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"Be My Guest" is an innovative gift certificate program of one of the major credit card companies allowing people to treat friends and family to a meal.
"Be my guest," is a most appropriate invitation to make to friends, family and even those we don't know, during the Sukkot holiday by inviting them to join us for a meal in a sukka.
During the week-long festival of Sukkot, we move out of our mansions (and every variation thereof), and into the precarious and austere sukka. Assembled by hand, crafted of wood, plexiglass cloth, etc., covered with branches from trees or bamboo stalks, the Sukka seems to be anything but the luxurious setting into which you would feel comfortable inviting guests. And what's more, you can't even control the climate!
But the temporary nature of the sukka structure and the uncertainty of the weather are intrinsic parts of the mitzva of the sukka. We dwell in the sukka to commemorate the booths that G-d prepared for us in the desert when we left Egypt. We do so specifically in autumn--not in the spring when our ancestors actually left Egypt--so that others should realize that the sukka is not an unpretentious "summer home" or a detached porch. Rather, it is a place where we can contemplate our reliance and dependence on G-d, the meaning of trust in G-d and Divine Providence.
And it is in this mindset that we invite our guests. Jewish mysticism teaches us that by entering the sukka for the sake of fulfilling G-d's command we merit to welcome the Divine Presence and the seven faithful shepherds of the Jewish people who descend from the Garden of Eden to be guests (ushpizin) in our sukka.
Spiritual guests alone, though, do not suffice. We enhance our celebration of the holiday and that of others by entertaining flesh and blood guests in the sukka.
It is appropriate to invite those less fortunate into our sukka, too. We should to do so with the following attitude: We didn't invite the spiritual guests because we knew they wouldn't eat. And had they actually eaten, we would have gone to endless trouble and expense for them. Therefore, whatever we would have prepared for our spiritual guests, rightfully should be served to our visitors.
The great tzadik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explained another reason for inviting guests, and less fortunate ones at that, to the sukka. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak used to bring into his sukka simple and unlearned people. His followers asked him why he did this rather than surrounding himself with people of his caliber.
"In the future, when the righteous will sit all together in the Great Sukka, I will come and ask to be allowed to enter. But I will not be permitted. For I am but a simple person and why should I merit to sit amongst the righteous? But I will be able to protest: 'I brought simple people into my sukka!' "
This year, may we all merit to sit together in the Great Sukka.
The festival of Sukkot, which follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, marks the beginning of the true days of rejoicing of the month of Tishrei, coming as it does after the solemnity of the High Holidays. Although Sukkot has many similarities and characteristics in common with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is actually the culmination and fulfillment of the first two holidays. The difference between the two lies in the fact that the holiness that was in a more concealed and hidden state on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is revealed for all to see on "the day of our rejoicing (Sukkot)."
One of the fundamental themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is that of the unity of the Jewish People. But it is on Sukkot that this motif finds its highest expression.
The Jew's worship on the High Holidays lies in his uncovering of the pintele Yid within him, that Jewish spark that can never be extinguished, that he shares in common with every other Jew. All of us stand as equals before G-d in prayer on Rosh Hashana, accepting His sovereignty and crowning Him King over us all; on Yom Kippur we are equally aroused to do teshuva (repent) and return to G-d. When a Jew does teshuva, he is merely uncovering and revealing his innate belief in G-d and love of Him.
The unity of the Jewish People during the High Holidays is a unity based on the common denominator inherent in every Jew. It does not take into consideration the many differences of temperament, intelligence, or any other marks which distinguish one person from another.
On Sukkot, however, we reach an even higher level of unity than before, developing the theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur even further.
One of the most important mitzvot of Sukkot is the taking of the Four Kinds. These four species symbolize the four different types of people which exist within the Jewish nation. The etrog symbolizes one who possesses Torah learning and also does good deeds; the lulav stands for one who possesses only Torah learning. The hadas (myrtle) symbolizes one who performs commandments and does good deeds, but does not have Torah learning, and the arava (willow) symbolizes the Jew who possesses neither Torah nor learning.
On Sukkot we take these four disparate species and bring them together to perform a mitzva. Our unity does not lie in our ignoring the external differences which divide us; rather, we go out of our way to include all types of Jews, even those in the category of arava, who would seem to have no positive contribution to make. Despite all our differences we are all bound together.
This is the highest degree of unity we can achieve. It is far easier to concentrate only on that which we have in common than to acknowledge that we differ as individuals and still remain together.
On Sukkot we verify and confirm the unity which was achieved during the High Holidays. This realization sustains us throughout the year and gives us the strength to live in harmony and solidarity with one another.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
SUKKOT IN LOS ANGELES
by Mindy Yaffee
The sukka stood, lonely and conspicuous, on the green lawn of the Los Angeles suburb. Inside, Lubavitcher chasidim sat singing and talking under the stars that twinkled overhead.
"A few more people is what we need here!" said one chasid. "It's not lively enough. You boys, Shloimy and Menachem, go next door. Get our neighbor, you know, Elliot's father, the big, strong Russian. He'll be glad to make a L'chaim."
He came with surprising quickness. A yarmulke was slipped on his head. The singing continued, louder now, faster. The chasidim were on their feet, arms on each others' shoulders, spinning around the sukka, knocking against its flimsy walls. Finally, they sat down exhausted. The Russian took a sip of his shnapps, and began to speak in his rather halting English:
"It's nice to be around Jews. I'm not a religious Jew, as you see, but we did this in the army. Not the same way, you understand, but we got together, all of us Jews; we would sit around and share a drink. We felt that we belonged together, that we were separate from the others.
"It happened during the Yom Kippur War. I was a lieutenant, a Jewish lieutenant in the Russian army. I was also on the Olympic boxing team. I was considered the Russians' best chance to win the Olympics. I was doing well, I had a big apartment, a summer house by a lake, a red Jaguar, I was OK.
"And then, one day, I was ordered to come to the general's office. It was a hot day; summers are hot on the Russian border, in the army camp. And I was nervous. Lieutenants were not often called in to speak to the general. I remember sweat was running down my face as I stood at attention.
"The General was friendly. 'Lieutenant Berelovitch,' he said, 'I have for you an extremely important assignment, a sensitive and very delicate task. Your record is good; we have confidence in you. You are to command a troop of Russian soldiers, our best. They will aid our allies, the Egyptians. Three weeks from today you will be in Cairo.'
"I just stood there, you know, shocked. I couldn't believe it. They were sending me to fight alongside the Egyptians, the Arabs. They were sending a Jew to fight against Israel.
"'I can't go,' I heard myself saying. 'Not to Egypt.'
"The general--he just stared at me. He couldn't believe what he heard. Then he turned red, red with anger, 'What,' he barked, 'what did you say?'
"I repeated that I couldn't go to Egypt, that I couldn't fight other Jews, my brothers.
"Then he really became angry. He pounded his fists on the table. He shouted that if I didn't go, I would lose my rank. I would ruin my future. I would never be promoted again. 'I will take care of you,' he finished. 'You will have a pleasant vacation from your military duties--in a labor camp in Siberia.'
"For two years I was in Siberia. They were long and hard years. Each night I wondered if I would live through another day. I often asked myself, during those years, why I had done what I did. Why did I throw away everything, my career, my whole life. And for what? I had never really thought much about it before, about being a Jew. I didn't understand. Anyway, the two years were over; they released me from the army. I never received a good job after that. I was ruined. Then I came to America. And I'm sitting here, among Jews, singing, drinking L'chaim. And you know, I still don't understand it, but I don't regret it, I don't regret my decision."
The sukka was quiet. The others sat and regarded him with wonder. Here was a man who had never really known what it meant to be a Jew, who did not know the shape of the Hebrew letter alef. And yet he had, in one moment, sacrificed everything--his career, his future, his very life--for the sake of Jews he had never seen. Those gathered saw it clearly before their eyes, the pintele yid--the spark of Jewishness--that is never extinguished.
They began to sing again, first softly, then louder, joyously. The sukka trembled and danced on the lawn, under the starry sky.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim.
The Ronald S. Lauder Instititute for Eastern European Jewry was dedicated recently at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. The institute was established by the former ambassador to Austria to bring young people from Eastern bloc countries to the Rabbinical College of America for intense study and training, preparing them for leadership in their native countries.
SOUND OF THE SHOFAR
With shofars in hand, Lubavitcher chasidim throughout the world walk to hospitals, jails, nursing homes, army bases and college campuses from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv, Melbourne to Paris, and Hawaii to Rhode Island. The sick, the elderly and the confined heard the shofar on Rosh Hashana thanks to the Lubavitch volunteers, thereby linking them with their brethren around the world.
LUBAVITCH SERVING PRISONS FOR HOLIDAYS
For the solemn Yom Kippur holiday, Correctional Facilities in Allenwood, Pennsylvania and Danbury, Connecticut once again hosted groups of Lubavitchers. Some of the volunteers have been going to these facilities for nearly a decade. Visiting prisons for the Jewish holidays is just one of the many projects that the Lubavitch Youth Organization sponsors to make sure that every Jew, no matter how distant or lack of affiliation, has a chance to participate in and become more aware of his Jewish heritage. Similar prison programs are sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch throughout the world.
FEET OF THE TORAH
by Rochel Yaffe
Every year, when Jews go forth to dance on Simchat Torah, Torah scrolls cradled in their arms, they are expressing the fiery bond of the Jewish people to the Torah and to G-d.
Viewing this dancing--hakafot--in the light of Chasidut, some puzzling questions arise about the manner in which we celebrate Simchat Torah. The Torah belongs to the sphere of the intellect, (Torah from the root hora'a--teaching), and it is our obligation to study Torah and to understand it. Would it not be more appropriate then to celebrate Torah in an intellectual manner, by intensifying its study, delving into it in greater depth, and rejoicing in the growth of our knowledge and understanding?
We seem to do exactly the opposite. Instead of studying the Torah, we take it in our arms, rolled up and clothed in its cover in a manner that makes it impossible to read from it, and instead of serving the Torah with our heads, we serve it with our feet--by dancing!
But strange as it may seem, it is through the dancing of hakafot that we can best express our true and inner relationship to Torah. Torah is the wisdom of G-d, as it is written: "He has chosen us from among the nations and given us His Torah." As such, the true meaning of Torah is concealed from us, beyond all human understanding. The scholar can grasp its true essence no better than a small child. The Torah speaks not to our limited human intellect, but to the soul itself, for the soul, too, is "part of G-d Above." When we study Torah--whether it is the Torah learning of a great scholar, or the breath of a small child reciting a verse--we are connecting the essence of G-d found in the Torah with the essence of our soul.
The Torah as we see it at hakafot, enclosed in its cover, symbolizes the aspect of Torah which is hidden from our intellect. All Jews, regardless of their level of scholarship, can dance with the Torah. For Torah, as G-d's gift, is the inheritance of all the Jewish people (and an heir inherits absolutely, regardless of age or personal qualities).
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the Torah wishes to go around the reading table. But since the Torah has no feet, the Jewish people become the feet of the Torah, and carry it around the bima.
What does it mean to become the feet of the Torah? Feet have no will of their own, but obey the dictates of the head unquestioningly and automatically. By dancing with the Torah, becoming its "feet," we express our resolve to obey the mitzvot of the Torah with simple faith and total devotion. The joyous dedication of the Jewish people to Torah causes the Torah itself to be elevated, just as the head is borne along by the feet to the place it wishes to go. This is why Simchat Torah is called, "the season of our rejoicing," when the Jewish people rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah, too, rejoices in the Jewish people, both benefitting each other.
This, then, is the message of hakafot. The true foundation of all Torah learning and the service of G-d throughout the year must be based on the recognition of the holiness of Torah as a gift of the One Above, and on a pure and simple faith leading to devotion and obedience.
But all this is only the foundation. G-d gave us powers of intellect, talents and abilities, and these, too, must be put to the service of Torah. We must not remain with simple faith alone, but must struggle to understand as much of the Torah as we are able, by means of our intellect. Only then will we serve G-d with our entire being.
Even as we dance hakafot with our rolled-up Torah scrolls, it is the reading table we are encircling, reminding us of the duty to study the Torah. And before each hakafa we recite verses from the Torah. For only when simple faith and devotion are combined with study and understanding, are hakafot the way they are supposed to be.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim
Why do children march around and dance with flags on Simchat Torah?
In an army parade, each regiment carries its colors. So, too, on Simchat Torah, when all of the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and danced with, the children carry flags, like soldiers, to impress upon them that we are all in G-d's army.
This week we are celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. It is special in many ways, teeming with mitzvot and customs with far-reaching spiritual implications.
We were commanded by G-d to celebrate Sukkot as a reminder of the sukkot--booths--in which we dwelled while in the Sinai desert. According to some opinions, the sukka commemorates the actual booths and temporary dwellings the Jews lived in. However, other opinions consider these sukkot as a reminder of the Clouds of Glory with which G-d surrounded and protected us during the sojourn in the desert. Obviously, the sukka itself is a major aspect of the holiday.
It is not surprising, then, that our upcoming holiday is known almost exclusively by the name Sukkot.
There are other mitzvot that we perform every day or most days of the festival, though, such as blessing the lulav and etrog, and saying the special "Hoshana" prayers. Why, one might ask, is the festival known specifically for the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka?
The answer lies in the unique nature of the mitzva of sukka. Every other mitzva a person performs involves a particular limb or part of the body: tefillin, for instance, are wrapped around the head and arm; Shabbat candles are lit using the hand; Prayers are said with the mouth.
The sukka, however, is different. It surrounds and encompasses the entire person from head to toe. It envelops the person who sits within its temporary walls with the holiness of the mitzva.
May the Jewish people merit to witness what we read in the "Grace After Meals" on Sukkot, "May the Merciful One Restore for us the fallen Sukka of David" and may we celebrate all together this year in Jerusalem with Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The Hakafot were in full swing. Round and round went the circle of dancing worshippers in the little shul. I had come to watch, that's all. Somebody from the circle pulled me into the whirling mass of dancers. I turned my head to glance at the man who had "roped me in." He seemed elderly and I wondered where he got so much strength to dance and dance without end. I was astonished to see that tears were streaming down his cheeks. An inner happiness and ecstasy were written over his noble face.
"It's a long time since I had such inspiring hakafot," said my dancing partner. "It was exactly thirty years ago today, during the terrible days after the First World War. I lived in Riga then, the capital of the newly born independent Republic of Latvia.
"That night we were sheltering in a cellar. Things were not going well for the nationalists. They were losing ground and they suspected treachery. Anybody suspicious was shot, without even any investigation. Suddenly sentries saw a light in a top floor apartment. 'The spy nest has been discovered!' the sentries decided, and they rushed to the house to lay their hands on the spy.
"Whom did they rush to seize? Zalman. And who was he? I will tell you. He didn't know what it meant to be sad. Heaven knows, he had plenty of worries. But G-d had blessed him with a cheerful disposition, and seemingly nothing, absolutely nothing could break his spirit. Zalman was with us in the cellar that night. That night of all nights, when Jews rejoice and dance with the Torah we sat downcast, shivering with every explosion.
"Zalman couldn't stand it any longer. 'Brothers!' he exclaimed. 'It's Simchat Torah tonight! We must rejoice!' But his words fell flat. He looked hurt, then he suddenly remembered something. 'I see, my friends, that without a little shnapps there will be nothing doing. I have a pint of shnapps at home, which I've been saving for tonight. I'll be right back.'
"Before we could stop him Zalman climbed to the sixth floor where he lived. He picked up a candle and found the bottle. He was so happy that he danced about with the candle burning in one hand, and the bottle in the other, forgetting all about the war, the bombardment, and the regulations.
"Now, my young friend, you understand what the sentries saw in the darkness of the night. It was just as we were preparing to celebrate hakafot that the sentries burst in, crying, 'Where is the dirty spy? Turn the spy over to us, or we will have you all shot!'
"At this moment Zalman stepped forward, bottle in hand, and calmly said: 'Officers, it was I that you saw with the light upstairs, but I was not signaling to the enemy. I..."
" 'Never mind, come along!' the soldiers said briskly, and marched poor Zalman off under heavy guard.
"If we had been depressed before, now we were truly grief-stricken. He would be put to the wall and shot immediately. Time dragged slowly. Suddenly we heard steps, and presently in walked--who do you think? --Zalman! We couldn't believe our eyes, but the bottle in his hand looked real enough. There were tears in all eyes.
" 'Stop it! Stop!' cried Zalman. 'Let's just celebrate!' But we would not start until he told us what had happened.
" 'Didn't I tell you, we have a great and mighty G-d?' Zalman began. 'When I was brought to headquarters the duty officer hardly looked at me. "To be shot!" he called out. I looked at the officer for a moment, and I called out: "Styopka! What on earth are you saying!"
" 'The officer gazed at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. "What a joke! You, Zalman, a spy! Well, well, sit down and let's talk about old times. Do you remember when I used to come to your house to remove the candlesticks on Saturday mornings, and light a fire in the winter? I was a kid then, but you treated me as though I was a grown-up. I loved you, Zalman. Those were happy days in our little town, but these are grim days. You are lucky that I was on duty tonight. It was not even my turn, but I was substituting for a friend. You would have been a dead duck by now. But, what's the idea of the bottle? Is it Purim tonight?
" 'You ought to know better, Stepan Ivanovitsch,' says I to him. 'No, it's Simchat Torah.'
" 'Sure, I remember. You go round and round in a circle dancing. Well, go back to your dancing, and say a prayer for us, Zalman. You Jews are marvellous, risking your neck for your religion, dancing in the shadow of death...'
"That was Zalman's simple story. He got a pass to come back to us. And then we began hakafot. Oh, those hakafot! I'll never forget them. Every Simchat Torah, I remember them; for the last thirty years!"
From The Complete Story of Tishrei
Although a sukka is only a temporary dwelling, in certain respects we treat it as if it were our regular home--eating, drinking, and studying in it. This is how we should treat the world world at large. We should not regard the world as an end unto itself, but rather as a means of furthering our spiritual development and refinement; by properly utilizing the physical world, we bring G-dliness into our surroundings, transforming the temporary into something lasting and eternal.
In sukkot shall you dwell seven days
The sukka surrounds the entire person and one is enjoined to conduct all worldly affairs within it for seven days. The fact that all of a person's being is encompassed, including his very shoes, teaches us that not only through prayer and study do we worship G-d. The sukka teaches that it is also through the physical world that we approach G-d and draw holiness into our surroundings, as it states, "in all your ways shall you know Him." The mitzva of sukka strengthens our realization of this and gives us the power to carry out our G-dly mission throughout the year.
One year, during the dancing on Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov cried out: "Yisrael, you holy people. What is the cause of your great joy? It is our holy Torah! Do the other nations ever rejoice while holding their sacred books? Where do they go in the time of their rejoicing--into their inns and drinking houses! And we, the Jewish people, where do you find us in the season of our rejoicing? Inside the synagogues. And why are we dancing and singing? In honor of the holy Torah. When are we united, as one man with one heart? On Simchat Torah! Therefore, I say to you, Yisrael, my holy people! This day is a triple joy--the joy of the Torah, the joy of the Jewish people, and the joy of the Holy One Blessed Be He."
According to the Talmud, the world situation in the time immediately before Moshiach will include: an increase in insolence and impudence; oppressing inflation; unbridled irresponsibility on the part of authorities; centers of learning will turn into bawdy houses; wars; many beggers having none to pity them; wisdom shall be putrid; the pious shall be despised; truth will be abandoned; the young will insult the old; there will be family breakups with mutual recriminations; impudent leadership.