by Rabbi Berel Wein
I wish to share with you a beautiful short story about the wonderful festival of Sukkot. The story was authored by S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli Nobel laureate who won the prize for literature a number of years ago, and whose likeness adorns the 50-shekel note in Israeli currency.
It seems that Agnon, who was born in Poland, was a neighbor of a famous old rabbi from Russia. Both of them are now living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot. One year before Sukkot, Agnon met his rabbinic neighbor at the neighborhood store selling esrogim — the yellow citron fruit which is symbolic of the Sukkot holiday. There Agnon noticed how meticulous his neighbor was in choosing an esrog. Even though he was a person of limited means, the rabbi insisted on purchasing the finest, and hence most expensive, esrog available. After examining many specimens, the rabbi finally chose the one he wished and paid for it.
Walking home with Agnon, the rabbi emphasized to him how important it was to have a beautiful, flawless esrog on Sukkot, and how the beauty of the esrog was part of the fulfillment of the Divine commandment for the holiday.
On Sukkot morning Agnon noticed that the rabbi was without an esrog at the synagogue services. Perplexed, Agnon asked the rabbi where his beautiful esrog was. The rabbi answered by relating the following incident:
“I awoke early, as is my wont, and prepared to recite the blessing over the esrog in my sukkah located on my balcony. As you know, we have a neighbor with a large family, and our balconies adjoin. As you also know, our neighbor, the father of all these children next door, is a man of short temper. Many times he shouts at them or even hits them for violating his rules and wishes. I have spoken to him many times about his harshness but to little avail.
“As I stood in the sukkah on my balcony, about to recite the blessing for the esrog, I heard a child’s weeping coming from the next balcony. It was a little girl crying, one of the children of our neighbor. I walked over to find out what was wrong. She told me that she too had awakened early and had gone out on her balcony to examine her father’s esrog, whose delightful appearance and fragrance fascinated her. Against her father’s instructions, she removed the esrog from its protective box to examine it. She unfortunately dropped the esrog on the stone floor, irreparably damaging it and rendering it unacceptable for ritual use. She knew that her father would be enraged and would punish her severely, perhaps even violently. Hence the frightened tears and wails of apprehension.
“I comforted her, and I then took my esrog and placed it in her father’s box, taking the damaged esrog to my premises. I told her to tell her father that his neighbor insisted that he accept the gift of the beautiful esrog, and that he would be honoring me and the holiday by so doing.”
Agnon concludes the story by saying: “My rabbinic neighbor’s damaged, bruised, ritually unusable esrog was the most beautiful esrog I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Archive for Succot
But that is not what brought them success. They tasted success only because G-d’s hand enabled them to do so, or else it truly would have been impossible to achieve what they did.
Anyone who walks this earth with his eyes open is aware of the hand of G-d that touches us every moment of our lives. We see Siyata Di’Shmaya – Divine Protection – constantly. We work hard to accomplish our goal and then G-d takes over.
Every person was created to carry out a mission in life. Those who succeed are the ones who don’t let anything deter them for long. With faith in the One Above, they ignore the difficulties that would throw off lesser men. They continue their effort with the knowledge that G-d will assist them and take over for them at the proper time.
So the next day the beggar trotted down to the clothing store and bought himself the right attire transforming himself, from head to toe, to a Chassid, “bekeshe” and all.
Low and be hold it worked; now the beggar also received $1.00.
A few months pass by and the beggar is visiting an old friend where he sees in the street a fellow in his profession receiving $5.00. He asked him as he was curious how he’s able to command such a price?
The fellow answered, “You see this sign, I tell them I’m from a long line of Chassidim whose genealogy stems from the great Rebbe the Ba’al Shem Tov”
So the next day the beggar hangs up a sign next to his table, “I come from a long line of Chassidim whose genealogy stems from the great rebbe the Ba’al Shem Tov.”
The sign worked!! People were placing $5.00 into his cup.
One day he sees a fellow beggar, a couple of miles away receiving $10.00 per person. WOW!! How is this guy able to get that amount?
The fellow reveals, I tell them “I’m a convert. They love converts.”
So the next day the beggar has a sign “I’m a convert and I come from the great Jewishlineage of the great Rabbi the Ba’al Shem Tov.”
He, then, recieved nothing. The people were ridiculing him. How can one be a convert and come from the great Jewish lineage? It’s contradicting!!
The story has a strong message as we just finished asking forgiveness from G-d, promised to improve ourselves and change our attitude toward life. Contradictions in our lives are tests we all have to encounter. This lesson is ever so the embodiment of the holiday of Sukkah.
I remember, as a child, while our fathers were in the middle of prayers, my friends and I would take aim trying to shoot down the fruits that were hung, decoratively in the Sukkah, at the Sephardic Synagogue in Forest Hills, Queens. They were real fruits and made a messy landing. A few years later the Board of Directors, to avoid the chaos, decided the real fruits would be replaced with fake ones. It wasn’t the same after that, since it wasn’t much fun to shoot the plastic ones down. The idea of fruits hanging from the shchach (ceiling of the Sukkah made of bamboos) was in keeping with the biblical theme of Sukkot as the harvest festival of the Jewish calendar year.
There are a number of definitions of the word Sukkah. One Hebrew word that Jewishtradition associates with the word sukkah – “socheh” – and its meaning is “to see” or “to perceive.” That association would seem to imply that a sukkah somehow provides some perspective. Which, in fact, it does. That perspective and strong emphasis of Sukkot is it should be a temporary dwelling. Many laws are sensitive to this issue. One of which is: a Sukkah can not exceed 20 ammot (25-30 Ft.), by exceeding the twenty ammot that would constitutes a permanent structure.
Why should a Sukkah be a temporary dwelling?
It’s a custom in many communities to read Kohelet which was written by King Solomon. The work consists of personal or autobiographic matter, with reflections on the purpose of life and the best method of conducting it. Far from being a depressing book, Kohelet is there to add to the simcha. It’s infused with a spirit of joy and optimism, and gives Sukkot a special flavor. But the question is why was Sukkot chosen for its recitation and not any other holiday? Pesach, we became a nation and Shevuot we received the Torah. Those holidays are joyous as well why isn’t Kohelet recited then?
Another question about the holiday of Sukkot which we are mystified by are the seven supernal guests who come to visit us in the sukkah, one for each of the seven days of the festival. Ushpizin is an Aramaic word that means “guests”. The seven “founding fathers” of the Jewish people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. While all seven ushpizin visit our sukkah on each of the seven nights and days of Sukkot, each supernal “guest” is specifically associated with one of the festival’s seven days, and is the “leading” or dominant ushpiza for that night and day.
After reading this next story many of the questions above will be answered and the message of Sukkot will be understood giving a new perspective of life.
When the Russian Army conquered Lithuania, they sent many of the prisoners of war to, where else, Siberia. As one has realized through the experience of current events and history, war is cruel. The Russians forced the most high in command in the Lithuania military to perform the lowest task in prison. The more prominent position, the more embarrassing the job would be. They would make high ranking Generals clean toilets. This is how they would destroy the moral of the enemy.
One Jew who happened to be in Siberia at the time, victim of other crimes against the Republic, noticed something strange one night in the barracks while everyone was asleep.
One of the high ranking Generals awoke in the middle of the night apparently thinking all were sleeping and not aware this Jew was awake, pulled out from a duffle bag his officers uniform and dressed himself.
He then went in front of the mirror and saluted. Then he motioned his hand to the left then to the right as if he was giving orders. After approximately fifteen minutes he undressed placing the uniform back in the duffle bag and went back to sleep.
The next day the Jew trying to find a few minutes alone with the ex-General to ask him what the incident meant, finally was able to talk to him while outside doing drills in the snow.
The General indicated “What I’m currently doing now is not my true essence, I am a soldier here. But I am a General, this is my true calling in life. This prison is not the true reality.”
The essence of our existence is not the material, it’s the spiritual world. It’s hard to make both a priority. Therefore, one has to chose. The Sukkah is designed to be temporary. The lifeblood is not found in the short term world, with all the luxuries that we are accustomed to. As the Mesilat Yesharim says, and I paraphrase” it’s impossible to believe, one can really enjoy this world with all it’s disappointments that usually get latched on to whatever we do and accomplish. There is always something that will prevent us from the optimal enjoyment. And even if everything is perfect, which is hard to believe, one does not have time to enjoy it because he’s here only temporary!”
Kohelet starts off “Vanity of vanities”, said Koheleth; “vanity of vanities, all is vanity-all is worthless!!!”. This is a message from an individual, the wise King Solomon who overindulged in many of the worlds, finest physical pleasures. We leave those physical pleasures behind, the confines of our homes, our palaces and live in the Sukkah-little huts for seven days. Sukkah is trying to teach us that’s the true essence! By leaving our home we symbolize: life is temporary!. It’s not the physical world that’s the reality “it’s the uniform, as the general wholeheartedly believes”, it’s what one accomplishes through the Torah, through the mitzvoth.
And what gives this temporary time in the Sukkah staying power? The Ushpizin, our Avot-forefathers! One connects to his heritage. It gives the temporary state permanence! Because the link to our fathers is eternal! The Zohar is hinting that the Ushpizin are guests, just like us and we have to seize the moment in our lives. The opportunity to re-connect to them and to G-d is momentary! Life is short!
The fruits that are hung up in the Sukkah represent the harvest season. Farmers are especially happy at this time. These farmers, who are owners, know that field cannot be sold permantly. Eventually they have to give it back to the ancestral families. G-d informs us “you are wonderers and guests. I own the land. You are my guests in the land. You are guests in this world…make the best of it”
Living in Kew Garden Hills where the houses are attached and the backyards are very close to each other, during Succot one feels a sense of unity when everybody is out back in their sukkah, singing and eating. After a while though, everyone invites the others for a bite here and a dessert or a l’chaim there. G-d is blessing Avraham that his offspring will appease each other and together they’ll grow and be G-d’s number one representatives.
When G-d revealed Himself to our forefather Avraham, after Avraham committed to a life of serving G-d, He fondly promised him that his offspring will be many like the stars in the sky. Poetically, that’s nice and romantic; however, why did G-d pick on the stars? One of the holidays in which we had the pleasure to enjoy the last couple of weeks was Succot, where we eat and some of us actually sleep in these little huts. It’s not so easy to build these huts. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of intrinsic and detailed laws on how to build a Sukkah. One of which is when one puts on the schach – the bamboo roof, he should be careful to leave enough space to see the stars. One may ask why? Why do we have to see the stars through the schach? Succot is a fitting holiday following Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is very scary, we’re not sure who will live and who will die. Life is very short and one is not sure what will be tomorrow. During Succot, one lives in temporary quarters. Such is life – temporary. It’s a lesson to drive home – never be too sure and comfortable in life. Nothing is yours for long. Therefore, one should be more giving to his fellow man. The sun and the moon were the same size. However, the moon wanted to have the upper hand and slyly suggested to G-d, why have two huge lights? Make one smaller. So G-d said “You know, you’re right! I’ll make you smaller”. The moon realized his ambitious desires at the expense of others, and kept quiet, accepting G-d’s punishment. G-d then created the stars around the moon, to appease the moon; their task is to illuminate the sky and to make the moon not feel lonely and the burden of the punishment. Similarly, the Jews are here to appease each other because life is too short; its temporary. So one has to make the best of life. Succot represents unity. Living in Kew Garden Hills where the houses are attached and the backyards are very close to each other, during Succot one feels a sense of unity when everybody is out back in their sukkah, singing and eating. After a while though, everyone invites the others for a bite here and a dessert or a l’chaim there. G-d is blessing Avraham that his offspring will appease each other and together they’ll grow and be G-d’s number one representatives.
By Rabbi Gedalia Fogel
Hi! This is Rebbe speaking:
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot!! What a busy time of year and it’s exciting too. There’s so much happening around us.
The new year begins with the month of Tishrei. The first day of the new year is called Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana, Hashem judges all the Jews.
On Rosh Hashana we blow the shofar (horn of a ram) and we pray that we have a good year. We are very close to Hashem on this holy day. We refer to Hashem as our father. Just like you ask your father for what you need, so too you can ask Hashem for all your requests. And just like your father knows what’s best for you, so too Hashem knows what is best.
A prince decided to leave the palace and explore the outside world. He came to his father, the king and told him of his plans. The king pleaded with his son to stay, but the prince had his mind set. Before he departed the king gave his son the key to the entrance of the palace and said, “Whenever you feel like returning use this key to reenter the palace. I will be waiting for you.”
The prince went on his way. It took him time to get used to life outside of the royal palace. Things were very different than he was used to. But slowly, with time, the prince blended into the outside world. Many years passed and the prince vaguely remembered his royal upbringing. One night he had a dream that he was back in the palace spending time with his beloved father, the king. He awoke with a strong yearning to return home.
The prince immediately set out. When he arrived at the palace he took out the key that his father had given him upon his departure. He inserted it into the lock but the key would not turn. He tried numerous times but the key had become very rusty over the past few years. The prince burst into tears. His tears fell on the key and washed away the rust. The prince was finally able to enter the palace and reunite with his father whom he missed and loved so much.
All year we may stray from our Father in heaven, but Rosh Hashana we are awakened and we yearn to be reunited with our Father, the king. All our keys have become rusty. But the key of repentance is cleansed with our heartfelt prayers. Our Father, our king, Hashem, is waiting for us to return.
The days between Rosh Hashana, the first day of Tishrei and Yom Kippur, the tenth day of Tishrei, are called “Aseret Yimei Teshuva” – “Ten Days of Repentance”. These days are designated for repentance and it is easier to do Teshuva at this time.
We spend the day of Yom Kippur fasting and praying. This is a form of “Yirah” – fear. However, on Succot we are told to be “B’Simcha” to be happy and rejoice. It’s a mitzvah to be joyous on Succot. There are two ways to serve Hashem – through fear and through happiness. Both are important and there has to be a mixture of both, to fully do Hashem’s will. Everyone knows that we should love Hashem, but in order to do his will we must also be fearful of Him.
On succot we take 4 things, the Etrog, the Lulav, Aravot, and Hadassim and we put them all together. Look at these objects and you will see that the shape of each is similar to that of one’s body. The Etrog looks like the heart, the Lulav is compared to the spine; the Aravot are the lips and the Hadassim are the eyes. When we make a Beracha and shake them it cleanses them all.
Why do we shake the Lulav all six ways – up, down, right, left, front and back? We are chasing away the Yetzer Hara, the bad inclination. We want him to stay far away.
On Simchat Torah, the last day of Succot, we dance and sing with the Torah and our flags. We have completed the whole Torah throughout the year and the first Shabbat after, we begin again with Parshat Bereishit.
What have we learned today?
What are two forms of Avodat Hashem – serving Hashem?
One must serve Hashem and do his will with both, Yirah – fear and Simcha – happiness. When we do a Mitzvah we should do it B’Simcha so that the Mitzvah will be complete. Build your Sukkah with joy, purchase a beautiful Etrog with happiness and these Mitzvot will be worth their fullest. If you help your mother clear off the table but you keep saying “Why do I have to do it? I wish I could go out to play” you lose part of the mitzvah. Do it with a smile!
What are important Mitzvot for us young boys and girls can do during these special holidays?
On Rosh Hashana we go to Shul (synagogue) to hear the Shofar. We must make sure to be extra quiet and not disturb. On Yom Kippur we must be on our best behavior. Our parents are fasting and they need us to help out and allow them to pray. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the Yom Tov of Succot. We can help with the building of the Sukkah or help to decorate and beautify the Sukkah. We can offer to help with the cooking or to take care and entertain the younger siblings. On Succot we shake the Lulav and Etrog each day.
Throughout these days, we collect and fill our “bags” with blessings that we use throughout the year.
May we all have a year of Simcha and good health.