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Do-It-Yourself mega-stores abound throughout the country. There are Pergaments and Home Depots popping up in every neighborhood and street corner. Some stores even stay open 24-hours, and people who have been there and done that testify that shoppers are buying at all hours!
With all of this interest in being Mr. or Ms. Fixit, why not "do it yourself" a sukka?
Hold on there, you might be thinking. We didn't have a sukka when we were growing up. Neither did my parents and maybe even my grandparents didn't have one when they were growing up. If having a sukka is so important (even before the fix-it-fad) why wasn't "a sukka in every driveway" part of the Great American Dream?
A little background information would undoubtedly be helpful to understand the dearth of sukkot in the suburbs.
There was a time (long before multi-culturalism and ethnic pride) when Jewish "thinkers" were encouraging Jews to "Be a Jew in your home and a 'mentsch' in the street." Simply stated, this meant that it was fine to practice one's religion, culture and traditions at home, but on the street, i.e., in the "outside" world, one should blend in with the masses.
Then came religion in the suburbs, when huge neighborhoods replaced small communities and sprawling synagogues replaced heimishe shuls. According to the logic of those days, the policy was, "Be a Jew in the synagogue and a 'mentsch' in the street." An additional clause to this directive was, "Don't worry about being a Jew in your home. Bring your children to the synagogue and we will teach them to be Jews."
This move away from being "Jewish" in one's home, as well as the attempt to make Judaism "easy" (in an attempt to overcome the old saying from shtetle days "Es iz shver tzu zine a Yid - it is difficult to be a Jew"), brought about the almost total neglect of certain mitzvot, particularly those which were not synagogue oriented or were deemed "difficult." Thus, a mitzva such as building and dwelling in a sukka was relegated to helping decorate a massive structure at the local synagogue a nd maybe visiting it once during the Sukkot holiday.
But today, thank G-d, all Jews live in free countries. It's not difficult to be a Jew. In fact, it's easy. We are not threatened by pogroms perpetrated by anti-Semitic peasants and our livelihoods are not influenced by the whim of despotic rulers. Hundreds of thousands of kosher supervised products can be found in every supermarket and grocery store throughout the United States. Religious articles are readily available world-wide, and even in Russia you don't have to smuggle in mezuzas and tefilin anymore. Mikvas are decorated with the discriminating "customer" in mind.
To make matters even simpler, Do-It-Yourself is in vogue.
A sukka can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. A hammer and nails, a few yards of plastic sheeting, some two-by-fours, and foliage for the top can be constructed into a sukka. Or maybe you prefer the sukka of your dreams, with real wood paneling and bamboo mats for the roof. Either way, you have fulfilled the mitzva of sukka. And though a sukka is most certainly built outside of one's home, when you build a sukka, you are bringing Judaism into your home and into your heart.
In the Book of Isaiah (12:3) it states: "And you shall draw water with joy from the springs of salvation."
From this verse one might mistakenly conclude that the only water allowed to be poured upon the altar in the Holy Temple (on the second night of Sukkot) had to have come from a spring. But according to Jewish law, if for some reason it was impossible to obtain water from the "spring of Shiloach" near Jerusalem, water from the Temple's basin could be used instead. This water was mei mikva, water that met the requirements for use in a mikva.
From this we learn that if the water was collected with the specific intent of performing this mitzva in a joyful manner, it was considered to be on the higher level of spring water. In other words, the source of the water was unimportant; the main thing was that it be drawn "with joy."
Why is spring water superior to water which is obtained from any other source?
The answer is that the water of a natural spring flows spontaneously and directly from its source; for this reason, there are no limits to its power to impart ritual purity. The water of a mikva, by contrast, must meet several stringent conditions before it can purify the person who immerses himself in it. The quantity of water in the mikva is likewise important; if less than a certain amount has been collected the immersion is invalid. Spring water, on the other hand, purifies in any amount, even if it is still flowing, and even if it has not been accumulated into a receptacle.
Water is intrinsically tasteless; wine has a taste, a sweet flavor. Wine is therefore symbolic of the pleasure that is derived from a rational comprehension of Torah and mitzvot. Water, which has no taste, is symbolic of our performance of mitzvot purely and simply because G-d has so commanded us.
The commandment to pour water upon the altar -- "And you shall draw water with joy" -- thus alludes to a Jew's unconditional obedience to G-d, his pure acceptance of the yoke of heaven. At the same time, our total submissiveness to G-d engenders a feeling of joy -- delight and gratitude in being able to carry out His will.
When a Jew rejoices in the performance of a mitzva, he merits that his "water," his non-intellectual acceptance of G-d's will, is transformed into the "springs of salvation." For just as a spring is perpetually connected to its source, so too does he become perpetually bound to G-d, meriting salvation in all his endeavors.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2
by Chana Sarah Abrams
A nine year old boy was walking home from shul on Shemini Atzeret eve. "Abba," he asked, with all sincerity, "could we bring the Torah home on Simchat Torah?"
"No, son, the Torah stays in shul, except perhaps for hakafot around the shul," he replied factually. "No one can take the Torah home."
The boy broke into uncontrolled sobs, while Abba tried to understand how he felt. After a few minutes, the son confided that he wanted his Ima, who was home in bed with cancer, to kiss the Torah on the holiday. Abba knew his tears.
Yes, it's a true San Diego story. My name is Chana Abrams and I am challenged with a recurrence of breast cancer.
But there's more to the story. Although I am observant, my holidays have not been filled with synagogue prayers and pretty dresses and Yom Tov food. Rather my holidays were filled with turning on IV pumps and looking out the window. On Simchat Torah day I was sitting on my recliner in my living room, trying to distract myself from the effects of chemotherapy and bed sores when I heard the sound of singing coming from the direction of the shul (we live only one block from Chabad House on Montezuma Avenue). A smile came to my face as I thought of my six year old riding on his Abba's shoulders and my nine year old dancing in circles.
The singing became louder and louder -- and a tear, the first of many, came to my eyes as I witnessed the whole congregation of Chabad House -- men in talleisim [prayer shawls], women in pretty dresses, children with flags, babies in strollers, friends and strangers alike -- march to my front lawn and dance the hakafot.
I treasure the memory as I watched my six year old waving a flag while sitting on a yeshiva boy's shoulders. It was priceless to see my husband dance with the Torah and smile with deep simcha [joy], transcending our family's troubles.
My nine year old son came in with the biggest and proudest smile that said "I love you" in the deepest way I have ever felt.
Then my closest friends came in, representatives of the shul, to wish me a refua shleima [complete recovery], the biggest get-well wish in my life of cards of encouragement and support and a speedy recovery. And yes, I did kiss the Torah! The festivities returned to shul, and I discovered a new-found simcha that carries me through my challenges.
The simcha of love. The simcha of compassion. The simcha of mitzva.
Thank you to Rabbi Yona Fradkin for his ability to hear the tears of a child, and for his display of ahavat Yisrael, unconditional love of a fellow Jew, which is what Chabad stands for. Simcha, mitzva, compassion: this is what Chabad does best. I would like to thank Rabbi Yona Fradkin and the entire congregation for this most untraditional display of bikur cholim (the mitzva of visiting the sick). Please know that it gives me renewed strength and hope as I face life's challenges and come to a place of complete healing and Moshiach.
Chana Sarah Abrams passed away eight months ago on 24 Tevet. She is deeply missed by her family and her community. This article was reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
Rejoice on the Festival of Rejoicing
Concerning the greatness of the rejoicing during the special water libation brought in the Holy Temple on the Sukot holiday, the Talmud states: "Whoever did not witness Simchat Beit HaShoeva never witnessed happiness in his life." The Rebbe emphasized that the joyousness of Simchat Beit HaShoeva each night of Sukot should surpass that of the previous nights "and may this soon lead to the ultimate celebration of Simchat Beit HaShoeva in the Holy Temple with the coming of Moshiach."
Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out when Simchat Beit HaShoeva celebrations are planned for your community.
From a letter dated 25 Elul, 5750  continued from the previous issues
In a deeper sense, one can understand the preeminence of matter from the fact that (not only the mitzvot themselves, but) also the reward for mitzvot is ultimately connected with the physical world.
There is the well-known Psak Din [legal ruling] made by the Ramban (Nachmanides) as to the nature of the ultimate reward:
To be sure, according to the Rambam (Maimonides) the ultimate reward is Gan Eden [the Garden of Eden] -- the spiritual world where souls, without physical bodies, abide "in the presence" of the Shechina [the Divine Presence]. Moreover, the Rambam explains that the highest possible spiritual state that the soul attains while it is "clothed" in a physical body can in no way be compared to the sublime spiritual exaltation that the soul experiences in Gan Eden, divested of the physical body.
Nevertheless, the Ramban, who lived a generation after the Rambam, and studied the latter's works, ruled that the ultimate reward will come after T'chiyat Hameitim (Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls will once again descend to earth and be clothed in physical bodies. The rule of halacha in the case of divergent authoritative opinions is to adjudicate in favor of the later authority, and it rules so specifically in the present case.
Yet, we need to probe further. Granted that a Jew possesses an extraordinary capacity, derived from serving Hashem, to spiritualize the physical world and provide for Hashem an abode in this lowermost world. But how are we to understand comprehensibly the idea that the highest spiritual reward for the neshama [soul] in the World to Come (Olam Haba) will be bestowed on the neshama specifically when it is clothed in a physical body, and in this material world?
One explanation is that precisely a physical creature (not a pure spirit) has been endowed with such a paramount G-dly force that is not found even in the loftiest spiritual realms. The reason is that only the Creator alone has the power and ability to create yesh me'ayin (physical being from non-being) -- and this preeminent quality of physical matter will be revealed in the era of T'chiyat Hameitim.
It may be added here that the above concept is also the key to the dictum "Make Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] here," quoted earlier. Inasmuch as the preeminence of Eretz Yisrael is in its kedusha that permeates the physical land itself, it is the task of Jews living outside the Holy Land to achieve the level of kedusha [holiness] of Eretz Yisrael in their immediate surroundings, so it will permeate that part of the physical world that Divine Providence has allotted them to spiritualize.
In order to accomplish this task, special strength and effort are required. This is indicated in the exhortation, "Make Eretz Yisrael here." This is where the New Year comes in, with its outstanding distinction of starting off with the treble chazaka, the extra strength needed in chutz la'aretz [the diaspora], namely, the influence of three consecutive holy days recurring again and again, to permeate the stark corporeality of the world at large.
It may be added further that there is an allusion to the foregoing in the sayings of our Sages of blessed memory, that "in the future to come, Eretz Yisrael will extend itself to all lands." For by that time the Jewish people will have completed their task of making an "abode" for Hashem in this world. And having refined and sublimated the corporeality of this world and irradiated it with a full measure of kedusha, the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael will in effect be extended into and throughout all lands around the globe.
May Hashem grant everyone, man and woman, in the midst of Klal Yisrael, to act in keeping with the above perceptions for strengthening and disseminating kedusha-Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the everyday life, in and around oneself, in the fullest measure. And this will enhance the blessed ketiva vachatima tova in all aspects, spiritual as well as material; indeed, even more in the area of material.
Including especially, the essential blessing -- the true and complete geula [redemption] through Moshiach Tzidkeinu [our righteous Moshiach], as promised by Hashem: "I have found My servant David and anointed him with My holy oil," and he will lead us upright to our land, all three constituents of our Jewish people: Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim.
With esteem and blessing for ketiva vachatima tova, for a good and sweet year both materially and spiritually
BIG APPLE SUKKOT
If you'll be in New York City during the intermediate days of Sukkot, visit one of the public sukkot sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization: The International Sukka, at the U.N. Plaza and First Ave.; the Garment Center Sukka in Herald Square across from Macys; The Wall Street Sukka in Battery Park at State St. and Battery Pl. For times of availability call (718) 778-6000.
HAVE SUKKA WILL TRAVEL
In Israel, Chabad Lubavitch Centers around the country are helping soldiers at army bases, hospital patients and the "person on the street" fulfill the mitzva of lulav and etrog.
IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The 31st Chabad Children of Chernobyl flight arrived at Ben Gurion Airport a little more than a week before Rosh Hashana. The flight carried 21 children from areas surrounding Kiev and Zhitomer that wre contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. This flight raised the total number of children evacuated by Chabad from the contaminated area to 1,504 chidlren. Following their arrival, the childen were transported by bus to Kfar Chabad where they were shown their new rooms in the Children of Chernobyl dormitories. After breakfast, the new arrivals went shopping to buy shoes and clothes for their first Rosh Hashana in Israel.
During the holiday of Sukot we fulfill the mitzva of lulav and etrog by blessing and holding together the lulav [date palm], the hadas [myrtle], aravot [willow], and the etrog [citron]. The mitzva is only considered fulfilled if all of the objects have been held together. From this mitzva we can learn about the importance of the unity of the Jewish people.
Why is it so important for these four species to be united? They represent different "categories" of Jews, one who learns Torah and does mitzvot, one who only learns Torah, one who only does mitzvot, and one who does neither.
And yet, all of these different "kinds" of Jews must be united.
All Jews are united. We are all members of the Jewish people, bound together by our Torah. Just as when the four species are separate they are incapable of being used to perform a mitzva, so too are we dependent on each other, on our unity, to fulfill our mission in this world.
Being united does not mean eradicating all differences so that we all think and act in the exact same way. Rather, G-d created each individual with his or her own specific character traits, strengths and weaknesses. True unity is revealed people not only accept and tolerate each other's differences, but learn to find the goodness that is a part of every Jew, and uncover the lesson that can be learned from that person. This is the message of the lulav, etrog, hadasim and aravot, of all four species that we hold together and bless together. And just as we bless the species when they are held together, so too are we blessed by G-d when we, too, hold ourselves together and stand before Him as one.
As we celebrate the holiday of Sukot, a holiday that is known as "the festival of our rejoicing," we ask G-d to grant us the greatest joy of all, with the arrival of Moshiach and the rebuilding of our Holy Temple, where we shall surely be able to fulfill the mitzva of "serving G-d with joy."
That your generations may know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt (Lev. 34:34)
It would seem that this holiday ought to be celebrated in the spring, at Passover time, to commemorate the Exodus. However, by celebrating Sukot in the fall, a season with inclement weather, we are proclaiming our devotion to G-d; no one can assume that the Jews are sitting in sukot because "it's nice outside." An additional reason is that autumn is harvest time, and a person might succumb to arrogance after surveying his bountiful crops. Therefore, at this time, G-d commands us to leave our comfortable homes, and dwell in a fragile hut to remind us that nothing is permanent.
(Book of Our Heritage)
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month...you shall take unto yourselves the fruit of beautiful trees. (Lev. 23: 39-41)
The etrog, citron, is referred to as the "fruit of a beautiful tree" because both the fruit and the tree have the same pleasant taste. The Hebrew word for "beautiful" is hadar, which can also be translated as "one who dwells." The etrog is one of the few fruits that can "dwell" on the tree for a few years after it has ripened.
Being called up to the Torah on Simchat Torah
A unique dimension to Simchat Torah is that every Jewish male (and through him, his entire family) is given an aliya [called up] to the Torah. Although this involves much time and one might think that it would be improper to delay the prayers of the entire congregation for this reason, this practice is followed. Why? Because it is the genuine desire of each member of the community that every person present receive an aliya.
(The Rebbe, the night following Simchat Torah, 5752)
The following story is from the Memoirs of the Previous Rebbe
It was in a forest just outside of Dobromysl that Yitzchak Saul found his young friend, Baruch. Baruch had gone there to think about the differences between the two schools of thought he had encountered, the path of the Chasidim to which he was attracted, and the path of those who opposed Chasidism.
Yitzchak Saul, who was Baruch's mentor in the ways of Chasidism, sensed that his friend's thoughts were tinged with sadness. "Baruch," he began, "we followers of the Baal Shem Tov do not believe in being associated with sadness. We believe rather in gladness. We avoid any sadness as we would something forbidden. People here in Dobromysl are not joyful as were the people in Harki from where I come."
"For instance, the people of Dobromysl," continued Yitzchak Saul, "don't know how to rejoice on the holidays. I was here for Sukot, the 'Time of Our Rejoicing,' yet I felt like a fish out of water. On Shemini Atzeret I almost got myself into trouble. I thought I would bring some life into the celebration and so, gathering a couple of young people to join me, I began to sing and dance. Some of the scholars present were deeply shocked and suggested that my behavior was disrespectful to the honor of the Torah. There was quite a lot of discussion before they decided that for ordinary working people, such a way of celebrating was permissible. Then it came to hakafot [encircling the bima while holding the Torah scrolls], and I volunteered to sing some songs that had not been heard in Dobromysl before.
A discussion arose as to whether or not it was fitting, especially as it was accompanied by dancing and clapping. The Rav and the Dayan [judge] had a long talk before they decided that the singing could be permitted, but that the people must not clap in the usual way."
Baruch was now exceedingly interested and listened eagerly as Yitzchak Saul continued: "When I first began to sing, people looked on with no special enthusiasm, but when it came to the second and third hakafa, more and more joined in the singing. Later, ever so many congregants were singing with me, for as you know, song has the ability to stir people and arouse them to the heights of enthusiasm. In no time the men were all holding hands and dancing and singing as they went around in an ever-growing circle.
"All of a sudden the Rav interrupted in a rush of fright, saying they must all stop immediately. Their behavior might be disrespectful to the Torah. The celebrants stopped uncertainly, but then the Dayan stepped forward and said he was sure it was all right. After all, the dancers and singers were not Torah-scholars, but simple workers and no disrespect was implied.
"The scholars shook their heads in disapproval at the thought of such unseemly behavior taking place in their Study Hall, which had never before witnessed such a scene! They themselves were completely unaffected and unmoved by the singing and the dancing. The working people, however, were thrilled and stirred. One could see they were positively uplifted by it all!"
Now, Yitzchak Saul had a friend in the congregation, a musician named Chaim Shimon. In his opinion, the scholars' sole wish was to show their superiority to the "ignorant" workers. He decided to pay them back. When the beadle of the synagogue was about to call out the name of those to participate in the seventh hakafot, Chaim Shimon whispered in his ear, "This time don't call out any particular name; just call out, 'This is the hakafa for the scholars who are modest.'" The beadle looked up in surprise, and seeing that the person addressing him was no one important, refused his strange request.
Chaim Shimon asked the Gabbai to make the request of the beadle. Whether he thought such a joke was permissible on Simchat Torah, or whether he simply didn't understand the real intention, he did as he had been asked. When the scholars heard this unprecedented announcement they showed no surprise. The first to step forward was the Rav, followed by the Dayan. Next came Rabbi Shimon "the Sightless" and Rabbi Nachum "the Ascetic."
Chaim Shimon whispered to Yitzchak Saul, "You see how 'modest' they are, and there is more yet to come!"
With a completely innocent expression on his face, Chaim Shimon went up to Nachum the Ascetic and said, "Now I see that you are the fourth modest person amongst the scholars, since you were the fourth to step up."
"What do you mean?" he protested. "If the names of the modest people in this congregation were called out in order of their modesty, I should be the first to be called, since when it comes to modesty, I have no equal here."
Rabbi Shimon looked on disapprovingly. Later he told Chaim Shimon, "When the announcement was made, I was the first to step out, but just then someone blocked my path."
Yitzchak Saul finished telling his story. Baruch felt on the border of two divergent approaches to Torah; he was looking into both but belonged as yet to neither. Ultimately, Baruch became a follower of the Baal Shem Tov. Years later, his son, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founded Chabad Chasidism.
The manifestation of the redemption in this world is of utmost importance. In the spiritual realms, the redemption already exists. This, however, is not sufficient for us and it is necessary that the redemption be brought down to our material world.
The ultimate celebration of Simchat Torah will come in the Era of the Redemption. The coming of this Era will be hastened by taking on good resolutions to increase one's service of Torah and mitzvot.
(The Rebbe, the night following Simchat Torah, 5752)