uphold it and happiness to those who support it. If you want to catch a glimpse of what that Posuk is all about; if you want a taste of what this promise is about, put away your stopwatch, throw away your earthly pursuits, and get into that Simchas Torah circle with the Talmidei Chachomim. Sing along with them, “Mah Ahavti Sorasecha Kol Hayom Hi Sichasi” over and over, once again and then one more time, again and again… Keep chanting till the words touch your soul and until they penetrate it.
Lift up your feet in song, move your body, wake up to a new life, to a new understanding of Torah, to a new appreciation of Bnei Torah. Without a break, without missing a beat. Again and again. Noch ah muhl un nochah muhl… Lernen Toyreh is di besteh zach. See it; say it; feel it; do it. The Simcha is contagious. If you open your heart to accept it, it will rush in and before you know it, you can also be swept up in the ecstasy, if you truly want it. If you desire to grow in Torah, if you seek a year of happiness and blessings, try it. It’s an auspicious time for a new beginning.
Thus armed with Simcha, Chayim and Torah, we bid adieu to Tishrei. We dance the day away with the hope that the physical and spiritual warmth we have generated will keep us warm as we approach the winter of Golus. We pray that the light of the Torah will illuminate the winter Golus darkness soon to descend.
The winter won’t be cold, the winter won’t be dark, the winter won’t be depressing; if we learn these lessons and take them to heart, not just on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also in the days in between and afterward.
Let us all take an honest look at ourselves. Let us listen to the message of the Sukkah. Let us all be Makayeim the Mitzvah of Vesomachtah BeChagecha, so that we realize that Vehoyisah Ach Someach is not only a commandment, it is a blessed way of life reserved for those who cherish and follow it.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Kesiva Vachasima Tova

Kesiva Vachasima Tova
Editor’s View
Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Rosh Hashana is the day on which our fates as individuals and as a nation are decided. The day is awesome and quite frightening, as we all come before the Heavenly throne for judgment. Everything that will happen in the coming year is decided on this day. However, we were bestowed with an amazing gift. We are granted the opportunity, to alter our destiny and swing the Divine verdict in our favor for the coming year.

In order to appreciate the significance of the great day, we need to probe the meaning and purpose of the Yom HaDin and what it teaches us about our quintessential purpose on this earth.

Jews customarily exchange good wishes on this sacred day, wishing each other that the past year and its curses come to an end, clearing the way for a year of blessing.

With gratitude for all the good bestowed upon us, we stand at the doorstep of a new year like paupers with our hands out, begging for sustenance. We cannot go on like this, we know. We shudder when we realize how many people we know who have taken ill. We pray that they be healed and that we and our loved ones and all of Klal Yisroel be spared every form of disease and adversity. We know of the many that have accompanied us at the beginning of this year, but are no longer here to usher it out. We cherish their memories and pray that they be mailitz yosher for those they have left behind.

In the final days before the Yom Hadin, we eagerly seek out extra sources of merit that will shield us from the Midas Hadin, from anguish and agony, from destruction and despair.

Throughout the year gone by we may have been able to feel complacent and proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. However Elul triggers a period of introspection, when we come face to face with how miniscule we truly are. By the time Rosh Hashana arrives, we are hopefully ready to acknowledge that in order to be granted the privilege of retaining our good fortune and utilizing it properly, we have to discard our delusions of -grandeur and accept the yoke of Heaven.

Truthfully, we control very little about our lives and those around us. We can eat healthy, follow a rigorous diet and do regular exercise but that is no guarantee for longevity or even good health. People who were strong, healthy and vibrant get sick and are reduced to fighting for another day of life. Just days before, they were fine and on top of the world, and then suddenly, without warning, their names are being passed around to scores of Tehillim groups. They suddenly need our tefilos. We all know of such instances, and pray that He who hands out good health continues to watch over us.

People who thought they had a handle on how to make a fortune in the stock market just a year or two ago are now scratching their heads, still wondering what happened to all that money they invested only to watch it disappear into the black hole of the smarter-than-though investors. They had it all figured out, they made it to the top on their own, and then one day they woke up to find out that fate had outsmarted them.

So many people are lacking a decent parnassa. So many more are struggling to but food on their tables. Are we thankful for our own good fortune? Do we realize that it is a gift from G-d, or do we think that we are entitled to all we have?

Too many people seek to find happiness in their lives and can’t. Too many people look for Menuchas Hanefesh and can’t find it. They look in the wrong places, they need help and direction in today’s complicated world.

If we want to be blessed with a good livelihood we need to acknowledge the source of our well being, as the posuk states, "Hashleich El Hashem Yehuvchah Vehoo Yechalkelecha."

The essence of Rosh Hashana is to accept and acknowledge the dominion of G-d. "Shetamlichuni Aleichem." We’ve got to humble ourselves and realize that we are nothing without Him and all that we have is from Him. It is actually a simple deduction once we come to grips with human frailty and mortality.

What holds us back is little more than pride, the need to feel powerful and in charge of our own lives. But once we accept that whatever happens does not depend on us, we have no choice but to submit ourselves to the yoke of Heaven.

Once we accept that it is He who gives us life, livelihood, children, health, housing and everything else we need and have, the next step is for us to recognize that we are not meant to live for ourselves alone.

We are all part of a Divine plan and fit in somewhere in the Divine jigsaw puzzle. We are interconnected with others and to the degree that we touch others lives and become indispensable to our fellow Jews, we become more vital to the larger picture.

One who is a part of the larger group is more important to this world than the one who sits off by himself, benefiting no one, doing little more than succumbing to his own selfish desires.

And that is the secret formula: If we wish to be granted life, health and happiness, we need to make ourselves needed.

We need to live for others. We need to become involved with the klal, doing things that we do not necessarily enjoy, even performing acts that we may think are beneath our dignity, for the greater good. The more that people need us, the more sunshine and happiness we bring into the world and spread around, the more reason there is to keep us here.

There are always excuses not to give, not to get involved. Rosh Hashana is a time to do the opposite, to see how we can help others, how we can make ourselves needed. No one is indispensable, but we stand a much better chance if we are judged along with the group and not by ourselves. The merits of the others will help us too.

"Tzedaka Tatzil Mimaves," charity saves from death. The more we give, the more we share with others, the more unselfish and humble we become, the greater our chances of a favorable outcome on Judgment Day. The more we realize that all we have is but a gift from G-d, to utilize not only for ourselves, but for the benefit of our fellows, the more He will give us.

Thus we recite, "Teshuva, tefilla utzedaka maavirin es roah hagezeirah." The evil decree can be set aside through repentance, prayer and charity. When we beg for life, we acknowledge that life is a gift from G-d, meant for us to spend it studying Torah, following its commandments and being a source of goodness, kindness and positive accomplishment.

We promise to mend our ways, we say that we have gone through our actions of the previous year and will do what we must, to merit the gift for another year.

Moshiach ben Yosef will be revealed on Rosh Hashana, much the same as Yosef Hatzadik was freed from the Mitzri jail on Rosh Hashana. Moshiach ben Yosef will commence his work on this holy day, leading to the complete redemption by Moshiach ben Dovid in the month of Nissan.

The shofar is blown each year on Rosh Hashana to awaken us and to straighten out the flaws in our hearts and our behavior so that we merit a Kesiva Vachasima Tova. The Great Shofar will be blown to gather to Eretz Yisroel all the Jewish people who have been scattered around the world. Hopefully, we will have proven ourselves worthy of hearing the shofar’s message. We will have demonstrated that we are ready to go back home, and the shofar will herald that long-awaited ingathering of the Jewish people.

The world has been turned upside down. Since September 11th 2001 we have had our complacency shaken. We have been taught in so many ways that there is no one to rely on but Avinu Shabashomayim. Time and again we have seen the forces of evil unleashed across the globe. We all know that we can not stop them. We know that only the Ribono Shel Olam stops 9/11 from happening again. We know that it is only He who stops terror attacks from occurring daily in Eretz Yisroel and right here in our backyard.

So, what are we waiting for? Haven’t we had enough? Haven’t we gotten the message? Haven’t we had enough wake up calls? Who among us can still be asleep? We all know which areas of our actions need improvement. We all know what evil we need to remove from our hearts.

Let’s prepare ourselves so that when the shofar blows we will all be able to answer “Hineini, I am cleansed and ready to fulfill my reason for being alive.”

On Rosh Hashana, let us recommit to Torah; be makabel ol malchus shomayim; do teshuvah shelaimah; give tzedaka in the fullest measure of which we are capable; and give Mekomos HaTorah and Lomdei Torah the support they so desperately need and deserve.

Let’s all pray for – and be granted - life, health, sustenance and the revelation of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.