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Joyfulness is built into the name of the upcoming holiday of Simchat Torah, which means "Rejoicing of the Torah." On that day, the end of the Tishrei holiday season, we complete the yearly cycle of reading the Torah and begin to read the Torah anew. And perhaps this is why the Torah is rejoicing, because the spiral of reading - one year to the next, the same yet ever higher - confirms our commitment to the Torah and demonstrates its eternality.
So the Torah rejoices because the Jewish people once again embrace it. Normally when we finish reading a book, we close it and put it aside. It's been a "good read," we've learned a lot, we've spent time with its ideas and message. But now it's time to go on to something else. Oh, sure, if it's a great book, we may re-read it once or twice, maybe because we missed something the first time around.
But year in and year out, over and over? If we were to treat any other book this way, people would say we're obsessed. And indeed, the only justification for such a "compulsive" re-reading is that the book isn't just a book, it's part of our self, part of our very souls.
When we read and re-read the Torah, we're not just retelling famous stories from our family history, though there is that. We are engaging in a dialogue with the essence of who we are. We are recounting, re-examining - re-experiencing - that which makes us Jewish. When we read the Torah we are reading our very souls, as it were.
So no wonder the Torah rejoices. It rejoices at this ultimate, intimate rejoining of the Jewish people and G-d through - the renewal of reading the Torah.
But the Torah can't rejoice alone - who rejoices alone at a wedding or other siimcha? So we rejoice with it. Just as reading the Torah carries us forth and forward spiritually, so our dancing with the Torah carries it forth and forward physically. It moves us and we move it.
We might ask, of course, why isn't the holiday call the Dance of Torah? After all, that's what we do with it. We dance. We whirl, leap and do feats of terpsichorean dexterity. Aside from the actual service when we complete and begin the reading of the Torah, that's what the holiday is about - dancing.
Well, one reason we don't call it the Dance of Torah may be that with-out dancing, of some kind, we can't have real rejoicing. So when we say "Rejoicing of..." we automatically imply "dancing with..."
We can walk when we're sad. We can run when we're upset. But we can' dance unless we're joyful. Joy that surpasses happiness. So when we say "rejoicing" we assume "dancing." Rejoicing is the feeling; dancing is the action.
And one thing we want to emphasize is not just our rejoicing, but the Torah's rejoicing. The Torah, of course, can't dance without us; in truth, we can't dance without it, either. But we're the ones with the feet. And since in a sense this is as much the Torah's holiday as ours, maybe more so, we place the emphasis on the emotional-spiritual bond, the motive for the action.
We do so knowing that if we dance, we must rejoice - and if we rejoice, we must dance.
And the Torah, too, on this day set aside for its rejoicing, must dance - with us and through us.
We are commanded to rejoice during the festivals. The rejoicing during the holiday of Sukkot reached its peak, in the times of the Holy Temple, in the unbounded joy of the water-drawing celebrations (Simchat Beit HaShoeiva).
During the year, many offerings on the altar were accompanied by a special pouring or libation of wine. On Sukkot, in addition to the regular wine-offering, there was also a unique pouring of water. At that time the assembled crowds broke into limitless, profound, ecstatic rejoicing which continued for three days, and of which the sages said, "Whoever has not seen the rejoicing of the water-drawing has never in his life seen true joy!"
The Sages chose their words with care. They are not merely telling a story, but giving a valuable lesson - that if one has not seen the rejoicing of the Water-drawing, although he may think he has at times participated in unbounded rejoicing, he is in error. His joyous experience was in fact a superficial one. For, since he has never witnessed the water-drawing, he is incapable of experiencing true joy. This is the full significance of the above statement.
What does true joy entail? It entails breaking one's own bounds and inhibitions, exceeding one's own limitations. At the wedding of an only child, a normally reticent and taciturn father may become a voluble and loquacious speaker. If a person has a rational, intelligent reason to be happy, then his happiness is limited by the extent of his understanding. But when he receives a reward or a gift that is "beyond his wildest dreams," that his intelligence could not possibly have foreseen, when he is moved by a cause that stems not merely from his understanding, but from his very essence and being... then the resultant joy is similarly boundless.
In Temple times, wine was used as a libation. It was water, though, which was the main ingredient of the water-drawing ceremony. Wine has a taste, a flavor; water has no intrinsic flavor. Wine and water have their equivalents in spiritual life. When one is motivated to serve G-d by intelligent reasoning and logic, such service is termed "wine"; one savors the "taste" or "reason" for doing the mitzva. Service impelled by a feeling of pure submissiveness to G-d, is called "water"; one cannot relish the "flavor" of rationality in such service.
Truly limitless joy cannot come as a result of one's understanding and intelligence - for they are limited. But when a person realizes that he himself is limited, finite, he nullifies himself, he neutralizes his ego. In a spirit of total submissiveness he becomes one with limitless G-d through the union of the mitzvah. Then he transcends his limitations and can serve G-d with truly boundless joy.
Whoever has not seen the rejoicing of the water-drawing, has never in his life seen true joy. Because the libation of water, as opposed to wine, symbolizes the quality of submissiveness as opposed to the intellect and rationality of wine.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Because of a Mitzva
by Gitty Munitz
It all began on a warm Sunday afternoon in the fall, the second day of the Sukkot festival. Sunday was the first day on which the blessing over the lulav and etrog could be recited as the first day of Sukkot was Shabbat, when this mitzva is not performed.
My nephew Yossi Bryski, together with friends, were discussing where to go in order to help their fellow Jews fulfill this mitzva that is unique to the Sukkot holiday. They decided to go to Starrett City in Brooklyn, about an hour walk away.
Upon arriving in Starrett City, a neighborhood comprised primarily of apartment buildings, they entered the first building they saw. Quickly scanning the Jewish sounding names on the directory, a friend noted one in particular and said, "Hey, Yossi, look at this one. It's Belkin, your wife's maiden name."
Yossi, however, was more focused on the mitzva at hand and ran up to the first floor with his lulav and etrog and began knocking on doors. In one apartment there was a party in progress, full of Jews who were quite happy to shake the hand (and the lulav) of the enthusiastic young rabbi. By the time Yossi worked his way through the entire crowd, it was really getting late, and by all logic, it was time to start the long walk back to Crown Heights. But something compelled him to keep going.
He ran up another flight of stairs. People were very friendly, but not Jewish. One gentleman smiled sympathetically and said, "Sorry, Rabbi. I'm not Jewish, but the lady in the apartment above me is."
"Thanks," called Yossi, as he dashed up to the third floor. He knocked on the door of the apartment above and said who he was and what he wanted. But alas the door remained locked. "No thanks. I'm not interested." Said a voice through the door.
Oh well, thought Yossi, as he started to leave. He was about to climb down the stairs when suddenly there was the sound of a chain being pulled back, a door opening and the voice of a woman calling out, "Wait! I've changed my mind!" Yossi ran back with the lulav and etrog and helped her do the mitzva.
What's your name?" she asked afterward.
"Yossi Bryski," he replied.
"My name," she said, "is Galina Belkin." Suddenly Yossi remembered his friend's words. "That's incredible!" said Yossi. "What Divine Providence; my wife's name is Belkin! Maybe we're related. Where is your husband from?"
She explained that her husband had died two years before, and she really didn't know much about his family. Galina continued to tell Yossi about herself. She was originally from Russia and she was a travel agent. She handed him her business card. (Nice young man, potential customer, why not?)
Yossi gave the card a fleeting glance and was about to stuff it in his pocket as he headed for the stairs when he did a double-take. Her name, on the card was "Galina Munitz." Shocked, Yossi said, "My mother's maiden name is Munitz! What are some of the names in your family?" he asked.
"My father was Laibel and his father was Alexander Sender."
"My great-grandfather was Alexander Sender!" whispered Yossi.
After a few seconds of listening to the names of Galina's relatives, there was only one possible conclusion: "My mother has a long-lost first cousin!" said Yossi wonderingly.
Yossi promised to get in touch with Galina when the holiday was over. Then, he walked home with the other men, eager to relate the news to his parents. You can imagine that when the story got out, it sent shock waves throughout the entire Munitz family.
After the first days of the holiday were over, Yossi's mother, Sara (Munitz) Bryski contacted our newly discovered first cousin Galina. She quickly organized a mini-reunion, as my sister-in-law Devorah (Munitz) Rodal, an emissary of the Rebbe in Italy, was leaving New York that same night back to Milan.
Galina arrived at the Bryski home, which was spilling over with Munitzes, together with her only child, Mark.
When my father-in-law, Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz passed away 24 years ago, his brother Laibel (Galina's father) was still in Russia, behind the Iron curtain and out of touch. Yisroel Meir surely thought his brother was dead, and Laibel probably feared the same for his brother, Yisroel Meir. Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz also had two other brothers. One was Yosef Yitzchak who died of hunger in the siege of Leningrad, and the other was Yeshaya and nobody knows what became of him. There was also a sister named Emma who lived in Israel.
Laibel changed his name to Lev Alexandrovich (in memory of his father, Sender Alexander) and moved to Rishon Litziyon in Israel, not knowing that just a couple of miles away, in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, lived his sister Emma. For the rest of his life, neither of them even imagined that the other was still alive.
Laibel named his child Emma after his sister whom he thought he had lost in the Holocaust. Galina named her only child after her uncle Yisroel Meir, whom she thought had passed away, though at the time Mark was born, Yisroel Meir Munitz was alive and well and living in Brooklyn.
Last year, the Munitz children - the seven sons and daughters of Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz - found some brand new first cousins. And cousins celebrate with each other, especially holidays! A family Chanuka party was held and Galina and Mark came. Emma (Galina's sister) and her husband also came with their only child, Michael. Imagine their astonishment to find that we are all, thank G-d, blessed with large families, including Devorah Rodal who has (bli ayin hora) 17 wonderful children.
I guess it took a young Lubavitcher chasid who was determined to walk a couple of miles to help his fellow Jews do the mitzva of blessing the lulav and etrog to bring about the reunion of a family that has been separated for more than three decades!
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
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 Greeley 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 from 10:00 a.m. until sunset. For more information call (718) 778-6000. To find out about public sukkot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
This issue of L'Chaim is for 16/23 Tishrei, 5765 -Oct. 1/8, 2004. The next issue (#840) is for 30 Tishrei /Oct. 15, the Torah portion of Noach.
Freely translated letters
The first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, 5705 
Greetings and blessings,
We received your letter and the text of your lecture concerning the publications of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, at the appropriate time. We ask your forgiveness for the fact that because of the large burden of work - particularly at the beginning of the new school term - our reply was delayed until the present. Enclosed is a reply from the editorial board of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch....
To conclude with a matter relevant to these days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos: The Maharil writes: Directly after Yom Kippur, every person should be occupied with making his sukkah. For the days of teshuvah [repentance] have been completed. On the first day where there is the possibility of sin, heaven forbid, he should first begin with involvement in a mitzvah [commandment]. The germ of this concept is quoted by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 624:5).
There is a deep concept alluded to here. When a person has repented for his past conduct and he is concerned that he will not sin in the future, the advice given him is: Occupy yourself with a sukkah.
The following mistaken approaches are the most common causes for an upright person to sin:
- One thinks that the Torah and its mitzvos are relegated for specific times during the day and afterwards, he may do whatever he wants;
- One thinks that the Torah and its mitzvos are applicable only to one of a person's limbs: his head (according to the understanding of Mussar, that Torah study is sufficient) or the heart ("G-d desires the heart." In this instance, one might err and think that the actual observance of the mitzvos is only secondary and not fundamentally important).
When one focuses one's thought on the mitzvah of sukkah, the first mitzvah which follows the granting of atonement for our sins, one will see that one must dwell in the sukkah as one lives in one's home (Sukkah 26a). For the mitzvah is a person's dwelling. It encompasses his entire body from his feet until his head, including his garments and utensils as well.
With holiday blessings and blessings for a g'mar tov [a good completion (of Divine judgment)],
13 Tishrei, 5704 
Greetings and blessings,
...As our Sages comment in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah, ch. 30), the festival of Sukkos is the first day of the reckoning between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Jewish people after the atonement granted on Yom Kippur. On that day, we are commanded (Vayikra 23:40): "And you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree (the esrog), palm branches, a bough of a thick-leaved tree (the myrtle), and willows of the brook."
Our Sages comment in the Midrash:
These are the Jewish people. The esrog alludes to people who possess the advantages of both Torah study and good deeds. The lulav alludes to people who possess the advantages of Torah study, but not those of good deeds. The myrtle alludes to people who possess the advantages of good deeds, but not those of Torah study. The willow alludes to people who possess neither the advantages of Torah study, nor good deeds. The Holy One, blessed be He, says: "Bind them together as a single collective. At that moment, I am upraised."
This reflects the advantage of a sichah [Torah talk] over a maamar [Chasidic discourse], that it can inspire not only the people in the category of the esrog and the lulav to become "beautiful," but that it can affect the myrtle and even the willow. If there will be a person who will apply himself to this purpose, such people can be made "beautiful" and attractive through certain portions of the sichah, to the extent that they will "form one collective entity - see Kerisus 6b which states that any communal fast which does not include the sinners of Israel is not a fast, as Amos 9:6 states: "And His collective...." - to perform G-d's will with a full heart."...
With wishes for a happy holiday and [with the blessing,] "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption,"
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee
[P.S.] I am certain that my letter of Menachem Av 7 arrived at the appropriate time.
18 Tishrei, 5765 - October 3, 2004
Positive Mitzva 1: Believing in G-d
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:2) "I am the L-rd, your G-d" We are commanded to believe in G-d, the Master Creator of the Universe.
Prohibition 1: You shall not believe that anything else has the power of G-d except G-d.
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:3) "You shall have no other gods besides Me" This prohibition cautions us not to believe that anything or anyone has the power of G-d, except for G-d.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we are celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. It is special in many ways, teeming with mitzvot and customs with far-reaching spiritual implications.
We were commanded by G-d to celebrate Sukkot as a reminder of the sukkot-booths-in which we dwelled while in the Sinai desert. According to some opinions, the sukka commemorates the actual booths and temporary dwellings the Jews lived in. However, other opinions consider these sukkot as a reminder of the Clouds of Glory with which G-d surrounded and protected us during the sojourn in the desert. Obviously, the sukka itself is a major aspect of the holiday.
It is not surprising, then, that our upcoming holiday is known almost exclusively by the name Sukkot.
There are other mitzvot that we perform every day or most days of the festival, though, such as blessing the lulav and etrog, and saying the special "Hoshana" prayers. Why, one might ask, is the festival known specifically for the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka?
The answer lies in the unique nature of the mitzva of sukka. Every other mitzva a person performs involves a particular limb or part of the body: tefillin, for instance, are wrapped around the head and arm; Shabbat candles are lit using the hand; Prayers are said with the mouth.
The sukka, however, is different. It surrounds and encompasses the entire person from head to toe. It envelops the person who sits within its temporary walls with the holiness of the mitzva.
May the Jewish people merit to witness what we read in the "Grace After Meals" on Sukkot, "May the Merciful One Restore for us the fallen Sukka of David" and may we celebrate all together this year in Jerusalem with Moshiach.
In sukkot shall you dwell seven days
The sukka surrounds the entire person and one is enjoined to conduct all worldly affairs within it for seven days. The fact that all of a person's being is encompassed, including his very shoes, teaches us that not only through prayer and study do we worship G-d. The sukka teaches that it is also through the physical world that we approach G-d and draw holiness into our surroundings, as it states, "in all your ways shall you know Him." The mitzva of sukka strengthens our realization of this and gives us the power to carry out our G-dly mission throughout the year.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
One year, during the dancing on Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov cried out: "Yisrael, you holy people. What is the cause of your great joy? It is our holy Torah! Do the other nations ever rejoice while holding their sacred books? Where do they go in the time of their rejoicing - into their pubs! And we, the Jewish people, where do you find us in the season of our rejoicing? Inside the synagogues. And why are we dancing and singing? In honor of the holy Torah. When are we united, as one man with one heart? On Simchat Torah! Therefore, I say to you, Yisrael, my holy people! This day is a triple joy - the joy of the Torah, the joy of the Jewish people, and the joy of G-d."
Decorating the Sukka
One year, on the eve of Sukkot, Rabbi Chaim of Zanz told his sons that he needed several thousand rubles. As soon as they brought him the money, he distributed it all to the needy. As he entered his sukka that evening he said: "People are accustomed to decorate their sukka with all kinds of pretty ornaments. But the decoration in this sukka is charity!
(A Treasury of Chasidic Tales)
Yosel was a simple, honest Jew, which is why each year he was chosen to be the one to buy a "special" etrog (citron) for his town. There were, of course, other etrogim in town that individuals purchased in order to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of "lulav and etrog" on the holiday of Sukkot. But the special etrog was unique; it was purchased from a fund contributed to by everyone in the town so that a truly excellent etrog could be bought.
Yosel hummed a joyous melody as he and his horse plodded through the forest on their two-day journey to the city. Suddenly, Yosel noticed a person gesturing wildly by the side of the road up ahead. Yosel was sure that someone was in dire need and Yosel wanted to be of help if he could be.
Within a few moments, Yosel was near enough to take in the whole situation. A Jew was standing next to his fully-loaded wagon, holding his head and weeping aloud like a baby. Yosel couldn't stand seeing a fellow Jew sad.
"What's wrong?" called out Yosel compassionately. "Why is a Jew crying?"
The poor fellow just pointed to the ground. There lay his horse, still as a stone, harnessed to the carriage with one leg in the air; a truly pitiful sight.
Yosel understood. This unfortunate merchant was also on his way to the city but he had with him a wagon full of wares. This loaded wagon most likely represented his income for the next few months. And now, with his horse dead, there was no way for the merchant to reach the market.
"Come with me" offered Yosel. "My wagon isn't nearly as big as yours but you can put some of your things in." But as the words came out of the good-hearted Yosel's mouth, he knew this suggestion wouldn't work. His horse wasn't strong enough to pull a laden wagon and even so, everything left behind would certainly be stolen. The fellow would loose his wagon and the remainder of his goods as well.
"Look," Yosel said, "how much do you need for a new horse?"
The man whispered, "Five hundred rubles," and then began to weep again.
Yosel took the money for the special etrog out of his pocket and said, "Here is 500 rubles. Jump in! We can make it to the market in a half a day. You can buy a horse there, ride it back here and make it back to the market again before tomorrow morning. You can repay the loan later."
Yosel urged his horse on and throughout the entire journey Yosel sang a happy melody, thinking of how lucky he was to be in the position to help out a fellow Jew in need. Within two hour of reaching the marketplace, the Jew had purchased a new horse and was off like the wind to save his wagon.
As the Jew faded into the distance, so did the smile on Yosel's face. He suddenly realized the predicament he was in. Hmm, a two-day journey back to his own town, 500 rubles from his savings, a two-day journey back to the city to buy an etrog, then back home again... Yosel's head began to spin.
"I'm such a simpleton! A fool!" Yosel began berating himself. But suddenly he thought, "Hey! What possible good will come from being sad!? Exactly the opposite; the Baal Shem Tov says that 'Sadness is the doorstep to all sins.' It is a mitzva to be happy and joyous I will be!"
Just then, Yosel noticed a large group of people gathered around one man. Yosel approached and was awed by what he saw. A huge etrog, as brilliantly yellow as the sun, and spotlessly perfect! It was magnificent. He had never seen anything like it in his life. How he would have loved to have purchased that etrog as the special one for his community. Surely the selling price was at least one thousand rubles. Yosel took one last wistful look and then turned away. But then, he heard something that caught his attention. A raffle! It seemed that because no one had such a large sum the owner decided to make a raffle: He would sell 50 tickets for 20 rubles each.
Yosel bought a ticket. He wrote his name on a piece of paper and placed it together with the other 49 slips of paper in a hat. A child was called up from the crowd. He closed his eyes, stuck his hand in and...
Yosel won! Everyone in the crowd shook his hand and patted him on the back. Yosel graciously took the etrog and then walked to the nearby synagogue to recite the afternoon prayers and thank G-d properly. The next morning, Yosel set off for home. He marvelled at G-d's ways and continuously thanked G-d for the goodness He had bestowed upon him.
On his return trip home, Yosel once again caught site of someone by the side of the road. Yosel stopped his wagon and was delighted to see the Jew whom he had helped just the day before. The Jew explained, "A miracle! When I came back with the new horse I found that the old one that I thought was dead , wasn't dead at all. He was standing by the road, eating grass. So I hitched both horses up to the wagon and in no time I made it to the market and sold all my goods in just a few hours at a nice profit. Then I sold the new horse you bought me and raced out here last night so I could intercept you on your way back home, and now here you are, and here's your money back."
So, Yosel helped a fellow Jew in need, acquired a very special etrog for his community, and was even returning to his community with 500 rubles for them to do as they saw fit, all because of his simple joy.
All-Merciful Father, in Your goodwill, bestow goodness upon Zion; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. For in You alone we trust, sublime and exalted G-d and King, master of the worlds.
(From the Hakafot prayer recited on Simchat Torah when circling with the Torah scrolls)