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Imagine your dream location. Far from civilization, surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of paradise. Oblivious to the hustle and bustle of your daily life, the serenity and beauty of the setting carries you to another world.
In a spiritual sense, the mitzva of Sukka, after which the approaching holiday is named, is just such a mitzva.
It is a mitzva that literally encompasses you. It surrounds you. It commemorates the way that the Clouds of Glory surrounded the Jews on all sides as they travelled through the desert, insulated from the harsh terrain and all types of predators. Unlike other mitzvot where only a part of our being is involved in the mitzva, when it comes to sukka, we actually go into the mitzva and allow it to encompass every part of us.
Another unique aspect of the mitzva is found in Chasidic teachings.
Being within the four wall of the sukka serves to elevate anything, even the most mundane act, that you do in the sukka.
You can just let your feet do the walking into a sukka, have a bite to eat with the appropriate blessing and sit. And you're doing a mitzva! If you want, you can have a nice chat, or listen to some music. And these acts are elevated to a higher spiritual plane since they are being done as part of dwelling in the sukka.
You can meditate or you can read. You can shake a lulav and etrog in the sukka. You can sit down or stand up. You can even take a nap in a sukka and it can be considered a mitzva!
Finding a sukka is really not as difficult as you may think. Many Chabad centers have a sukkah-building service and even offer pre- fabricated models. If you don't have one of your own, you can visit your local Chabad-Lubavitch House which will have one open to the public. They might even have a mobile sukka on a flat-bed truck.
Then sit down, relax with a cup of coffee (or spring water) and a piece of cake, say the blessings (see below) and eat.
The mitzva is to "dwell" in the sukka as we would normally live in our homes. To fulfill this mitzvah, we should have a meal there or, at the very least, eat food made from one of the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt. One should first recite the regular blessing (Baruch Ata Ado-nei Elo-haynu Melech Haolam boray meenay mezonot) and then say the special sukka blessing "Boruch Ata Adon-nei Elohay-nu Melech Haolam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu layshayv baSuka -- Blessed are You... Who made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the Sukka."
So now that you are a sukka maven and you know how easy and uplifting it is to do the mitzva of sukka, why not give it a try?
Of all the holidays of the month of Tishrei, it is perhaps the very last, Shemini Atzeret, which best expresses G-d's love for the Jewish people. The name itself, "Atzeret," comes from the Hebrew word "to stop" or "delay." G-d detains us, as it were, for one more day before we return to our regular lives.
The Midrash likens this to a king who holds a seven-day celebration for his sons. On the eighth day, when it comes time for them to leave, he is reluctant to see them go and asks them to remain for one more day of festivities.
A question is asked: How can one more day of celebration make the inevitable departure less painful? What is gained by pushing it off? We must therefore conclude that there is something about this special holiday, Shemini Atzeret, that actually prevents the departure from taking place at all.
This concept is reflected in the precise language of the Midrash. "Your departure is difficult," the king tells his sons, not "our departure."
This alludes to the fact that G-d never abandons the Jewish people; His love for us is constant and eternal. "Your departure is difficult," G-d tells us. G-d doesn't want us to abandon Him; He therefore requests that we celebrate one more holiday together which will serve to strengthen our bond.
The key to maintaining a close connection with G-d is achdut--unity.
When Jews are united with one another our relationship with G-d is strong. When, however, there is strife and division, it forms a wedge between the Jewish people and our Father in heaven.
The entire theme of Sukkot is Jewish unity; indeed, the mitzva of the Four Kinds represents the four types of Jews coming together to be bound into one entity. Nonetheless, after Sukkot is over and its positive effect has dissipated, the possibility still exists that the individual elements will revert to their previous separateness and dissociation.
In order to prevent this from happening, G-d asks us to remain with Him a while longer, to celebrate a holiday which will secure our unity in an everlasting manner.
On Shemini Atzeret, a single sacrifice is brought in the Holy Temple, expressing the idea of the indivisible nature of the Jewish people. Furthermore, this concept is also reflected in the way the holiday is celebrated: great scholars and simple people alike dancing with the Torah scroll, without distinction between them.
The absolute unity with which we conclude the holidays of Tishrei thus guarantees that these feelings will carry over into the rest of the year, effectively preventing that we will ever "depart" from holiness, G-d forbid.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 2
Rabbi Irving Greenberg
by Tzvi Jacobs
Rabbi Irving Greenberg had a brand new sukka stored away in his basement. But for eight straight years Rabbi Greenberg did not use it.
Rabbi Greenberg, who was a high school science teacher in the New York City public school system, served for eight years as the rabbi at the Interboro Jewish Center in the formerly middle-class Jewish neighborhood of East New York. During the years that Rabbi Greenberg was at the Center, one Jew after another was mugged or even murdered in the neighborhood.
In the yard of the Center, was a sturdy, wooden sukka. But every night during Sukkot, the tenants of the apartment building overlooking the sukka hurled bricks and stones at the sukka.
In 1985, a week before Rosh Hashana, the Center's president called Rabbi Greenberg: "We're closing the shul. We can't even get a minyan."
Though sad to see the shul close, Rabbi Greenberg was happy to have the chance to put up his sukka on the deck of his Oceanside, Long Island home, facing the waterfront. Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg looked forward to evening, when they would eat the first holiday meal in their sukka.
Just before sunset, Mrs. Greenberg lit the Yom Tov candles. The sun sank into the horizon and the sky filled up with thick clouds. A fierce storm whipped across the waterfront. The house shook from the violent wind. Five minutes later the storm ended as suddenly as it had begun.
Rabbi Greenberg walked onto his deck. Amazingly, the sukka was still standing, but the bamboo poles, which served as the s'chach or roof of the sukka, had all tumbled to the ground. Without the s'chach, the sukka was not considered a sukka, and one was not allowed to eat in it.
Rabbi Greenberg felt dejected. It was already evening and the holiday had begun. On Yom Tov, it is forbidden for a Jew to put s'chach on the sukka. But where was he going to find a non-Jew tonight? Especially one who would come out in this weather?
"We sacrificed and suffered these past eight years. And now this happens!" the rabbi said to his wife.
Just then, Rabbi Greenberg recalled a story he had once heard.
In a Jewish village in Eastern Europe, the entire community helped a poor groom get started in a business. Following the community's advice, the young man bought a horse and wagon and went to the market to buy flour, which he would then sell in the village. While riding his wagon homeward with the sacks of flour, a violent wind flipped his wagon over. All the sacks of flour fell against the rocky ground and ripped open, and the wind blew the flour away. The young man turned the empty wagon back over, and feeling totally distraught, went straight to his rebbe and told him about the terrible misfortune.
"G-d made that wind," the rebbe said. "I must call G-d to a court hearing."
The rebbe pleaded the case for the young man. After a while, the rebbe looked up and smiled. "You have won the court case. Now, return to your village and all will be well."
On the road home, the groom's wagon got stuck in the mud. He took a broken branch and tried to dig out the wheel. The branch struck against something hard. It was a chest. He pried it open and it was full of gold coins and jewels. After searching for its owner, it was ruled that thieves apparently had hid this treasure in the ground, and being that here was nobody to whom he could return the treasure, he was allowed to keep it. The young man and his wife invested their fortune wisely, and became known throughout the land for their generosity and warm hospitality.
After recalling this story, Rabbi Greenberg put his head on the table and cried. For eight years he was unable to eat a holiday meal in a sukka because of the danger of eating outside in East New York. But, now, Rabbi Greenberg finally had the opportunity to eat in his own sukka and G-d's wind blew the s'chach down.
After a while of intense meditation and crying, Rabbi Greenberg lifted his head, smiling. "I feel like I won the court case," he said to his wife.
Barely two minutes later, there was a knock on the door. A man stood at the door with rope and a tool set.
"Robby, what are you doing here?" Rabbi Greenberg asked in surprise.
"I came to fix your booth," Robby said. Without even waiting for a response, he walked out onto the deck.
Rabbi Greenberg was shocked. He had not seen Robby in maybe nine or ten years. Robby was a non-Jew who worked as a licensed electrician for an observant Jew. Every time the business was closed for a Jewish holiday, Robby would stop in the Ocean Harbor Jewish Center in Oceanside, Long Island, and ask Rabbi Greenberg, who at the time served as the rabbi of the synagogue, what each holiday was all about.
"Robby, you've never been to my home. How did you know where I lived?"
"I knew you lived in Oceanside, so I looked up your address in the phone book," Robby answered, while anchoring down the sukka with ropes. Robby lived in Long Beach, which was one town over. "Now, Rabbi, if you don't mind waiting inside your house, I'll be finished in no time."
About half an hour later, Robby stepped into the house. "It's all done, Rabbi. Now, have a happy holiday."
"Robby, who sent you? How did you know to come here? You must be an angel of G-d."
"No, I'm no angel," Robby laughed. "During the storm, some feeling lured me to go onto my veranda. When I saw the strong winds knocking down all the booths, I said, 'I bet Rabbi Greenberg needs help.' "
Robby smiled and again wished them a happy holiday. That Sukkot, Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg celebrated an unforgettable holiday in a sukka that came "from Heaven."
Shake the Lulav and Etrog
One of the main mitzvot of Sukkot is to take a palm branch (lulav), myrtle (hadas) and willow (arava) -- which have been bound together - join them with a citron (etrog) and shake them after reciting a special blessing.
The gathering of these four species is symbolic of the underlying unity of the diverse Jewish people. This mitzva is done on all the days of the festival of Sukkot except for Shabbat. Call a Judaica shop to purchase a set or go to your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center and "shake it" there.
6 Marcheshvan, 5727 (1967)
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of October 12th, in which you also refer to a previous letter you wrote.
As you can well imagine, there is a great deal of correspondence that reaches me during the period of the month of Tishrei and prior to it, so that a delay is unavoidable, not only because of the volume of correspondence, but also of the various matters of the month of Tishrei and the intervening festivals, as well as the many visitors that come to spend this month with us here.
With regard to the question of hatzlacha [success] in study and the gaining of knowledge, surely you know of the promise of our Sages, "Try hard and you will succeed." Thus success is largely something which depends on the student himself. However, inasmuch as everything requires Divine help, including also that the "try hard" as well as the "and you will succeed" should be satisfactory, the way to obtain this is through devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvot with hiddur [enhancement]. This is mainly a matter of will and determination, for nothing stands in the way of the will.
Having just concluded the month of Tishrei, culminating with the joyous festival of Simchat Torah, you have surely heard the explanation of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chasidism] that the joy of Simchat Torah is a double one: the Jews rejoicing with the Torah, and the Torah rejoicing with the Jews, based on the verses, "Israel rejoices with their Maker" and "G-d rejoices with His works."
And since all the festivals of the month of Tishrei conclude with Simchat Torah, it means that this mutual rejoicing can be achieved only through the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvot, as it is stated in the Zohar, "Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One blessed be He, are all one" -- the Torah placed in the center as the connecting link between Israel and G-d.
We have but one Torah, comprising both Nigleh [the revealed] and Chasidut [the mystical], which must be studied with a view to fulfillment of the mitzvot with hiddur, as emphasized by our Sages that the essential thing of Torah study is the deed. This brings G-d's blessings for hatzlacha not only spiritually, but also materially.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
28 of Tishrei, 5722 (1962)
After the interval, I received your letter of the 22nd of Elul, in which you write that you heard a rumor about my views concerning a future international crisis, etc.
Needless to say, it is not my custom to make forecasts regarding future events. Jews are commanded in the Torah "You shall be wholehearted with G-d, your G-d." This means that we should wholeheartedly put our faith in G-d, following His commandments without question or speculation, and enjoy a complete sense of security in the faith and conviction that G-d's benevolent Providence extends to every one individually.
With regard to the question of the meaning and significance of the sounding of the shofar, it is well known that all matters of the Torah and mitzvot are infinite, having their source in the Infinite. Whatever reasons or lessons may be attached to a mitzva, it should be remembered that they do not exhaust the full meaning and content of a particular mitzva.
Some of the reasons and teachings of the shofar are mentioned in the Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva, also in the Sefer HaChinuch, and various other books of Mussar, Chasidut, etc.
On the question of youth movements which you mention in your letter, and what can be done in this field, the answer depends, of course, on local conditions, and it is difficult to give specific advice from a distance. Therefore, I can only suggest that you should consult with those who are already active in this field, namely, the Tzeirei Agudas Chabad and Anash [Lubavitch Youth Organization and Lubavitcher chasidim] in London.
DANCIN' IN THE STREETS
The holiday of Sukkot brings with it the joyous Simchat Beit HaShoeiva festivities from October 8-October 15. The modern twist to this ancient celebration, which took place in the Holy Temple, includes dancing that often spills over into the streets.
In the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn the streets are blocked off, and the dancing and music last until dawn. For info about Simchat Beit HaShoeiva in Crown Heights call (718) 778-6000. Call your local Chabad Lubavitch Center for celebrations in your area.
DON'T CHECK THE MAIL!
This issue of L'Chaim is for October 6 and 13. Issue #389 will be for October 20.
This coming Sunday evening will begin the holiday of Sukkot.
One of the mitzvot of the holiday is to "bentch" the lulav and etrog -- which consist of four different kinds of plants. The etrog (citron) has a taste and scent, the myrtle and date-palm each have either taste or scent and the willow has neither taste nor scent.
We are told that these four characteristics, are similar to four types of Jews. There are Jews with "taste" (Torah knowledge) and "scent" (good deeds). There are Jews with one or the other. And, like the willow, there are Jews with neither taste nor scent.
When we perform the mitzva of blessing the "four kinds" not one of these four kinds may be missing. If even one is missing, we have not fulfilled the mitzva of lulav and etrog. We cannot perform the mitzva "partially"; either we fulfill it with all four kinds or we don't fulfill it at all. And even when we have all four kinds, they have to be united, bound together. Only then can we make the blessing and fulfill the mitzva.
That which is true of the "four kinds" is true of the Jewish people as well. For the Jewish people to be complete and not partial, we must all be welcome and represented as well and united and bound together.
May we experience the true uniting of all Jews and celebrate the holiday of Sukkot together in the third and eternal Holy Temple with our righteous Moshiach.
And you shall rejoice -- from the holiday Torah reading
On the first day of Sukkot a Jew fulfills three separate mitzvot: eating in the sukka, making a blessing on the Four Kinds, and simcha -- rejoicing in the holiday. On the subsequent days of Sukkot he fulfills two mitzvot: sukka and rejoicing [as the main mitzva of the "four kinds" is on the first day]. On Shemini Atzeret, however, only one mitzva remains: "And you shall rejoice."
On the eighth day there shall be an assembly ("atzeret") to you -- from the holiday Torah reading
All of the Divine revelations and G-dliness which are brought down from Above during the seven days of Sukkot in an "encompassing" manner are absorbed and internalized on Shemini Atzeret; indeed, the word "atzeret" itself implies absorption a nd assimilation.
You have been shown to know, that the L-rd is G-d, there is none else aside from Him -- from the verses recited on Simchat Torah
The entire month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the blowing of the shofar, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, the Four Kinds and Hoshana Rabba are only preparations for the "You have shown to make it known" of Simchat Torah.
(Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin)
On Simchat Torah we finish reading the Torah and begin reading it once again. The last letter of the Torah is "lamed" (found in the word Yisrael -- Israel). The first letter of the Torah is the "beit" in B'reishis ("In the beginning").
These two letters together spell the word lev, heart.
The Torah is the heart of the Jewish people and demands that we view each other as one singular heart, pulsating, beating and bringing life to our world and every one of its inhabitants.
The Hebrew word "lulav" is made up of two words: lo -- to him and lev -- heart. This hints to us that we must direct our heart to Him, to G-d.
One of the most joyful celebrations in Israel was the Drawing of the Water during Sukkot. The Sages noted that "Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy." They have left us wonderful descriptions of the scenes that inspire us with longing to witness it once again.
How was the ceremony conducted? A golden container was filled with water drawn from the pools at Siloam in Jerusalem. When the water carriers reached the Water Gate, they blew three notes on the shofar.
On the right side of the ramp leading to the altar, there were two silver bowls, each with a hole shaped like a narrow spout, one wider than the other. One bowl stood to the east and the other to the west. The shapes of the bowls allowed them to be emptied simultaneously. (The wider spouted bowl held wine, which flows more slowly than water.)
As the evenings of the festival approached, the people made their way down to the Court of the Women. There were golden candlesticks, fifty cubits high, with four gold bowls atop them. Four ladders led to the top of each candlestick, and four young kohanim mounted the ladders, holding in their hands large jars of oil which they poured into the golden bowls. Wicks to light the oil were made from worn-out clothing of the kohanim, and when the candlesticks were lit, the light glowed through out the entire city of Jerusalem.
The greatest Sages and tzadikim would participate joyfully in the celebration, performing the most extraordinary feats. Some of them would bear burning torches in their hands while singing Psalms and other praises of G-d. The Levites would play many various musical instruments, including harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets as they stood on the fifteen steps which led down from the Court of Women in the Holy Temple.
Two kohanim were stationed at the Upper Gate of the Temple, holding trumpets in their hands. As the roosters crowed the first light of dawn, they blasted their trumpets, and as they ascended the steps, they blew two additional rounds of tekiah's. They continued walking until they reached the gate which led to the east, whereupon they turned to face the west and uttered the words: "We belong to G-d and our eyes are turned to G-d."
The Sages relate that when the great Sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rejoiced at the water festival, he would juggle with eight lighted torches, tossing them into the air, catching one and then throwing another, so that they never touched each other. He would also prostrate himself on the ground, bend down, doing a head-stand, kiss the ground and draw himself up again, a feat which no one else could do.
The Talmud relates many of these displays of prowess which the Sages performed at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva. They record that Reb Levi used to juggle in the presence of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi with eight knives. Shmuel would do the same with eight glasses of wine, without spilling any of their contents. Rabbi Abaye would juggle before Rabbi Rabba with eight (or some say, four) eggs.
It is written in the name of Rabbi ben Chanania, "When we used to rejoice at the place of the water-drawing, our eyes saw no sleep." It is explained that the entire day was occupied with holy activities, so that the participants in the simcha were busy from day to night.
In the morning the sacrifice was brought, followed by prayers, and then an additional sacrifice. Then they would study Torah and eat breakfast. Afternoon prayer was following by the evening sacrifice and then the water-drawing festivities commenced.
The celebration of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva continued throughout the entire night, lighting up the city so brilliantly that there was no courtyard in Jerusalem which didn't reflect the light of the great candlesticks which illumined the Festival of the Water-Drawing.
There is a connection between the ultimate Redemption and the holiday of Sukkot. For at that time, we will benefit from the Sukka made from the skin of the giant fish, the Leviathan. In the Redemption, the oneness of the Jewish people -- a concept which is true at all times -- will be openly revealed and we will see how "all Jews are fit to dwell in a single Sukka."
(The Rebbe, 4th day of Sukkot, 5752)