Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Avrohom’s Grandchildren

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We were introduced to Avrohom Avinu in Parshas Noach. Last week, Avrom was mentioned in passing regarding his lineage. This week, the Torah simply tells us that Hashem appeared to Avrom and told him to leave his birthplace, to uproot himself from his ancestral home and to move to the land Hashem would show him.

Without being told anything about Avrom, who he is or why he merits for Hashem to speak to him, the parsha continues, telling us that Hashem promised Avrom that in the land in which he was currently living, he would not merit children (Rosh Hashanah 16b, Rashi ad loc), but if he would follow Hashem’s directive and move, he would be blessed with children and wealth, and his offspring would develop into a great nation.

We still don’t know anything about him, but we assume that he must have been a great man, for why else would Hashem appear to him and bless him with so many brachos?

In order for Avrom to merit being blessed, it was not enough that he was the first person who recognized on his own the existence of the Creator. He would have to separate himself from the heathens with whom he lived and grew up.

That theme seems to flow through the pesukim of the parsha. “Lech lecha, leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s home.” To merit blessing, he had to escape the society that surrounded him.

Lot left his ancestral home along with his uncle, Avrom. It would seem that Lot had good intentions, casting his lot with Avrom and Sorai, setting out for parts unknown. His allegiance was rewarded, as the posuk relates (12:5) that Lot was blessed with material wealth. Rashi quotes the Gemara which states that this was a result of his accompanying Avrom. 

When the land of Canaan was plagued by hunger, Lot went with Avrom and Sorai to Mitzrayim. When Avrom was blessed with livestock and riches there, Lot benefited as a consequence of his attachment to his uncle.

A rift developed between the shepherds of Avrom and the shepherds of Lot. Without searching for compromise or peace gestures, Avrom suggested that they separate. Lot looked towards Sedom, attracted by its lush vegetation. Without putting up an argument, he contently offered to move there, while Avrohom settled in Eretz Canaan.

Lot, the talmid and relative of Avrohom, ended up in the city whose very name until today is synonymous with sin.

It took much determination and intelligence by Avrom to chart the course of his life. Although Noach was alive when Avrom was born, the world had already forgotten its Creator. The people worshipped the moon, stars, sun and idols they fashioned. Avrom recognized that the world had to have been created by a Higher Being and spent the first years of his life seeking Him out.

There was much opposition. Avrom was vilified by those around him for violating the doctrines of his day. Worse, he became a threat to his father and the ruling powers. They conspired to kill him and put an end to his dangerous influence. 

It would have been much easier for Avrom to play along with them as he pursued his own agenda. His life would have been smoother had he not antagonized the powerful as he went about his personal search to understand how the world came into being.

But Avrom fought for the truth. He discovered the Ribono Shel Olam and shared his finding with the world. He was not deterred by the powerful or by friends, and not even by his own father. He was not enamored by the trappings of pagan life. Their way wasn’t his. Their lifestyle wasn’t his. As soon as Hashem told him to leave, he was gone.

When Hashem’s blessing came to fruition and he was showered with wealth by Paroh, he remained the same person he was in Choron. As he returned from his adventure in Mitzrayim that led to the accumulation of his great fortune, the Torah says that he returned to the same tent in which he had previously lived. He did not permit his material success to give rise to pride, arrogance and gluttony. He returned to the mizbeiach he built prior to leaving the Holy Land.

Lot was close to Avrom for many years, but when he returned from Mitzrayim, the money had changed him. The pesukim (13:3-5) that speak of Avrom’s return to his previous home and mizbeiach are followed by the posuk that states, “Lot who traveled with Avrohom also had sheep, cattle and tents.” Avrom used his newfound wealth for good things. Lot did not.

Sending Lot away, Avrom finalized his separation from the people of his past. The posuk (Bereishis 13:14) relates that after Lot had parted from him, Hashem told Avrom to take a sweeping view of the land, for it would all be given to him and his plentiful offspring. “Walk its length and breath, for I will give it to you,” Hashem says.

Avrom’s separation from Lot was required in order to merit that blessing (see Rashi, ibid.).

Later in the parsha, Avrom went to war to defend Lot and his Sedomites. When the king of Sedom attempted to gift Avrom all the captured wealth, Avrom declined. “Harimosi yodi el Hashem konei shomayim va’aretz. I will not take from you even a thread or a shoelace.”

Once again, following that mark of separation, Hashem appears to Avrom and says, “Al tira Avrom, Anochi magein loch, sechorcha harbeh meod,” issuing him monumental brachos, culminating with the Bris Bein Habesorim (Bereishis 15:17-21).

Separation leads to brocha.

Towards the end of the parsha, Hashem tells Avrom to be a tomim in his service. Hashem changes the names of Avrom and Sorai to Avrohom and Sorah and offers his bris to Avrohom. A covenant is formed between them: Avrohom and his offspring will follow the word of Hashem and separate themselves from everyone around them by performing bris milah, and Hashem will give them Eretz Yisroel and be their G-d. Avrohom will be “av hamon goyim,” our father, and Sorah will be a mother, soon to give birth to Yitzchok, despite her old age and condition.

We are identified as bnei ubenos Avrohom v’Sorah. What does that mean? What does that say about us? What do we do to earn that appellation and maintain it?

Do you want to be My people? Lech lecha. Hishaleich lefonai veheyei somim. Separate yourself from the hedonistic culture that surrounds you.

Avrohom realized that there is a Creator and spent his life spreading the message of truth and following His path with temimus.

The Torah doesn’t tell us more about Avrohom than the directive of “Lech lecha,” for that was his essence - distancing himself from those whose lives are about temporary, fleeting pleasures.

Avrohom arrived at his level of avodah through giving much thought to the world and his place in it. Not only that, but before performing an action, he contemplated whether it would increase or decrease kevod Shomayim. When commanded to perform bris milah, he consulted with his friend, Mamrei (Bereishis 18:1, Rashi) about which venue for the procedure would maximize his ability to bring people to serve Hashem.

This is the foundation of Avrohom’s greatness. As the Ramchal writes in Mesilas Yeshorim, man must think daily about what he is doing, just as storekeepers review their inventory and weights to ensure that they will not err and cause themselves great losses. Someone who fails to do so is enslaved by his yeitzer hora, which causes him to become blinded to the truth. He walks blissfully, thinking that he is safe and secure in his blissful path, only to stumble and fall.

A ben Avrohom must realize that he is here for a higher purpose and ensure that his actions are furthering that goal.

Many of the crises people discuss are symptoms of what ails us, and of the generation in which we live. There are many issues to discuss, and many things that are bringing us down and then there is our terrible image in the press. What are we doing about them? How badly does it bother us when our people are portrayed negatively? What do we do to rectify this?

It seems as if we hear the same speeches repeated over and over again about symptoms and dealing with symptoms. Somehow, however, the heart of the issues that plague us is not addressed. We aren’t reminded that we are the nation of Avrom.

If we would act as Avrohom did, with thoughtfulness, so many people would be helped, so many problems would never have been created in the first place and those which confound us would be more easily corrected.

Learn what life is really all about. Set goals for yourself. Be ambitious. Don’t be superficial. Have some depth. And thought. How does a Jew act in such a situation? How would Avrohom act? How would Sorah? Do that and then you will live. Your life will be fulfilling. And real.

A talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro was experiencing marital difficulties. He called his rebbi, “I need to speak to you, my wife wants a get, I am distraught.” Rav Moshe told him, “Stay where you are. I’ll get back to you.”

Fifty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was Rav Moshe. He dropped what he was doing and came to help the couple.

They went into the study. Pain and tears poured out, as the accusations flew.

Rav Moshe sat quietly and then asked, “Have you learned Iyov?” Without addressing any of the issues so emotionally discussed, he launched into a comprehensive shiur on Iyov. When he finished, he gave the couple a warm brocha and got up to leave.

“But rebbi, you didn’t address any of our issues. You didn’t help us,” the talmid questioned.

Rav Moshe said to him, “Do you really think that I came here to judge who said what, when and how?

“The story between you and your wife, and the story between people, and between people and themselves, has nothing to do with who raised their voice, and who said what, and who cleaned the floor.

“The deeper story is all about how we look at life, how we understand our missions, the meaning of our actions and what Hashem wants from us.

Sefer Iyov teaches how to live, how to view the world, how to view our existence. It teaches how to ride the waves and not let the waves ride us; how not to fall into ruts that are difficult to climb out of.

“Don’t fall into ruts. Stop waiting for others to lift you from them. Learn how to live.

“Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn Iyov. Learn it with your wife. Learn it.”

Besides being invigorating and inspiring, daily study of Torah and mussar reminds us how to think and conduct ourselves in a tumultuous world.

We have definitely been blessed. We live better than Jews ever did throughout the exile. Do you think that Hashem has blessed us so in order for us to become self-indulgent pleasure-seekers, so self-absorbed that we should become oblivious to the concerns and needs of other people? Do you think that He intends for us to become a people corrupted with an entitlement mentality who engage in pursuits that are of momentary enjoyment, as fleeting as the interest people have in their selfies? Do you think He is happy when we inconsiderately inconvenience people? How about when we demean people who need something from us?

If the glamour and glitz of the very world we seek to separate from appeal to us, it becomes tough to engage in the “Lech lecha” of our time, turning our backs on that realm. If vapid popularity is important to us, we risk eroding our eternal values to find favor with the “in” crowd. If the “good life” attracts us, it becomes difficult to smash the pagan idols of our time.

Avrohom and his offspring will forever be sealed with brocha - “becha chosmin” - as long as we remain loyal to what is true and good. When we follow the ways of Avrohom and consider our actions and words, and we raise our children with Torah values and teach them to be considerate of others, kind, good and honest, we will continue to merit the brachos reserved for the offspring of Avrohom. People who are not seduced by the blandishments of Sedom are deserving of the Divine brachos.

Avrohom Avinu delved into the intricacies of this world and mastered the underlying truth of creation and man’s purpose in this world. Society’s delusions and icons held no appeal for him. As children of Avrohom, we need to be reminded that our path is the correct one. The most rewarding and eternal blessings are reserved for those who know that all else is fleeting.

Let us study the parsha and grasp its inherent lessons. Let us think before we speak and act, always endeavoring to remain loyal to our appellation as bnei Avrohom, ne’emomim to Hashem and his Torah.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Make A Difference

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Bereishis ends by stating that human behavior had degenerated to the point that Hashem reconsidered the creation of man. The parsha concludes by saying that Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. Parshas Noach continues this theme by describing Noach as a tzaddik tomim who walked with Hashem.
The Torah states that Noach was a tzaddik tomim in his generation. Rashi tells us that some interpret this posuk as laudatory of Noach and others interpret it in a critical vein. The detractors say that had Noach lived in the generation of Avrohom, he would not have counted for anything.
Since the Torah describes Noach as a tzaddik and a tomim, why must we pounce on him and minimize his greatness? Why can’t we take the posuk at face value? If the Torah states that the entire world except for Noach had become defiled, isn’t that enough to establish his spiritual grandeur? Does it really make a difference to us what level of greatness Noach would have attained had he lived in the generation of Avrohom?
The world was about to be destroyed, and the only people Hashem found worthy of being saved were Noach and his family. The future of mankind would be perpetuated through them. They must have been good and worthy people. If not, they would have been swept away by the flood along with the rest of humanity. Why does Rashi interject that some looked upon Noach unfavorably?
It is often noted that Noach was occupied with his own personal avodah and didn’t seek to improve people around him. 
Noach apparently felt that since Hashem had already decided to bring the flood, it would be futile to chastise his generation. The entirety of mankind of the generation in which he lived was depraved and unredeemable. Why waste time ministering to them and trying to assist them in rectifying their lives? There was clearly no interest. They had developed theories and philosophies to rationalize their hedonistic behavior and were not amenable to change. 
Noach’s existence was quite lonely. There were no people with whom he could carry on a conversation or take walks. 
“Es ha’Elokim hishalech Noach.” The humble tzaddik walked with Hashem. It is commendable that Noach, who lived in a deplorable time without role models or teachers to learn from and follow, raised himself to such a degree that G-d would speak to him, quite a noteworthy achievement. 
Yet, Rashi is quick to interject, “Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Had the tzaddik Noach lived in the time of Avrohom, he would not have been considered anything. 
Noach’s self-contained, self-oriented avodah would not have been considered great in the time of Avrohom, because Avrohom showed that it is possible to be a tzaddik, live among wayward people, improve them, affect their behavior, and earn their respect. The posuk of “es hanefesh asher asu b’Choron” (Bereishis 12:5) attests that Avrom and Sorai had established a following of people whom they influenced and brought “tachas kanfei haShechinah” (Rashi, ibid.).
Additionally, Avrohom pleaded with Hashem not to destroy the city of Sedom and its evil inhabitants. He never gave up on anyone and never perceived any person as being beyond salvation.
There are various derochim in avodas Hashem. Noach’s was acceptable in his generation prior to the birth of the derech of Avrohom. However, once Avrohom showed that we are not to give up on anyone, that became the path for his progeny to follow.
This is why Rashi takes pains to tell us that although Noach was a tzaddik tomim, we should not learn from him. His way is not our way. As children of Avrohom, we must follow the path that Avrohom Avinu hewed for us. We have to accept responsibility for those around us who are confused and lost. We have to be able to rise above the moral dissolution in which society attempts to drown us. We have to find the skills and the intelligence to effectively reach out and touch people.
We have to care enough to find the right words at the right time to let people know what they mean to us. If we cared about G-dliness and goodness as much as Avrohom did, then we would try as hard as he did to spread it in our world. We wouldn’t justify our inaction by saying that the people we could sway are too far gone. Parents who suffer with a child who has fallen under bad influences and is struggling with addiction never give up. They never stop loving their child and desperately seek ways to convey that love.
Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Although Noach was a tzaddik, found favor in Hashem’s eyes, and was chosen to have the world rebuilt through him, once Avrohom came on the scene, Noach’s greatness was eclipsed. It is now Avrohom’s path - his actions and example - that we must emulate.
In our own day, when we witness injustice and impropriety, we should not shirk the responsibility of intelligently addressing the source of these lapses. When we see bizayon haTorah, it should shake us to our core and we should not be too weak to express our indignation. Following Avrohom’s example, we must be engaged with others, not withdrawn from them.
When we see people wronged, we should not stand by apathetically. Rather, we should rise to the occasion. We should imagine that it is our family being wronged. We should imagine that the transgression took place in our teivah. We should raise our voices and use our abilities to attempt to right the wrongs.
We mustn’t content ourselves by only educating our children to follow in the path of the Torah and halacha. We have to at least attempt to enroll more children into religious schools. We mustn’t say that we are helpless to bring about change.
Why don’t we see full-fledged kiruv in this country as there is in Israel and other places? How can it be that there are millions of Jews being lost to our people and we don’t do anything about it? 
Decades after Hitler diminished the world’s Jewish population by at least six million, we are witness to the loss of many more, yet we do nothing - or little - about it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish kids who could be convinced to attend Jewish schools grow up oblivious to their heritage. We are glad when Reform temples close up shop and merge due to dwindling numbers, without realizing that their demise is an indication of more Jews being lost for eternity. Why the joy? At the very least, we should be pained and at least attempt to work to stem the awful tide.
There are remarkable groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to outreach and school placement, but despite their heroic efforts, they can barely make a dent in solving the problem. They need much wider communal support and concern in order to reach appreciable numbers. We have to genuinely care about our Jewish brothers and sisters and really want to save them from drifting from their heritage to points of no return. 
Noach was a great man. Undoubtedly, it required superhuman strength to withstand the temptations of his period. Certainly, he was outstanding in that he remained moral and honest despite the corruption of his time. The posuk testifies that Noach found favor - chein - in the eyes of Hashem. And the Gemara in Sukkah (49b) states axiomatically that anyone who has chein also possesses yiras Shomayim.
Yet, while Noach had yiras Shomayim and all of mankind is his offspring, he is not referred to as av hamon goyim, the father of the nations, although, in fact, everyone alive is a descendent of his. That appellation is reserved for Avrohom Avinu, who treated all of mankind as his children, as dwellers of his own ark, whom he was responsible to care for and love. He didn’t mock them; he sought to raise them. He touched their hearts, reached their souls, affected their psyches, and improved them to the level that they joined his flock.
Avrohom went further than Noach. Not only did he have yiras Shomayim, but he was also the first to convert to Hashem’s service. The Gemara in Sukkah (ibid.) expounds on the posuk, “Am Elokei Avrohom - shehaya techilah l’goyim,” which Rashi explains to mean that he was the first person in the world to convert.
Noach never took that step. He didn’t go around trying to straighten out the people he lived with, and he wasn’t mispallel for their salvation as Avrohom was. Noach didn’t sit out in front of his tent waiting to bring them under the canopy of G-d as Avrohom did.
Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.”
Let us not excuse inaction by contending that those around us are too far gone to merit our intervention. Let us not minimize our talents and abilities. Let us find the right words of reproach and outreach to express our love and determination, and may we merit for our actions to be judged favorably by G-d and man.
Rav Shlomo of Karlin told his students that following his passing, they should turn to the rebbe of Nishchiz for leadership and direction.  
Rav Uri of Strilisk followed Rav Shlomo’s advice and made his way to Nishchiz. As he waited his turn, he watched as a wealthy man was warmly received and blessed by the rebbe. Rav Uri was able to see that the man had recently committed a serious sin. He was horrified that the man his rebbe had sent him to for guidance was so welcoming to an evil-doer.
The rebbe of Nishchiz perceived Rav Uri’s anger and told him to immediately leave the room. Quite embarrassed, he did as he was told and headed for the local bais medrash
A short time later, the rebbe arrived at the bais medrash. He went over to Rav Uri and said to him, “I also know what you know. But do you know why Rav Shlomo Karliner sent you here? It is so that you should learn that a person without enough ahavas Yisroel to love a sinning Jew hasn’t reached the proper level of avodas Hashem, for if you would treat people like him with love, they can do teshuvah and return.”
The Jewish Week is happy this week, an indication that something is wrong. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, propagator of new roles for women in Orthodoxy, is preparing to hand off leadership of his Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, a YU executive and former pulpit rabbi. 
The Jewish Week reports, “The fact that he plans to head the Ohr Torah Stone network could bolster the notion here that empowering women as decisors of halacha, or Jewish law, is more mainstream than fringe, and well within the bounds of Orthodoxy.” 
The paper quotes Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who is ecstatic over Riskin’s chosen successor. She remarked, “It is significant and telling that one of the major rabbinic leaders of Yeshiva University, the flagship of Modern/centrist Orthodoxy, will be heading an institution that gives women semicha.” 
She added, “If you choose to write off Rabbi Brander’s appointment” at Ohr Torah Stone as not applicable to American Orthodoxy, “you are blind to where Orthodoxy and amcha [the people] are. This is huge.”
The article mentions that the OU organization of Orthodox synagogues is soon to vote on whether to expel from its group shuls that employ women. Jonathan Sarna, an oft-quoted Jewish expert, is trotted out. He says that “this is a plastic moment for the Orthodox community in the U.S.” The Orthodox synagogue group can take what he calls “the inclusive, big tent approach” or it can vote to maintain “ideological purity, which could result in a split” within Orthodoxy.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he averred, “for the OU to explain why Israel accepts Orthodox women leaders” and the U.S. shouldn’t.
So now, the idea of Orthodox women rabbis is perceived as a given. The only question is whether the OU will face the facts or not. 
We hate to say, “We told you so,” but when Avi Weiss began ordaining female clergy several years ago and the Yated undertook a lonely campaign against him and his practice, we were castigated for writing about topics that will never affect the majority of Orthodoxy. People said back then, and continue to contend when we write of the dangers of Open Orthodoxy, that it is a non-issue that does not and will not affect frum Jews. 
We have proven that Open Orthodoxy’s leaders are, in fact, not Orthodox, and have called for the rescinding the semicha of Ysoscher Katz, Chair of the Talmud Department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies.
We have written that the deviating actions of Open Orthodoxy will affect all of Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is coming to pass. An idea is born, then it is adopted, progressives swoon over it, people are loath to protest lest they be seen as unenlightened, and slowly it gains approval and becomes accepted. We see this with the moral climate of this country and others, and sadly the same is true with the innovations of Open Orthodoxy and people like Shlomo Riskin, who claims to be “Modern Orthodox.” 
Sarna can say that in Israel women are accepted as “leaders,” and it is accepted as fact. Riskin tells the paper that women can be “spiritual leaders and have the right to give halachic directions and make halachic decisions.”
The Jewish Week says Riskin told them that “he has received no negative reactions from Israeli gedolim (Orthodox rabbinic sages) regarding his positions on women’s roles.” It is a ridiculous assertion, but one that he gets away with. He knows the universal position of gedolim and Orthodoxy on the topic, and he is well aware of the stated positions of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the position of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the towering rabbinic figure of Modern Orthodoxy.
This issue is but one example of the result of adopting a position of not getting involved in issues affecting the larger community. There are many that come to mind. There is no one who is beyond reach and there is no one who is beyond reproach. We have a responsibility to be mochiach and set the record straight as to the proper path our people should follow. We have an obligation to other people. No one is ever that far gone that we give up on them. 
Like Avrohom Avinu, we are to express concern for others, seek to return sinners to the tent of Torah, reach out to wayward folks with love and care, and teach anyone who will listen the ways of morality and goodness.
Never perceive any issue as hopeless. View every person with merciful kindness, knowing that “betzelem Elokim bara osam,” there is spirituality in every living soul. 
May we be worthy inheritors of our grandfather, Avrohom.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Let’s All Be Happy

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Sukkos is upon us. The Yom Tov of joy has returned. We study its halachos and concepts so that with the observance of its mitzvos, we grasp its lessons.

The Torah tells us that the mitzvah of sukkah was given "lemaan yeidu doroseichem," so that future generations shall know that Hashem placed the Jewish people in sukkos when He removed them from Mitzrayim. Rabi Akiva (Sukkah 11b) says that they were “sukkos mamosh,” actual sukkos.

We left the servitude of Mitzrayim and crossed the Yam Suf, but we had no roof over our heads to protect us from the elements and to live a family life in a home. Hashem made for us small huts, in which we lived for the duration of our sojourn in the desert.

Allegorically, it would seem that living that way was an uncomfortable experience, yet for all the complaints the Jewish people had, the Torah doesn't record that they grumbled about their living arrangements. Apparently, life in the sukkah was quite acceptable to them.

And we wonder how that can be.

Living in the sukkah means living surrounded by Hashem’s blessing and knowing that He grants us our needs. A ma’amin is happy with what he has, because he appreciates that his possessions are given to him by a loving Father who provides for each person according to his/her personal needs.

This is symbolized by the humble sukkah. We leave our sturdy, temperature-controlled places of luxury, and for seven days we dwell in a small, barely furnished, uninsulated shed to demonstrate our dependence on Hashem all year round, and our happiness with what we have. If it is ordained for us to live in a place like this, we accept that this is the will of Hashem, and we not only make the best of it, but are actually happy and grateful for what we have.

Therefore, Sukkos is a Yom Tov of joy. When the sun sets on the fourteenth day of Tishrei, happiness descends upon the Jewish people, as they look forward to living for seven days in the shadow of Hashem’s Shechinah.

We begin with the much-awaited experience of sitting in a beautifully decorated sukkah. Chains crisscross its expanse, pictures adorn the walls, and the table is laid out with a crisp white tablecloth and the finest dishes. Everyone is dressed in their Yom Tov best, the refraction of the lights and candles reflecting off the glowing faces of the people seated around the table.

The Vilna Gaon, in his peirush to Shir Hashirim (1:4), explains why we celebrate Sukkos during the month of Tishrei and not Nissan, when we were freed from Mitzrayim and Hashem placed us in sukkos.

The Gaon writes that the sukkah is a commemoration of the Ananei Hakavod that enveloped the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert.

[Whether the Gaon’s explanation is strictly according to Rabi Eliezer (ibid) who disputes Rabi Akiva and posits that the sukkos referred to in the posuk refers to ananim is beyond the scope of this article.]

The clouds that protected us when we left Mitzrayim during the month of Nissan departed when we sinned with the Golden Calf. They did not return until after our teshuvah was accepted. It was on Yom Kippur that Moshe Rabbeinu returned from interceding on our behalf for forty days. The next day, he gathered all of Am Yisroel and related the commandment to build a Mishkon. It took a few days to gather the material, and on the 15th day of Tishrei, they began to work on crafting the Mishkon. It is for this reason, the Vilna Gaon writes, that we celebrate Sukkos in Tishrei.

Since it is the return of the Ananim to Klal Yisroel that we celebrate with our sukkos, they contain an extra measure of simcha. The return of the Ananim was tied to the acceptance of our teshuvah. That empowers us in moving ahead from the days of Rosh Hashanah, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur, as we see the power of teshuvah and tefillah.

Just as Am Yisroel was able to come back from the depravity of the sin of the Eigel and merit the Ananei Hakavod, the Mishkon and a home for the Shechinah, so too, in our day, if we return with full hearts, our teshuvah is accepted. Thus, after the Yomim Noraim, we construct the sukkah to  demonstrate our faith that Hashem accepted our repentance and will accept us as He did at this time of this month when the Jews left Mitzrayim.

Our joy is overwhelming as we await the return of the Ananei Hakavod and the Shechinah. We enter the sukkah and praise Hashem “asher bochar bonu mikol am.” We recite the brocha of Shehecheyonu, thanking Hashem for keeping us alive so that we can celebrate this moment.

The Maharal (end of Drasha LeShabbos Hagadol) goes a step further and says that in the merit of us observing mitzvas sukkah on the first day of Sukkos, Hashem will rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh, which is His sukkah in this world.

However, there are times when it rains on Sukkos and we aren’t able to observe the remembrance for the acceptance of teshuvah and return of the Ananei Hakavod. Rain on Sukkos is distressing, as there is a Divine message inherent in the downpour. The Mishnah in Sukkah (28) famously teaches that rain on Sukkos is compared to a servant who pours a drink for his master. Instead of accepting it, the master throws the drink back in the servant’s face.

How dispiriting it is to have an act of devotion and deference rejected in such fashion.

Why does the Mishnah convey its point regarding the bad omen of rain on Sukkos through an allegory describing a slave and his master? The Mishnah could have made the same point with a tale involving a son serving his father.

A person’s children are his children no matter what happens. If a son is disobedient, he is still a son. If a son doesn’t serve his parents properly, he is still their son. They may be upset with him, and they will try to educate him to improve his ways, but they cannot divorce him from being their son.

Servants and slaves, however, exist purely to serve their masters. The concept of avdus is one of complete servitude. A servant’s very existence is dependent upon his master’s mercy. Should the servant not serve his master properly, he won’t remain a servant much longer.

When a master rejects his servant’s help, the master isn’t merely rebuffing or insulting him. The master is rejecting his very essence. The master, in a statement of invalidation, is declaring that he has no need for the servant.

Our relationship with Hashem is one of duality. We are both children and servants. On Rosh Hashanah, following the shofar blasts of Malchuyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, we recite a brief tefillah. We proclaim that we are bonim and avodim. We ask Hashem that if He perceives us as children, He should have mercy on us the way a father has mercy on his children. If He is dealing with us as avodim, we ask that we find favor in His eyes so that we will emerge triumphant upon being judged.

If that is the case, why, when it comes to Sukkos, is our relationship with Hashem depicted as one of avodim, servants, and not as bonim, children?

Perhaps we can understand this by examining the biblical explanation for the mitzvah of sukkah.

Hashem commands us to sit in the sukkah, stating, “Lemaan yeidu doroseichem ki vasukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzi’i osam mei’eretz Mitzrayim - So that your future generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos when I took them out of Mitzrayim.”

The mitzvah of sukkah is to remind us that Hashem redeemed us from slavery in Mitzrayim. When we sit in the sukkah, we proclaim that Hashem plucked us out of that awful situation and fashioned us to be His avodim. As Chazal say, “Avodei heim, velo avodim la’avodim.” We are avdei Hashem, not avodim to people who are themselves avodim.

Because we are His avodim, He freed us from the Mitzri’s physical servitude, split the Yam Suf for us, and put us on safe, dry land, where He built sukkos for us and spread His canopy of peace over us. The supreme joy of Sukkos is a celebration of our rewarding avdus of Hashem.

Therefore, since the Yom Tov of Sukkos is a celebration of us becoming exclusively avdei Hashem, when it rains on us in our sukkos, it is as if there is a Heavenly proclamation that our service is not appreciated. The avodah of Sukkos is avdus. It is a celebration of avdus. When there is a taanoh on us, it is a taanoh on our bechinah of avdus. Therefore, the Mishnah uses the parable of a slave and his master to portray the calamity of Sukkos rain.

This might be the explanation of the halacha of mitzta’eir, which is unique to sukkah. A person who finds it difficult to sit in the sukkah is freed from the obligation. We can explain that since we perform this mitzvah as avodim, a servant doesn’t have the luxury of complaining that he is inconvenienced by the master’s request of him. If a servant complains about a task, that is an indication that he has failed in his role and doesn’t appreciate his function. A servant does as he is commanded. His job is to perform for his master and be there at his beck and call. If he cannot do that, he has failed.

An eved Hashem who feels inconvenienced by a mitzvah has lost focus. A person who is pained by fulfilling the will of Hashem has failed in his avodah. Hashem says to him, “I don’t need you here. You may leave.”

We can also understand why someone who sits in the sukkah as rain is falling is termed a hedyot. An eved whose services are not wanted must atone for his wrongdoing and find favor again in the eyes of his master before returning to his service. As long as his master is displeased with him, he must stay away and work on amending the situation. Rain on Sukkos is a message to us that we must work harder to find favor in the eyes of Hashem. One who ignores that message is a hedyot. The proper response is sadness at being turned away and engaging in teshuvah in order to be welcomed back in the tzila demehemnusa, not so-to-speak forcing ourselves on Hashem.

Rain on Sukkos, as well, forces us to reexamine our identity, since our role as avdei Hashem is threatened.

On Rosh Hashanah, each time we blew the shofar, we asked Hakadosh Boruch Hu to have mercy on us, whether as sons or as servants. We are indeed both. We possess the fierce love and devotion of a son, coupled with the loyalty and dependability of a slave.

The avodah of the Yomim Noraim is to work on ourselves to be more subservient to the will of Hashem and be mamlich Him over us. With much longing, we say, “Veyomar kol asher neshomah be’apo, Hashem Elokei Yisroel Melech.” For ten days, we proclaim that Hashem is the “Melech Hakadosh.” We recite pesukim of Malchuyos and pray that “veyekablu ohl malchuscha aleihem.”

The point of these tefillos and others similar to them is for us to recognize our duty as avodim to Hashem. We approach Sukkos confident in understanding our mission and having perfected our avdus. Therefore, when it rains, it is a sign that our avdus is lacking and we have not yet perfected ourselves as required.

Yetzias Mitzrayim was a march to a new reality. Once we felt the bitter taste of servitude to the Mitzriyim, we were led out toward Har Sinai, where we were charged with the mandate of being avdei Hashem.

Rosh Hashanah tells us of Hashem’s greatness. The teshuvah of Yom Kippur leads us to humility. Following those great days, we are ready for Sukkos, humble servants eager to serve our Master.

The excitement we feel about sitting in the sukkah is exhilaration about facing our destiny. In its embrace, we celebrate avdus.


Rav Eliyohu Tabak, who passed away on Shabbos Parshas Nitzovim-Vayeilech, was such a person. No matter what his situation was, he was satisfied, because that was what Hashem wanted for him.

A man who was menachem avel told the family the following. “A few months back, your father told me something he hadn’t told anyone: His doctors gave him only a few months to live. Sometime later, I was very ill and the doctors gave me a few months to live. A few weeks afterwards, I was talking to your father, who asked me why I was so upset. I said that my doctor told me that my heart was weak and that it could give in at any time and cause my death.

 “‘Why are you upset?’ he said to me. ‘Whatever happens to you is the ratzon Hashem. Shouldn’t you be happy that you are a keili for that ratzon?’”

What an authentically Yiddish perspective.

That was how Reb Eli lived his life. He knew and understood that whatever happened was Divinely destined to be that way, so how can a person be sad about things that happen in his life? He wasn’t a jolly person, laughing all day like a simpleton. He was quite intelligent, in fact, and serious, but he was thought out. He was saturated with Torah. His thought process and the way he viewed himself, others and the world were through the prism of Torah.

When I was growing up in Monsey, the whole town was comprised of five streets. Nobody had much. We didn’t even know that we were lacking anything, because everyone we knew was in the same boat as us. We weren’t ashamed that we wore hand-me-downs; we didn’t know to be. It was a simple time. People were practical and normal. Yiddishkeit was real to us. No one did things merely because everyone was doing it. There was no showing off for other people. There was no ceremony or pomp.

Back then, everyone knew everyone, and everyone knew the Tabaks, and everyone knew that even in such a milieu, the Tabaks were different. They were a cut above. Reb Eli Tabak never changed from back then. He never changed to adapt as many did. He stayed the same, with it and current, but he was real. He was always real. He never sought to impress anyone or do what others did to fit in.

Rabbi Tabak was an original and he brought up his children to be originals.

He took his sons to a Satmar tish and told them to look at the rebbe’s face and see how holy he appeared. “Look at all the kavod he is getting here tonight,” he said to the young boys. “Do you know why he is so heilig? Do you know why he has so much kavod? Because he is up all night helping people and learning Torah. That’s what you have to do.”

The Satmar Rebbe was real, so Rabbi Tabak attached himself to him, and when he found other people who were real, he attached himself to them, as well.

And he transmitted to his fifteen children the reality of a Torah life. They all relished in it.

His children noticed that every morning, he would sit in the kitchen with his Gemara from 5 a.m. until it was time to daven Shacharis. They saw how important Torah was to him. They saw how many people he helped in so many different ways. They saw how happy he and they were, and they drew one conclusion: Their father was a lamed vov tzaddik.

He passed away on Shabbos at 5 a.m. His last words were, “Amein yehei shmei rabbah mevorach le’olam ul’olmei olmaya.” How fitting.


The Netziv, in his Ha’amek Dovor (Vayikra 16:29), explains that according to teva, the Jews should lose in their tug of war against the nations of the world, for there is no way that Jews are plentiful enough or strong enough to defeat all those who seek their destruction. Klal Yisroel endures because it is lema’alah miderech hateva.

Like our forefather Yaakov Avinu, who beat back his brother Eisov, we are not beholden to teva and the laws of nature.

Thus, when rain falls and prevents us from observing the mitzvah of sukkah, it is an omen that the teva may be dominant during the coming year. It is a reminder that we must complete our teshuvah.

If rain prevents us from entering our sukkah, we fear that it is a message from Heaven that we are not worthy of being the Chosen Nation and bearers of that royal heritage. By consequence, we fear that we are no longer being treated specially as bonim laMakom. Thus, the Mishnah compares us to avodim, not bonim.

To commemorate that we know Hakadosh Boruch Hu stands by us, we build sukkos as our grandfather Yaakov did, confident that Hashem will protect us there.

We pray that we will be seen as worthy heirs to the name Yisroel and treated as Hashem’s children and not as slaves, who are only around as long as their services are desired.

We pray that we will be treated as children, and even if we stray, we will always be welcomed and never abandoned.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 417) writes that the Yom Tov of Sukkos is “kineged” Yaakov Avinu, as the posuk states, “Ulemikneihu osoh sukkos” (Bereishis 33:17). The Zohar also says that Sukkos is “kineged” Yaakov, but derives this from the first part of the same posuk, which reads, “V’Yaakov nosa sukkosah.”

The Torah tells us that Yaakov was “ish tam yosheiv ohalim,” literally a simple, or complete, person who lived in tents. Yaakov was the “tam,” who simply trusted in Hashem without questioning his lot and making “cheshbonos.” Yaakov was the “yosheiv ohalim,” dedicating his life to Torah. For him, a tent - temporary, simple and rustic - was a sufficient dwelling place if that was what Hashem had chosen for him.

V’Yaakov nosa sukkosah.” It was in merit of those middos that we were given the mitzvah of sukkah, reminding us to live as our forefather Yaakov did, with complete faith, come what may.

The Gemara states (Pesochim 88a) that Yaakov Avinu referred to the place where the Bais Hamikdosh was to be built as a bayis, a home.

Similarly, for seven days, we call the sukkah, which commemorates the return of the Ananei Hakavod and the commencement of the construction of the mishkon, a bayis. The simple room is our home and we are very happy with it.

Sukkos only lasts seven days, but its lessons and inherent joy keep us smiling throughout the cold and darkness of winter. The messages of the sukkah, celebrating the acceptance of our teshuvah, the return of the Ananei Hakavod, and the construction of the Mishkon, warm our hearts and lighten our paths through the golus.

We await the day when our teshuvah for the sins that keep us in golus will finally be accepted. Then we will merit the return of the Shechinah among us and the construction of the third Bais Hamikdosh, bemeheira beyomeinu. Amein.