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Once, on the festival of Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism) told his disciples the following:
"On Simchat Torah people generally oversleep a bit because of the late festival meal and the dancing of the night before. But the angels do not have this sort of schedule, so naturally, they 'wake' up on Simchat Torah at the same time as usual. The angels want to begin chanting their songs of praise to G-d, but they are not permitted to do so until the Jews begin their prayers. So off they go to tidy up the Garden of Eden-Paradise.
"Now, in the Garden of Eden, the angels find articles they have never before encountered. What could these things be? The Garden is strewn with soles of shoes! The angels are mystified. They are accustomed to finding prayer books, Shabbat candles, coins for charity, tefilin, and mezuzot in the Garden, but shoe soles?
Off the angels go to question the angel Michael. The angel Michael explains to them that this is his doing-these soles and slippers are the result of Jews dancing with the Torah. Lovingly, the angel begins collecting the soles. "These are from Kaminka and these from Mezeritch," and so on, he enumerates.
Then the angel Michael proudly insists that he is superior to the angel who binds crowns for the Creator from the prayers of the Jewish people. "The torn soles of Simchat Torah make a finer crown," he declares.
Many of us aren't gifted with a "good" head. Not everyone has a kind and caring heart. But most everyone has feet with which to dance and hands with which to clap.
And we all have voices with which to sing-though some of us are more in tune than others.
The festival of Sukkot is referred to as the "Season of Our Rejoicing." In addition to participating in the mitzvot of eating in a sukka, and shaking the lulav and etrog, we have been given the additional mitzva to rejoice and be happy.
During Sukkot itself, in commemoration of a special service that used to take place in the Holy Temple, celebrations take place in Jewish communties all over the world. At these celebrations, known as Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva, Jews celebrate in a manner in which all Jews are truly equal, by rejoicing!
The dancing and festivities of Sukkot and Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva culminate in the whirling and twirling and uninhibited exuberance of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice equally with the Torah, not with heads and hearts, nor with our wallets, but with feet and shoes and with the soles that are later collected in the Garden of Eden and woven into a most luminous and fine crown for the Creator.
Celebrate with your family, with friends and with your feet during the upcoming "Season of Our Rejoicing." Get out there and exercise your soles and your soul simultaneously!
- (Back to text) The angel Michael is the angel of loving-kindness. He is responsible for bestowing upon the Jewish people blessings of children, health, and wealth.
According to the mystical teachings of the Zohar, heavenly "ushpizin" (guests) visit the sukka on the festival of Sukkot. They are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David (Solomon). Each day, one of these tzadikim is the "main" guest who brings the others along. On the first night of Sukkot, the "main" ushpiz is Abraham.
Our ancestor Abraham was renowned for his outstanding "hachnasat orchim" (hospitality). In fact, the Talmud derives from Abraham that "Having guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence." (The Torah relates that when G-d visited Abraham after his brit mila, he hastened to usher into his tent what he thought were mortal guests but were really angels.) If this was how Abraham acted before the Torah was given, pursuing even those who appeared as "Arabs who bow down to the dust of their feet" as guests, how much more so must we strive to emulate his hospitality after the Giving of the Torah and with regard to our fellow Jews.
In truth, the concept of hospitality is a very good description of our Divine service in exile, when the entire Jewish people is likened to a "guest." Our Sages characterized the exile as a period in which the Jews are like "children who have been exiled from their Father's table." The rightful and natural place of a Jew is at G-d's "table"; during the exile he is not in his natural "habitat," and is therefore a "guest" in alien territory.
Why would G-d create such an unnatural situation? Because of the special quality and advantage of the Jews' Divine service during the exile. This service is so important and beloved to G-d that He was willing to transform His children into "guests."
Our Sages said: "G-d did Israel a favor ('tzedaka,' from the root meaning righteousness) that He scattered them among the nations." The true reason for the Diaspora was not punishment, but "tzedaka" - to fulfill a positive purpose and objective. G-d wanted the Jews to imbue every location on earth with holiness as preparation for the Messianic era, when the entire world will be His "dwelling place."
The Baal Shem Tov (who is also the "Chasidic ushpiz" on the first night of Sukkot) said something similar on the verse in Psalms, "The steps of man are ordered by G-d," explaining that wherever a Jew finds himself, he should know that it is not "by coincidence," but that G-d has deliberately led him there for a Divine purpose.
It is precisely through our service in exile that we will merit to "greet the Divine Presence" in the fullest sense with the Final Redemption, when "the glory of the L-rd will be revealed," with happiness and gladness of heart.
Adapted from Vol. 29 of Likutei Sichot
Dancing with the Torah
by Jay Litvin
I was first called for an aliya to the Torah at the age of 36. I was in a Chabad house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a stranger to the group of regulars filling the room, save for Rabbi Yosef Samuels, who had invited me. It was a short walk from my seat to the bima (reading table). But in that brief period of time I became very anxious about what would be expected of me.
I recalled the synagogue that I infrequently attended as a boy, where the Ark stood in front of a large, sterile room, and only the richest, most influential members were called to recite the blessings before the Torah. In my boyhood, Judaism was very formal and distant, surrounded by ceremony devoid to me of meaning or substance. The Torah in the synagogue of my youth was something removed, having no relevance to my nor my family's daily life. I had never before, in the 36 years of my life, seen the inside of a Torah scroll.
I was not expecting to be called to the Torah this Shabbat morning in Milwaukee's Chabad House. I hesitantly approached the group of men surrounding the reading table. I could see only their backs draped in white talitot (prayer shawls).
I expected grim, serious faces to be peering out from beneath the white cloth pulled up over their foreheads. But when I arrived, they turned to greet me with warm smiles. One of them, a person with whom I had briefly spoken before the prayers began, gave me a gentle nudge of greeting with his shoulder. The others were chatting while the reader found the place to begin. I was surprised at how friendly and informally everyone behaved while the Torah scroll lay on the table. I was told to touch the Torah with my talit and kiss the cloth where it had touched the holy letters. I stumbled through the English transliteration of the blessings, and then stood nervously while the Torah was read. I recited the second blessing, and was gently moved to the side of the bima while a prayer was said in my honor. The man I knew put his arm around me while this was happening, and joked with me a bit while we stood waiting for the next reading to begin. There was an atmosphere of informality and intimacy with the Torah that astonished me.
"The Torah is no stranger," Rabbi Samuels explained. "We live with it every day."
In the following months and years, I was astonished to find just how intimate the Torah could become in both the lives of the Lubavitchers I came to know so well, and in my own life. I went through several Jewish yearly cycles, experiencing times of awe and veneration for the Torah, and times of familiarity bordering on irreverence. To drunkenly hug and dance with the holy scrolls on Simchat Torah! Who could have ever imagined!
But just as I was to become intimate with the Torah, so was it to become intimate with me. As I began to study, I discovered the Torah's relevance in every area of my life. As its deeper meanings were laid open to me through the study of Chasidic teaching, I found that I could turn to the Torah for guidance in every circumstance. Regardless of my mood or frame of mind, I could approach the Torah and find it waiting for me.
Even in times of anger or rebellion, the Torah showed forgiveness and guidance. In times of sadness and depression, I would find hope and encouragement. In times of joy and celebration, I would find words of thanksgiving and praise for the One who provides all goodness. There was not an aspect of my life that the Torah did not enter.
Slowly it penetrated into my inner life, my career, my relationship with my children and parents, even the most intimate aspects of my marriage. When first introduced to the Torah I felt I was coming to know a distant relative of whom I was aware but had never met before; but with the passing of years I began to feel that my learning and observance was revealing the Torah that had always existed within me. The Torah became deeply embedded in my life, part of the weave and warp of my being.
Now, when I rushed forward in the synagogue to kiss the Torah, it was with much affection and familiarity. When on Simchat Torah I danced with the holy scrolls, my inhibitions and emotions loosened from "l'chaims," I would close my eyes and hug the Torah close, spinning in circles, enjoying a physical intimacy with the soft velvet cloth and the sacred writings it covered.
Without losing its place as my teacher and guide, the Torah had become my intimate companion. Today, I continue to marvel that the most holy of G-d's creations allows itself to be embraced by me.
Jay Litvin is a husband, father, writer, and medical laison for Chabad's Children of Chernobyl. He lives in Israel. This article first appeared in The Week in Review, www.meaningfullife.com
The Lubavitch Youth Organization provides public sukkot in three key locations in New York City for those who work in or visit Manhattan: The International Sukka at the U.N. - First Ave. and 43rd St.; the Garment Center Sukka in Herald Square across from Macy's; The Wall Street Area Sukka in Battery Park - at State St. and Battery Pl. These sukkot will be open during the intermediary days of the holiday; for hours call (212) 736-8400. To find out about public sukkot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
This issue of L'Chaim is for 11 Tishrei/Sept. 28 and 18 Tishrei/Oct. 5. The next issue (#689) is for 25 Tishrei /Oct. 12, the Torah portion of Bereshit.
7 Cheshvan, 5715 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
Rabbi... conveyed to me your question as to why it is not the custom of Chabad Chasidim to decorate the Succah, as well as to sleep in the Succah.
This question calls for a lengthier explanation than this letter would permit. However, I trust the following points may suffice:
- Re Decorations:
- Generally, a Mitzvah must be observed on its Divine authority (with Kabolos Ohl) and not on rational grounds, i.e. for any reason or explanation which we may find in it. An exception, to some extent, is the case where the significance of the Mitzvah is indicated in the Torah, and our Sages have connected its fulfillment with it. At any rate, only a qualified person can interpret it more fully.
- We have a rule that a Mitzvah should be performed to the best of one's ability, and as the Rambam explains (at the end of Hilechoth Issurei HaMizbeach). This applies especially to the object of the Mitzvah itself, e.g., a Talis should be the best one can afford, an offering should be the most generous, etc.
- Unlike the Sechach [branches covering the top of the Succah] and walls of the Succah, decorations are not an essential part of the Succah, but an external adornment which adds to the enjoyment of the person sitting inside the Succah; they are, as the name clearly indicates, supplementary objects which decorate and beautify the external appearance of the Succah.
- The attitude of Chabad Chassidim in this connection, as taught by generations of Chabad leaders and teachers, is that the Succah is to imbue us with certain essential lessons, which are explained in Chassidic literature and Talmudic literature in general. It is expected of Chabad Chassidim that they should be impressed by the essential character of the Succah without recourse to "artificial" make-up; that the frail covering of the Succah and its bare walls, not adorned by external ornaments, rugs or hangings, should more forcibly and directly impress upon the Jew the lessons it is meant to convey.
- Re Sleeping in the Succah
- In order to safeguard and inspire a greater feeling toward the Succah, sleeping in it is not practiced by us. The basis for this is two-fold: First, we have a rule that Hamitztaer putter min HaSuccah (suffering exempts one from dwelling in the Succah). Secondly, during sleep a person is not in control of himself, and, furthermore, the very act of undressing and dressing, etc. inevitably creates a common-place attitude towards the place which serves as a bedroom. Such a depreciation of attitude toward the Succah (by sleeping in it, as explained above), from what his attitude should properly be towards the Mitzvoth of G-d whereby He has sanctified all Jews, would be deeply felt by the Chabad Chassid by virtue of his Chassidic teachings and upbringing, and would cause him profound spiritual suffering. The combination of these two considerations, therefore, led to the custom not to sleep in the Succah.
However, if a Jew feels absolutely certain that his sleeping in the Succah will not in the slightest affect his attitude toward the sanctity of the Succah, and is consequently free from any mental pain that might be caused thereby, he is duty-bound to sleep in it, in accordance with the fullest meaning of Taishvu K'ain taduru, to make his Succah his dwelling place to the utmost.
I hope the above will provide an adequate answer to your question, but should you desire further clarification, do not hesitate to write to me.
11 Tishrei 5762
Prohibition 297: neglecting to save an Israelite in danger of his life
By this prohibition we are forbidden to neglect to save the life of a Jew whom we see in danger of death and destruction, and whom it is in our power to save. It is derived from the Torah's words (Lev. 19:16): "Neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." (The prohibition also applies to withholding evidence.)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Of all the holidays throughout the year our joy is greatest on Sukkot, the "Time of Our Rejoicing." The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot appears three times in the Torah. By contrast, there is no specific command to rejoice on Passover, and the command to rejoice on Shavuot appears only once.
The Midrash explains that the joy of a festival is directly related to the particular stage of the harvest when it occurs.
On Passover, which occurs in the spring, the grain in the fields has just begun to grow. Because we not yet sure of the eventual yield, our joy is limited. Accordingly, there is no commandment to rejoice in the Torah.
By Shavuot the grain has ripened and is ready for harvest. But our joy is not complete, as it cannot yet be eaten. The commandment to rejoice thus appears only once.
On Sukkot the grain is brought from the fields into our homes. Because the grain can now be fully utilized our happiness is greatest. Expres-sing this highest level of joy, the commandment to rejoice on Sukkot appears three times.
These three periods are also reflected in the spiritual service of every Jew:
The first stage, "spring," is symbolic of the Jew's pure faith in G-d, the foundation of Torah and mitzvot. Faith alone, however, does not necessarily lead to practical observance, just as on Passover we are still unsure whether the wheat will flourish. This is the "spiritual Passover" of the Jew.
Reaping the grain comes next, but it is not yet the culmination of the entire process. In the spiritual sense this is equivalent to the Jew's resolve to keep Torah and mitzvot before he has put his good intentions into action. The "harvest" is still in the field; this is the Jew's "spiritual Shavuot."
It is only when the grain is eaten, when the Jew's resolutions for good find expression in actual deed, that perfection is achieved. This is the "spiritual Sukkot" of the Jew.
Thus the highest level of joy is felt on Sukkot, which is truly the "Time of Our Rejoicing."
And you shall take on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree (from the Torah reading)
The Midrash relates that the festival of Sukkot is referred to as the "first day," as it is "first in the calculation of sins." What does this mean? On Yom Kippur, all the sins of the previous year were forgiven and erased; during the few days from Yom Kippur until Sukkot everyone has been busy preparing for the holiday, so the slate is still clean. The reckoning for the New Year thus cannot begin until Sukkot. Another reason: According to the Midrash, the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was an etrog tree. The first sin in the world thus came about through an etrog, which is why Sukkot is called "first in the calculation of sins."
And you shall rejoice on your festival...and you shall be yet ("ach") happy (from the Torah reading)
The word "ach," literally "but" or "however," is used to imply a certain condition: As it is known that too much "rejoicing" can lead to impropriety if there are no proper guidelines, the Torah cautions us to rejoice, but within the boundaries of good taste and for the sake of heaven.
Netilat lulav ("taking" the lulav)
Why is the wording of the blessing "al netilat lulav" when the commandment in the Torah uses the more common verb for "take," "ul'katchtem"? Because "netila" is an expression of lifting and elevation, as it states in the Book of Isaiah, "And in his pity he redeemed them, and he took them and carried them all the days of old." The blessing "al netilat lulav" therefore connotes our confidence that the Jewish people has been found victorious in judgment.
The etrog is unique among fruits in that it remains on the tree for an entire year, and actually grows and flourishes because of variations in climate. This is symbolic of the Jew, the eternal wanderer, who has endured all sorts of changes in environment during the exile, yet has successfully acclimated and thrived under even the harshest of conditions.
Erev Sukkot, 1914. The effects of the First World War in Europe were being felt as far away as the Holy Land. Many of the supply routes were closed and provisions were scarce. The old Jewish settlement suffered numerous losses, not only from the pervasive hunger but also from the contagious illnesses that were taking their toll. Nonetheless, whenever Yom Tov rolled around the atmosphere was charged with spiritual exultation and joy.
In those days, the sukka of the famous Reb Mottele of Chernobyl was a major attraction. The tzadik had quickly become one of the most beloved figures in Jerusalem ever since his arrival from Russia ten years previously.
Everyone had been astounded that first year, when Reb Mottele had built the most elaborate and beautiful sukka anyone had ever seen. Not only had the tzadik put it up himself, but he had also decorated it with considerable artistic skill. The sukka was made of the finest wood, with ornate carvings on its panels depicting scenes relating to the holiday.
Reb Mottele had brought the seven heavy panels with him from Russia. As he had once revealed, the amazing sukka had been inherited from his father, who had inherited the family treasure from his own father. With each succeeding generation, its wooden walls had absorbed additional measures of holiness.
For ten years the Jews of Jerusalem had marveled at the sumptuous structure, which was in striking contrast to their own humble booths. Crowds of people would gather around it in awe. Indeed, many stories were told about its powerful spiritual aura. It was even said that Rabbi Dovid'l of Lelov had pronounced it "a likeness of the supernal sukka on high."
That particular year, however, when the residents of Jerusalem made their annual trek to admire Reb Mottele's sukka, they got the shock of their lives. Gone was the imposing, elaborately carved edifice; instead, they found the tzadik sitting in a tiny, wobbly shack. Out of respect for Reb Mottele they hid their astonishment and said nothing. But they were naturally quite curious and could not help speculating as to what had happened.
That evening, a number of theories were proposed. Someone suggested that perhaps the terrible famine had forced Reb Mottele to sell the sukka, but this explanation was rejected out of hand. Everyone remembered how several years before a famous philanthropist had arrived in Jerusalem and offered Reb Mottele a veritable fortune if he would sell it. Reb Mottele had absolutely refused. No, there had to be another explanation. It was simply impossible that Reb Mottele would willingly part from his beloved sukka. But if so, where was it?
For the next few months the disappearance of Reb Mottele's sukka was the talk of the town. Then one day the mystery was solved, from a completely unexpected direction:
One evening during that particularly cold winter, a gathering was held in a Jerusalem synagogue commemorating the passing of a tzadik from a previous generation. Many of the most prominent figures in the holy city attended, among them the elder Chasid Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gottlieb.
Suddenly, in the middle of the commemorative meal, the elderly Rabbi stood up and requested the floor. The hall was immediately silent. "I would like this occasion to also serve as an expression of my personal thanksgiving," he stated. "It would have been fitting to arrange a separate celebration, but unfortunately, times are such that it is beyond my financial ability to do so.
"A few months ago my young grandson became very ill," he began. "His condition worsened until the doctors said that the only way to save his life would be to bathe him in warm water several times a day. You all recognize what this meant at a time when it was impossible to obtain a drop of kerosene or a lump of coal. How would we be able to heat the water to give the lad even one bath a day?
"At that point I went to my Rebbe, Reb Mottele, and explained my grandson's predicament. For a brief moment Reb Mottele was quiet. Then he jumped up, grabbed my arm and led me to a storage shed in the back of the house. Opening the door he pointed inside and said, 'Take wood from here.'
"What can I say?" Rabbi Yisrael Meir shook his head in disbelief. "When I saw that he was pointing to the panels of his sukka, my whole body began to tremble. Surely I was hallucinating. But Reb Mottele would not allow me to even think about it. 'You must take the wood. It is a case of saving a life.'
"With a broken heart I followed his instructions, splitting the holy panels into small pieces so they would catch fire and burn. My grandson was bathed as per the doctors' orders, and thank G-d, last week he was pronounced completely well. I would therefore like this meal to be considered in honor of his recovery.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what impresses me most," he concluded, "the miracle of my grandson's recovery, or the piety of Reb Mottele..."
"The voice of the herald brings good tidings and proclaims: The means and the time of redemption have been appointed; can a land be born in one day?-the voice heralds...Arise those who are buried in the earth; awake and jubilate, those who dwell in the dust!-the voice heralds. When Moshiach will be established as king in Jerusalem, the populous city, the L-rd will be a tower of salvation to him-the voice heralds.
(From the prayers on Hoshana Rabba)