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How do we recapture the joy? You know, the exuberance of riding your bicycle downhill, without training wheels and without tipping over, for the first time. The thrill of getting a hit, making a basket, winning you first tournament game. Getting a driver's license, getting behind the wheel of your own car - even if it was a clunker that needed a quart of oil every week.
We can think of a lot of firsts, many moments of excitement, delight and ecstasy. Special times, once-in-a-lifetime events. Occasionally, unexpectedly, our memories will replay the scenario, or parts of it, and we re-experience what we did, what we felt. But, truthfully, these come at random and largely unbidden.
So to mark special days, we have anniversaries - of a birthday, of a wedding, of the birth of a child or grandchild. (Mazel Tov!) But even as we celebrate, and acknowledge, and remember, we don't actually relive. The moment doesn't come back; the shock of unexpected joy doesn't course through us again. It's all drained up into our heads, as it were. We think it, we may even feel some echo of it, but we don't live it again.
Then how do we get the joy back? There's only one way, of course - that's to really live through the event again. And to do that, it has to happen all over again. Of course, each encounter, each experience is unique. But still, parallel events echo each other - and an echoed action perforce echoes the thoughts and feelings that created it.
For example, what can equal the emotions - let's not even bother labeling or detailing them - that accompanies the birth of our first child (or grandchild - mazel tov!)? Nothing. And yet, when the second and third and... child (or grandchild - mazel tov!) is born, are we any less ecstatic, any less transported, grateful or overwhelmed? Of course not.
The reason is probably simple and obvious: everything we experience has two parts, two components: a general and a specific. The general, or transcendent, if you will, comprises the universal characteristics - the trip to the hospital, the hours of waiting, the anxiety, etc. etc. The specific, or immanent, if you will, comprises the unique characteristics - a blue car instead of a red one this time, his parents watch the other kids or get to the hospital first - well, we don't need to give all the details.
And that's how and why we recapture the joy: by feeling, hearing, echoing the universal that's within, behind and structuring this particular moment of joy and accomplishment.
Which brings us to Simchat Torah. Rejoicing with the Torah. Or, to Re-Joy with the Torah, to experience again what we experienced when - standing at Sinai with all the other Jewish souls - we first received the Torah.
How do we do that? By re-doing what we do in moments of greatest joy - singing and and dancing. For in moments when the soul transports the body beyond itself, the body in a sense transports the soul - then "all" we can do - and all we do - sing and dance.
So this Simchat Torah - go to a synagogue and re-joy - re-dance and re-sing.
There are a number of mitzvot (commandments) performed on the festival of Sukot. We sit in the suka and partake of holiday meals there. We bring together four species of plants (two of which are the lulav and etrog) and make a blessing on them each day of the festival (except Shabbat). We say additional prayers and fulfill special customs. And yet, the festival is called "Sukot," after the temporary booths we dwell in during the holiday. Why doesn't the Torah call the festival "lulav" or "etrog," or or choose a name for the holiday after another mitzva connected to our celebration of Sukot?
The mitzva of suka has a virtue not shared by any other mitzva of the holiday. The obligation to sit in the suka begins immediately when it gets dark on the very first night of Sukot, whereas the mitzva of the Four Species - taking an etrog, lulav, myrtle and willow branches and making a blessing over them - is not done until the following morning.
Another characteristic of the suka is that it must be prepared ahead of time. The walls of the suka must be built with the specific intent to perform the mitzva, and the suka may not be erected once the holiday itself has begun. In fact, building the suka is considered to be part of the mitzva as well. The Four Species, on the other hand, can be readied on the holiday itself and their procurement is not part of the mitzva.
Another advantage the mitzva of suka has over the Four Species is the fact that one can perform it at any time of the day or night, and its obligation continues even after one has sat in it. Unlike the taking of the lulav and etrog, a person can never say that he has already performed the mitzva of suka, and he needn't enter once again that day! The suka is considered our temporary dwelling for the entirety of the festival, and we eat, drink, read, study and relax in it just as we would our own home.
But perhaps the most salient characteristic of the mitzva of suka is the fact that it is unlike any other in its encompassing nature. Other mitzvot are performed with a particular limb of the body pertaining to that mitzva, such as tefilin, which are placed on the arm and head. The mitzva of suka, however, totally envelops the person and is done with the entire body. The very same activities that were done in the house a week previously are elevated when done in the suka.
Our Sages said that a person who has no home "is not a person"; that is, he is not complete and whole without a place to live. The home affects the person not only when he is in it, but also when he is out in the marketplace and doing business as well. During the holiday of Sukot, our home is the suka, and it is through the performance of the mitzva that we reach our wholeness and perfection. Therefore, even when we are not physically inside the suka we remain connected to it once we have declared it to be our primary dwelling for the duration of the festival.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Festival of Hope in the Kovno Ghetto
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
It was over 3,300 years ago that the Jewish nation was liberated from Egyptian slavery. The Bible tells of their 40 years travel in the desert. During those years the people dwelled in tents and temporary huts, called "Sukas." Today, Jews world over commemorate this historic event by erecting little huts, covering them with branches or bamboo poles. For eight days festive meals are eaten there. It is called the Sukkoth holiday. It begins this year Friday evening, October 10th.
A less known holiday mitzva (commandment) is the gathering of four earthly species for prayer. They are a palm branch (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle and a willow. There are many symbolic meanings to the bringing together of the four species on Sukot.
This year is six decades since a most unforgettable episode in the annals of Jewish history.
It happened during W.W.II. The German army captured the areas of Kovna, over-running Lithuania. Hundreds and thousands of Jewish families were locked in the Kovna ghetto. Jews everywhere became victims of unbridled hatred.
With all the bombing and mass destruction taking place, the Kovna ghetto refugees had ample wood to build the Suka. Trees had been uprooted by the bombing and continued carnage. Lumber was everywhere. However, the most pressing problem of the day was to find the beloved four species. The search for the species tortured the souls of the people.
Then the following unexplainable event took place:
The merciless Germans knew that the cities of Vilna and Kovna had industrial machinery that could produce material for the war effort. So they installed a slave work policy.
The Germans would send soldiers and business people to observe the manufacturing companies found in the cities. There they would work the poor Jews to death, forcing them to produce weapons of warfare.
When the machinery broke down the Jewish mechanics were to fix it. As the imprisoned Jews ran these factories they were escorted to the cities in order to repair the machinery.
So our story begins during the days preceding the holiday of Sukot in 1943. The Jews of Kovna were very worried; not about the immediate annihilation nor the brutality practiced by the Germans; they were worried about the four species. This practice, so great and time-honored. Nothing mattered to the Jews of Kovna except the need for the four species. For them the reciting of the blessing, Shehecheyanu, the prayer of life, was of paramount importance.
Jewish law states that on any Sabbath that falls during the seven-day festival, one does not recite the blessing on the four species. The commandment is performed the following day after the Sabbath.
The suffering people in the Kovna ghetto were exposed to a question of monumental proportions. Some Vilna Jews sent a message to the Kovna Rabbi, Avraham Dov Ber Kahane Shapiro, stating that there was a lulav and etrog available in Vilna. On Friday the Jewish Vilna engineers would be traveling to Kovna to repair the machinery that had broken down and they would be able to bring the four species but only for one day.
"Is it permitted to make a blessing on a lulav and etrog on the Sabbath since the lulav and etrog would be returned to Vilna that very same Saturday afternoon?" Such an extraordinary question could only be asked during the nightmarish days of the Holocaust. Rabbi Shapiro did not reply due to his illness.
Rabbi Ephraim Oshry was one of the few rabbinical authorities to survive the ghetto of Kovna. Finding no precedent to answer the question, he came up with the following compromise, "Yes, there may be some way in blessing the four species on the first day of Sukot even though it was Shabbat." But, as the acting Rabbi, he could not and would not give an explicit answer. The people needed to keep their spirits alive. But can a Rabbi rule against the Torah. Come to think of it, are there different laws for such times, thought the Rabbi? The decision was solely theirs.
Thousands of Jewish people rushed to the building where the four species were hidden. With tears running down in their eyes they called out the blessings of the mitzva of the lulav and etrog. They recited the "Shehecheyanu" blessing, the prayer of life. With bursting hearts they fulfilled this mitzva.
The bittersweet tears tasted better than the sweet apple dipped in honey during the holiday from past happier times. They knew full well this was the last lulav and etrog that they would ever see. They were grateful for being given this opportunity.
When Sukot comes around I still wonder what the law is. No one seems to know the answer. Maybe there is no answer. One thing I do know is that I am in awe of the faith of those who would not surrender their spirits.
So this Sukot find the four species, hold them to your heart and say the blessing of the prayer of life and thank the Alm-ghty for these better times when Jews are free to practice their religion wherever they are found.
Rabbi Eli Hecht is founder and director of Chabad of South Bay, California and Vice-President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
The Lubavitch Youth Organization provides public sukot in three key locations in New York City for those who work in or visit Manhattan: The International Suka at the U.N. - First Ave. and 43rd St.; the Garment Center Suka in Greeley Square across from Macy's; The Wall Street Area Suka in Battery Park - at State St. and Battery Pl. These sukot will be open during the intermediary days of the holiday from 10:30 a.m. until sunset. For more information call (718) 778-6000. To find out about public sukot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
This issue of L'Chaim is for 14 Tishrei/Oct. 10 and 21 Tishrei/Oct. 17. The next issue (#791) is for 28 Tishrei /Oct. 24, the Torah portion of Bereshit.
Freely translated and adapted
24 Tishrei, 5708 
Greetings and blessings,
I had thought that just like every year, on the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we would meet and be able to speak together. It appears that this year various factors stood in your way and prevented you from making the journey.
How regretful! As our Sages (Rosh Hashana 16b) state: "A person is obligated to appear before his teacher on the festivals." See the Kessef Mishneh to the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Torah 5:7.
Although at present, there are those who are lenient with regard to this and several explanations have been given in this context, a further point is involved. As a preface, there is a well-known question with regard to the wording of the liturgy: "We cannot ascend, appear, and bow down before You." (Musaf-additional prayer on the festivals) That we cannot "ascend and appear... before You," is understandable - "because of the hand sent forth against Your Sanctuary." But bowing down is seemingly possible in any place, as we say: "And we bend the knee and bow down" (the concluding Aleinu prayer). Why is the Holy Temple necessary for this?
The resolution of this question is that there are two levels in bowing down: the external expression of bowing: that one bows with one's body; or on a higher level in the external level of bowing, with regard to the actual deed, which is dependent on one's body, one demonstrates a commitment not to rebel against the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He; the inner expression of bowing that comes as a result of the bitul (nullification) of one's will before G-d's will, that he has no other will or desire at all; i.e., it is the soul that bows down.
The latter bowing is endowed to the Jewish people through their appearance before G-d on the festivals in the Holy Temple. After the destruction of the Holy Temple, although we can no longer bow down, a vestige of the holiness of this ray extends into the "sanctuaries in microcosm," Zohar II, 164b, the synagogues and houses of study, during the times of prayer (Likutei Torah, Parshas Berachos, the first maamar entitled Mizmor Shir..., sec. 2).
We see in actual fact that to reach the level of "Negate your will...," your intellect, and the other powers of your soul without assistance is very difficult.
For when a person appreciates his own worth, he will not find reasons sufficiently cogent to nullify his own will entirely. On the contrary, if he comes to the recognition and the decision that he must negate his own will, then a person who comes to such a decision is G-d-fearing and on a significant level. If so, it is difficult to comprehend why he cannot rely on the decisions made by his intellect and will. The proper counsel in such a situation is to seek help from a person whom he acknowledges is functioning on a higher level than his own and who has no self-interest in such matters. Then he will certainly heed the directives which that sage person instructed him in the paths of G-d. The appropriate time for such an encounter is on the three festivals, corresponding to the experience at the time the Holy Temple was standing. It is superfluous to elaborate further.
May it be G-d's will that the letter sent by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, will compensate for this, at least to the extent that can be conveyed in writing until you are able to see him face to face.
With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
From I Will Write It In Their Hearts, published by Sichos In English
15 Tishrei, 5764 - October 11, 2003
Prohibition 286: It is forbidden to accept testimony from a wicked person
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 23:1) "Do not put your hand together with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness" The judge is not permitted to accept the testimony of a dishonest person and use it in considering the case.
16 Tishrei, 5764 - October 12, 2003
Prohibition 287: It is forbidden to accept testimony given by a relative of either of the litigants
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 24:16) "Fathers shall not be put to death for (the testimony of) children; neither shall children not be put to death for (the testimony of) fathers" A judge is forbidden to accept testimony of relatives of the person on trial. This prohibition applies at all times, whether the relative's testimony can help prove the defendant guilty or innocent.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We stand at the beginning of the "season of our Rejoicing" - the festival of Sukot that culminates with the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Chasidic philosophy explains that what a Jew accomplishes on Yom Kippur through tears, repentance and remorse, he can accomplish on Simchat Torah through joy.
How is this possible?
On Simchat Torah we, so to speak, take the "high road." We travel on the more direct route toward connecting with G-d.
Through dancing with the Torah, expressing joy and happiness for being Jewish, we automatically transcend this mundane world and relate to G-d on a truly spiritual level.
In the repentance of Yom Kippur, we feel remorse for our transgressions which occurred in this physical world. Dancing, celebrating, joyousness, however, are a totally different level. We are celebrating our love of G-d, not something related to this world. This higher level we reach can accomplish more than repentance.
In the merit of our repentance and our joy, may we see the "return" of the Alm-ghty to Jerusalem as we say in our daily prayers: May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion in mercy.
Dancing on Simchat Torah
The blessings and forgiveness which we seek on the Days of Awe by beseeching the Alm-ghty through solemn prayer and earnest repentance, can be attained on Simchat Torah in a joyous vein, by dancing with the Torah.
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Our Sages explain the reason for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret thus: After the Jewish people had already been together with G-d for the seven days of Sukot, G-d requested that they remain with Him for another day, as "Your separation is difficult for Me." This can be interpreted to mean "The separation between one Jew and another is difficult for Me." In order to be strengthened against this separation, the Jewish people should gather together on Shemini Atzeret amongst themselves, while their hearts are happy, and they will come to closeness, love and unity.
Last and First
The last letter of the Torah is "lamed" (in the word "Yisrael"). The first letter of the Torah is "beit" in "B'Reishit" (In the beginning). These two letter 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.
A long time ago in a village in Poland there lived a rabbi who was very conscientious about the building of the suka-hut in honor of the holiday of sukot. The suka that the rabbi had built for himself every year was a sight to see. The walls were of the thickest and best wood. Even the greenery that he used to cover the top of the suka was thick and fresh.
Now it so happened that one year everyone in the village decided that they too could afford to build beautiful sukas like their rabbi. The only hindrance was that they most of them were not very good carpenters. Many of them were not even very handy.
What did they do? About 20 of the villagers, the ones who knew how to work with their hands, joined together to be the "suka-builders" for the community and they set to work going from house to house building new sukas for everyone.
Needless to say, they had to work day and night non-stop and made a lot of money that year building sukas. A few hours before the holiday, as they finished the last suka, they realized that they had been so busy working for everyone else that they had forgotten about themselves! They had no sukas in their own courtyards.
What could they do? There wasn't enough time for each one to go home and build his own suka, so they decided that they had no other choice than to take all the scraps and leftover wood and build one big suka near the outskirts of the town for everyone.
They finished building their large rickety hut with just enough time left for everyone to run home and prepare for the holiday before sunset.
One and a half hours later, all the workers were sitting in the shul looking radiant, holy and very happy like everyone else, engrossed in loud enthusiastic prayer.
The prayers finished, they sang and danced together, shook hands and wished one another "Good Yom Tov (holiday)." Someone opened the huge doors for everyone to leave and suddenly... it began to rain.
For the first few minutes it looked like it wouldn't last long, but then it got stronger and stronger. The strong wind and rain even made it difficult to close the shul doors again, and the sound the torrential rain and things smashing in the street, made it seem like it would never stop. But after half an hour the rain ceased. The shul doors opened again and the congregants began to joyously leave the synagogue into the muddy streets; finally they would be able to go home to their sukas and eat the holiday meal! But they were in for a surprise.
All the sukas had been destroyed in the storm!
In a few minutes everyone was standing again in the street in front of their homes not knowing what to do.
Then someone got an idea. "Let's go to the rabbi. He is a great man. Surely his suka is still standing!"
Together everyone set out for the rabbi's home. But as they approached they heard wailing coming from the rabbi's courtyard: "Oy, my suka!"
The Rabbi's suka was even more destroyed than everyone else's; the walls had been completely shattered and one had even been lifted into a tree.
Then from far away they heard singing! It was coming from the direction of the worker's suka. Immediately the children ran in the direction of the music and in minutes they returned breathless with the good news, "The Worker's Suka is .... standing!!"
"Nu, " said the rabbi to the gathered crowd. "Go home and get your food. We are going to eat in a suka after all!"
The entire night the congregation took turns crowding into the worker's suka, two or three families at a time ten minutes for each shift, eating their holiday meals.
So they did for the next three meals, one the next morning and two the day until they were able to rebuild their Sukas. (Note the Holiday of Sukot is seven days but the first two days are the Holiest and work is forbidden).
The next day there were about one hundred Chasidim in the Rebbe's house with the same question "Why was everyone else's Suka destroyed except for the Suka of the workers?"
At first the Rebbe tried to answer that maybe the winds were weaker on the outskirts of town. But that didn't work because trees were actually uprooted there.
Then he said that maybe it was because theirs was stronger one than everyone else's. But that also wasn't so because their Suka was built so hastily that the whole thing shook when anyone just pushed it.
So the Rebbe thought for a minute and then a smile broke on his face. "I know!" He declared, "I know why their Suka remained standing! Because our Sukas were built each person for his own self and his own family. But when they built their Suka it was with unity, each built for everyone else...
And when there is unity between Jews, all the storms and the hurricanes in the world can't break it!"
"I will rejoice and celebrate on Simchat Torah. Tzemach (Moshiach) will certainly come on Simchat Torah."
(From the prayers recited on Simchat Torah)