Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Genuine Joy

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Torah commands us to observe the Yom Tov of Sukkos. Why? Ki basukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzee osam maieretz Mitzrayim. Hashem says that we should reside in temporary dwellings for a week to remember that Hashem fashioned protective huts for the Jewish people when he freed them from Egyptian servitude.

When the Jews began preparing for their exit from Mitzrayim, they possessed little more than the clothes on their backs. They gathered sheep they had procured to offer up as a Korban Pesach, and took along dough that the sun baked into matzos. Their primary possession—bitachon—was encased in their hearts; solid faith in the G-d of their forefathers made material possessions unnecessary.

Vaya’aminu baHashem uveMoshe avdo.” Worn down by centuries of exile and slavery, Bnei Yisroel nevertheless placed their trust in Moshe, the messenger of Hashem. At his instructions, they joyfully undertook the exodus from Mitzrayim. They had no clue what they would eat, where they would sleep, how they would care for their children. But when the word came to leave, they rallied behind Moshe and began their trek to the Sinai Desert.

Their taskmasters in Mitzrayim never compensated them for all the years of slave labor, nor treated them with even minimal decency. They didn’t own any stocks or have any savings to fall back on. They set out on foot into the wilderness with nothing to protect them from the elements.

As they were leaving, Hashem caused the Egyptians to willingly share their wealth with them. They arrived at the Red Sea and in a magnificent display of miracles within miracles, it split for them. They walked through the dry seabed triumphantly as the waves engulfed the Mitzriyim, who were chasing after them. They had no idea what lay ahead of them upon their arrival at the shore. But they followed Moshe trustingly.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu made sukkos for them to live in as they traveled through the desert, and this is what we commemorate on Sukkos.

When we observe the Yom Tov of Sukkos, we are remembering more than the sukkos of the midbar. We are recalling an act of immense faith - that of a nation leaving behind the most advanced civilization of their day and blindly following Hashem into a lonely and dangerous wilderness. We are recalling an act of such devotion - lechtaich acharai bamidbar b’eretz lo z’ruah - that it earned for themselves and their descendants an everlasting zechus.

We are proclaiming that just as in those long-ago days in the midbar, when the erstwhile, enslaved and impoverished Jews gathered in the sukkos with the joyous knowledge that all that they had came from Hashem. We too must, in our day, remember that our livelihoods, our homes, our cars and everything that makes us feel so secure is a gift from Above.

We sit in the sukkah and declare that just as our forefathers, who moments prior to kriyas yam suf had nothing, and thus could not help but acknowledge their total dependence on Hashem, so we, too, recognize Him as the sole provider. It is not our might, strength or intelligence that enables us to live comfortably and in freedom. We only live this way because Hashem wishes it to be this way.

This year, as we stood in shul and davened on Rosh Hashanah, the economy of this country teetered and the whole world held its breath to see if the congress and senate would approve a bailout bill after the Yom Hadin. Trillions of dollars of wealth were wiped out; people lost their life’s savings and pensions; banks long established with storied histories, and strong financial sheets almost went bust and had to be taken over.

Business borrowing ground to a halt and realistic fears of a deep depression spread, causing the stock market to drop precipitously on the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. All this gave us pause and reminded us once again, much as we were shaken up in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah in the year 2001, that we are not the bosses of this world and everything as we know it can disappear or radically change in a split second, if such is the Creator’s wish.

This Sukkos, as we sit in our sukkos we should recognize more potently than ever the lesson “Ki basukkos hoshavti,” that all that we have is from Hashem.
Our most precious commodity must be bitachon, the same as it was for the yotzei Mitzrayim. Because if not for the beneficence of Hashem, we would be barefoot and homeless, scavenging for food and living in a hut.

We come to this realization after the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
From Elul through the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, we raised ourselves to higher levels of belief, behavior and holiness, as we increased our devotion to mitzvos and to our fellow man.

Purged of our sins, we are now on the level of the yotzei Mitzrayim, the dor deah. As such, we are indeed ready to accept the lesson of the ki basukkos hoshavti.

We live in the sukkah for seven days and are then so ingrained with our belief in Hashem and the inherent simcha which it engenders that we celebrate the Yom Tov of Simchas Torah.

No one told the Bnei Yisroel to sing shirah. As Chazal state on the posuk of Oz Yoshir, “Olah belibom lashir shirah,” their hearts were so bursting with joy at the comprehension of G-d’s majesty that shirah spontaneously sprang forth. In the same vein, the customs of singing and dancing that we celebrate on Simchas Torah are not Biblical or Talmudic in origin. If you delve into the seforim of the poskim in an attempt to trace the roots of our celebration, it becomes apparent that the holiday was actually created by the Jewish people.

Over the course of many centuries, ehrliche Yidden channeled their overflowing simcha with the Torah into the rich display of joy and festivity that became the hallmark of Simchas Torah as we practice it today.

After living in the sukkah and reigniting our faith in the Almighty as we inculcate the lessons of the Jews who followed Hashem into the midbar, we reach a state of spontaneous ecstasy which will carry us through the oncoming winter season and the continuing exile.

It is noteworthy that Simchas Torah never falls on Shabbos. When I first learned that fact as a child, I thought that the reason was that Hashem wanted Jewish children to be able to carry their flags and small Sifrei Torah to shul. But as I got older, I began to understand that the reason Simchas Torah never falls on Shabbos is because the Yom Tov teaches us how to live during the six days of chol. The simcha and lessons of the day carry over to make every day like Shabbos, even days when we have no choice but to work and be preoccupied with the mundane. We celebrate the Torah, we celebrate that Hashem gave us the Torah, and we celebrate that we are members of the nation Hashem fed, protected and housed in the desert. On Simchas Torah, every Jew can reconnect to Torah and begin its study once again with the renewed intensity that has been building up since Rosh Chodesh Elul. Sukkos renews a Jew’s feelings for kiyum hamitzvos. On the day of Simchas Torah, a Jew is suffused with an otherworldly joy. On this day, as Parshas Vezos Habracha is read, he can appreciate that the Torah is the essence of bracha, blessing. He begins his study of Torah again with Parshas Bereishis, armed with a fresh perspective and a determination to understand it better than he did last time around. He opens up a Chumash and begins learning the first posuk. He then turns to the first Rashi we are all so familiar with, which asks why the Torah begins with the story of creation. Should it not have begun with the parsha of “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” which describes the first commandment given to the Jews as a nation? He reads the answer: “So that if the nations of the world accuse the Jews of being land robbers for stealing the land of Eretz Yisroel from other nations, you will be able to answer them and tell them that the entire world belongs to Hashem; He created it and He can give it to whomever He pleases. First He gave Eretz Yisroel to the other nations, and then He took it away from them and gave it to us.” He mulls the obvious question: Do those who deny our connection to Eretz Yisroel really care about what it says in the Torah? Will they be satisfied with an answer derived from the Torah’s choice of one sentence over another sentence? Furthermore, even if it is important to establish Hashem’s exclusive ownership of the earth, why must the Torah begin with this fact? He continues on to the next Rashi: “Bereishis. Bishvil haTorah shenikrah reishis ubishvil Yisroel shenikre’uh reishis…” Why does the Torah open with the word “bereishis”? “Because it signifies that the world was created for the Torah, which is also referred to as reishis, and to teach us that the world was created for Am Yisroel, who are called reishis,” Rashi explains. He ponders the connection between the two Rashis. Rashi doesn’t actually mean to say that the evil heathens of the world will be influenced by the arguments of the Torah. Perhaps Rashi’s intent is for us to continually remind ourselves of some fundamental truths that dictate our purpose in this world: Hashem created the world and singled out the Jewish nation as His chosen people for all time. He designated them as the recipients of the Holy Land in which they could elevate themselves through Torah, to perfection. Since time immemorial, Jews have been singled out for hatred by the nations of the world. They have accused us of every conceivable sin and have sought to evict us from their lands and wipe us out. The Torah opens with the narrative of Hashem’s creation and dominion over the world to remind us that no matter what the nations of the world accuse us of, we know the truth and should not become dejected. The Jew appreciates this and is able to stand up to all the scoffers who mock his devotion to Torah. The Jew recognizes that the Torah is not a history book designed to trace the odyssey of a people. It is the guide to life in this world, written by its Creator. We live our lives by what it says. On the day we end a cycle of study and begin it anew, our celebration and joy are unparalleled. On this happiest of days, we dance and sing songs of praise to Hashem and thank him for choosing us and for giving us the Torah. We sway to tunes which express our love for Torah and our devotion to it. The pesukim of the Torah come alive and infuse the Jew with intense joy as he repeats over and over again, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu umah na’im goraleinu.”He realizes that the Torah is as relevant today as on the first day of creation and the day it was delivered to the Bnei Yisroel on Har Sinai. That awareness increases the fervor of his dance and heartfelt simcha. As it sinks in that the world was created for Torah, he wonders, isn’t it strange that davka the holiday we celebrate by leaving our homes and moving outside into a primitive structure is singled out as the Yom Tov of happiness and joy? He quickly recognizes that it is precisely during these few days when we retire to a small, chilly, dimly lit hut that we celebrate and begin to experience true happiness. As he sits in his little sukkah, full of joy and bitachon, surrounded by temporary walls bedecked with the traditional decorations, he looks up to the heavens and realizes he is not alone, nor ever will be. He is happy. He has attained true happiness. He has learned a lesson in what is real and what is illusory, what is temporary and what is permanent. And by the time Simchas Torah comes around, he can contain himself no longer. As soon as Maariv is over, he grabs his children and his chaveirim and puts music to words that Jews have been singing for hundreds of years. He is exultant. His spirits soar. He is full of joy. He is prepared to face whatever the sheishes yemei hamaaseh will bring him. For he knows that Hashem feeds him, clothes him, protects him and keeps him healthy and strong. He feels Hashem’s closeness and that is the deepest source of simcha.

Chag someach.


Blogger Jamie said...

Dear Rabbi Lipschutz: My friend sent me the blog posting you made on Marci last year. You might remember me too, I am the photographer from Israel who spoke with you (Marci put me in touch with you) and I grew-up with Marci as well. How ironic, my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past June. We are doing so much to address this, and so far the results, due to many, many factors, appear to be as good as one can expect. But I have learned so much, and now, I understand at another level what my dear friend went through as I view my wonderful wife after 5 chemo sessions. We are struggling. We will continue to struggle. There are so many things that make this world what it is. I miss Marci and yes, she has left such an indelible mark on so many of us. Jamie

6:37 PM  

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