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We've all been through it. Whether it happens at a wedding, a reunion, a graduation, or just because the folks want one - getting everyone together, behaving, smiling and sitting still - long enough for the picture to be taken - can be quite an ordeal.
Finally everyone's lined up and - oops, two people want pictures taken with their cameras, just a second, they have to show the photographer which button to push and - at last!
Wait! The photographer wants one more shot just in case....
And as soon as the picture has been taken, everyone disperses immensely relieved that the ordeal is over, and thank goodness no more family pictures for a while.
And yet, after a week, when the picture hasn't arrived, everyone calls Mom and Dad and asks when is it coming? Two weeks, three weeks. What's the delay, and did I look alright, and I should have worn a different outfit and I wonder if Sharon smiled (because of her braces) and - it's here!
As we look at the picture, we start reminiscing. This family picture evokes memories decades old - pleasant memories, strangely enough. Everyone frames his or her copy, displays it on the mantel or hangs it from the wall. This is my family, we tell anyone who comes into their house. We say it with pride, too. Oh, sure, we're still feuding with Martha and Stuart hasn't called in almost a year, not since the picture was taken - but these are "in the family" squabbles. They're not as important as this picture, which shows who we are, which displays our unity and love - what we really feel about each other - to the world.
Our current month of Tishrei is like a family portrait. Oh, sure, we have our squabbles during the year, disagreements and differences of opinion, brought on by the press-ures of trying to bring G-dliness into the world, of struggling against our natures. We have to make a living, too, and that can be a source of conflict.
But all of this is on the surface. When it comes down to it, the Jewish people gather together, put aside their differences, and celebrate their unity - the spark of G-dliness within us all. That is, after all, the message of Tishrei - from Rosh Hashana, when we coronate G-d as our King, to Yom Kippur when we stand united, as we did at Sinai when receiving the second set of tablets, to Sukkot when we literally dwell under the same roof, to Simchat Torah, when all differences are lost in the joyousness of the dance.
And as we go through the year, we can look back on the "family portrait" - the way we spent the High Holidays and beyond, and how we absorbed its theme of Jewish unity, of love for a fellow Jew being the highest expression of love of G-d, and how that unity itself - our portrait together in Tishrei - evokes in G-d not just a fond memory throughout the year, but a desire to see us - all of us - united again, and this time forever, with the coming of Moshiach and the final Redemption.
The mitzva (commandment) of lulav and etrog requires us to take branches or fruit from four different species of trees (these two and the myrtle and the willow) and combine them in the performance of this mitzva. Our Sages explain that each of the species used for this mitzva refers to a different type of person, from the most spiritually developed to the least refined.
Therein is an obvious lesson. The mitzva cannot be fulfilled with only the etrog, the most elevated of the species. The willow - which in the analogy to people refers to those on the lowest levels - is also necessary. So, too, no person can attain fulfillment by remaining isolated, out of touch with others. Even the realization of his individual potential cannot be complete without him reaching out to others and joining together with them.
Our Sages explain that the lulav and the etrog are a victory symbol, indicating our vindication in the judgment of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. When we stand bound together in unity, as the lulav and etrog teach, we can be assured of positive blessings in the year to come.
In our prayers, we describe Sukkot as "The Season of Our Rejoicing." This theme will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the era of Moshiach, when, as the Prophet relates, our people will return to the Land of Israel "crowned with eternal joy." And as it says in Psalms: "Then [ - as opposed to now - ] our mouths will be filled with laughter."
In previous generations, Jews did not need explanations why happiness was associated specifically with Moshiach's time. It was quite obvious. By and large, they did not live in happy times. But they knew that this sadness was not forever. At one point, the trials and tribulations of the exile would end and they would enjoy happiness and joy.
Today, however, when a person can enjoy all the comforts that a free and affluent society has to offer, we are able to ask: What is so special about the happiness that Moshiach will provide?
Although our Sages explain that we will have peace, prosperity, and well-being in the era of the Redemption, these are not the essence of that time. They are merely the backdrop and the setting that will allow the message of the Redemption to be communicated more effectively.
In the present age, we're happy because things - good food, good people, good times - make us happy. In the era of Mashiach, we won't need external factors to make us feel happy. We will feel happy because we're alive - because we have a soul and because we're living in G-d's world. This awareness will be as real to us as material reality is today.
We have the potential to appreciate a foretaste of this happiness in the present era. It is true that at present our knowledge of spirituality is merely intellectual, and only in the future era will we have firsthand experience of the spiritual core in our own being and in the world at large. Nevertheless, even today, knowing that this is the truth and focusing on it intensely can grant us a glimmer of this awareness and a sampling of the happiness that will result from it.
Tasting this happiness and sharing it with others will precipitate the time when this mindset will spread throughout all existence and "our mouths will be filled with laughter."
From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger
How Do You Say "Sukkot" in Russian?
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz
After 70 years of Communism, building a Sukka in public in Russia is actually like the thawing of the snow at the end of the winter. Even in the farthest reaches of Siberia it warms the Jewish heart.
In the last 15 years, Judaism has been rejuvenated across Russia-and when it comes to Sukkot it is really a open miracle. Why? Because the holiday of Sukkot was almost completely forgotten due to the dangers and risks of attempting to build a Sukka or obtain a lulav and etrog.
To understand how Sukkot is celebrated today in Russia, and not just in the major cities such as Moscow or Petersburg, but in the outlying and distant communities, I want to share with you a story I heard a few weeks ago, while I visited Kazan, a city in the largely Muslim Tatarstan region of Russia.
After the morning services, led by the Chief Rabbi of Kazan Yitzchok Garelik, on a regular weekday in the synagogue in Kazan, I was introduced to Mr. Moshe Adinov, a 65-year-old local dentist and a member of the minyan. I asked him, "How is it that you come to shul to daven (pray) every day?" He told me the following remarkable story:
"My father was Reb Nachum Eliyahu Adinov. He was a scribe in Kazan before WWII. He kept the traditions in our home, but of course there was no Jewish school. I went to public school even on Shabbat. A lot of tradition was weakened. Nevertheless, I remember growing up with as many Jewish traditions and holidays as were possible.
"My father was afraid for my future. He always told me not to repeat to others what we did at home. 'Be a Jew at home and a Russian in the street,' he always said. I would have never been accepted at university had I been a practicing Jew.
"We lived in a small wooden home, not in an apartment building like most people. We had a besedka, basically an open porch in the back of our home. Every year we'd celebrate Sukkot. My father would cover the top of the besedka with leaves and foliage. (The requirements for fulfilling the commandment of Sukka includes having an open-roof structure whose top is covered with tree branches or other cut foliage.) We'd invite over many Jewish friends. I always felt a little bad our Sukka; even though it was the only Sukka in town, I was embarrassed as I thought we could not afford to put a 'real roof' on the Sukka. My father would make Kiddush on wine, tell stories and gently speak to us, and this memory of Sukkot always stayed with me.
"My father died in 1965, and I inherited his home. I wanted to keep the Sukkot tradition alive, so that my children, too, would have an authentic Jewish experience. But I wanted to celebrate the holiday properly! I had friends in the steel industry, and so I had them construct a sturdy aluminum roof that we would put on the top of the besedka each year when Sukkot arrived. I was proud that I continued my father's tradition.
In 1998, Chabad-Lubavitch sent Rabbi Yitzchok Garelik and his wife Chana here. It was so beautiful to have a young rabbi and wife celebrating in public what I always did secretly. It was incredible for me. That year, Rabbi Garelik said to me, 'Reb Moshe, tomorrow is Sukkos. I want you to come to the beautiful Sukka we built.' At night, when I walked into the Sukka, I saw Rabbi Garelik in his holiday finest, holding an overflowing glass of wine, candles shining on his face. and foliage, branches and trees above his head!
"At first, I stood there in shock. Then I was overcome with emotion and I began to cry. I suddenly realized that what my father did was the way it's supposed to be, and for the last 30 years by placing an aluminum roof, I wasn't doing it the right way, and I only meant to make the Sukka more beautiful. I was utterly broken. I had not only not fulfilled the mitzva of Sukka, but I had even desecrated it!
"When Rabbi Garelik heard my story, he told me: 'Your father is looking down from Heaven with all the great Jews of the past and smiling. I promise you G-d had pleasure in your desire to beautify the mitzva of Sukka, because you did it with such love and sincerity, even though you did not understand all of the details.'
"Since then, I have continued to learn and understand our traditions. I and my family are involved as part of the community and today celebrate all the holidays with their rich fullness."
In Russia today, only synagogues have Sukkot, as most Jews live in apartment buildings. The Sukkot holiday becomes an incredible community event. Despite the cold, everyone comes to the community Sukka. People sing, spend family time together, laugh, talk, and enjoy the words of Torah and stories that are constantly flowing and keeping us warm.
This is the true story of Sukkot in the former Soviet Union. Just like the spark of Jewishness itself, Communism never was able to truly stamp Sukkot out.
Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz is the Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, an umbrella organization of 452 communities across the former Soviet Union. In most communities, Sukkot celebrations will be taking place this year. To find out more visit www.fjc.ru
If you work in Manhattan you can visit one of the Lubavitch Youth Organization's large public Sukkas during the intermediate days of the holiday. They will be open October 9 - 13. The Sukkas are located at three key points in NYC: the International Sukka in Ralph Bunch Park near the Isaiah Wall at the United Nations; the Garment Center Sukka across from Macy's at Greeley Square; the Wall Street Sukka in Battery Park near the Netherlands flagpole. For more information call LYO at (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 14/21 Tishrei, 5767 - Oct. 6/14, 2006. The next issue (#941) is for 28 Tishrei /Oct. 20, the Torah portion of Bereshit.
Freely translated from letters of the Rebbe
the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, 5705 (1945)
Greetings and blessings,
...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. 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 (commandments) 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),
13 Tishrei, 5704 (1944)
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 etrog), 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 etrog 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."...
Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Lech Lecha, 5704 (1944)
I asked ... my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, and he responded as follows:
"Banging the willow [on Hoshana Rabba - the last day of the Sukkot festival] draws down attributes of severity that have been sweetened. Attributes of severity that have been sweetened reflect G-d's abundant kindness as it descends in overtly apparent goodness."
...Based on the statements in Likkutei Torah, Parshas Korach, the maamar entitled Vihenei Porach, we can appreciate that:
- Through [G-d's] abundant kindness, overtly apparent goodness is drawn down to this material realm.
- This influence is drawn down by "Aharon and his descendants, the priests who raise their hands and bless the people with the Priestly Blessing."
From I Will Write it in Your Heart, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
What is the reason for making a Sukka?
One of the miracles that occurred during the Exodus from Egypt was the presence of clouds surrounding the Jews from all sides, providing protection from the elements. The sukka reminds us of this miracle. We observe the mitzva of the sukka in autumn and not in the spring when the Exodus took place, though. This is because during the spring, people might think the sukka was just a pleasant relocation for the nice weather. In autumn it is cold and rainy; it is obvious that the sukka is built to remind us of the miracle, not for our pleasure.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the festival of Sukkot we are commanded to dwell in the sukka. In addition to this mitzva, there are other mitzvot connected with the holiday, such as making the blessing on the lulav and etrog (palm and citron). The name of the holiday, though, is associated particularly with the sukka -- a temporary booth or hut -- which we erect for the eight-day festival. This is because the Sukka possesses certain qualities not possessed by the other mitzvot in general and those of the festival, in particular.
The mitzva of dwelling in the sukka begins the instant the festival commences. We are told to live in the sukka as if it were our own house. The biggest difference, though, between the mitzva of sukka and other mitzvot is that all other commandments are performed with particular parts of the body, or involve specific activities. But the mitzva of sukka surrounds and envelopes the entire body and encompasses all the activities of the individual. During the days of Sukkot, one is involved in the same activities as in an ordinary week - eating, drinking, etc. But, in the sukka, these acts are imbued with holiness.
This aspect of the sukka teaches us an important lesson. Not only during times of prayer or Torah-study must we serve G-d, but even in our eating, drinking, and other mundane activities.
The sukka will be... a shelter and refuge from downpour and rain (Isaiah 4:6)
Of the Torah's 613 mitzvot, 248 are positive precepts and 365 negative prohibitions. It is forbidden to either add to or subtract from these commandments. From where do we derive the strength to observe them? From the observance of the mitzva of sukka. This is alluded to by the numerical equivalent of the words "downpour" (zerem), equalling 247 and "rain" (matar), equalling 249. The mitzva of sukka safeguards against altering the number of Divine commands.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson)
The word "lulav" is comprised of two Hebrew words - lo (to him) and lev (heart), to teach us that a person must always strive to subjugate his entire heart to "Him" - to the Holy One, Blessed be He.
The Joy of the Water-Drawing - Simchat Beit HaShoeiva
When G-d differentiated between the upper and lower waters on the second day of creation, the lower waters wept, complaining that they, too, wanted to be in close proximity to the King. To placate them, G-d promised that one day, water would be poured upon the altar in the Holy Temple. The Joy of the Water-Drawing, therefore, symbolizes the transformation of sadness and tears into the joy of doing a mitzva.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
It was just a day before the festival of Sukkot, and not a single etrog could be found in all of Berdichev. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the Rebbe of Berdichev, and the entire community, were concerned about how would fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of reciting a blessing on the "four species" which included the lulav and etrog. They gathered together in the synagogue to raise their voices in prayer to the Alm-ghty to send a miracle, or at the very least, an etrog! The hours ticked by and Reb Levi Yitzchak instructed a few of his Chasidim to travel to the crossroads of the main highway. Perhaps there they would find a Jew who was traveling home for the holiday with an etrog.
Indeed, they found a Jew who was on his way home after a long business trip. He had with him a beautiful etrog. But the traveler's destination was not Berdichev; he was merely passing through on his way home to another city.
Reb Levi Yitzchak's Chasidim persuaded the businessman to stop for a few minutes in order to greet their Rebbe. Reb Levi Yitzchak tried with all his persuasiveness to convince the man to spend Sukkot in Berdichev. In this way, an entire town full of Jews would be able to properly perform the mitzva of lulav and etrog.
But, alas, the Jew would not agree. He was traveling home to his family whom he had not seen for a long time. What kind of simchat Yom Tov, joy of the holiday, would be and his family have if they were separate for the festival?
Reb Levi Yitzchak increased the pressure in an attempt to convince the businessman. A few hundred Jews fulfilling the mitzva in his merit wasn't enough? Reb Levi Yitzchak promised the Jew wealth and nachat (pleasure) from his children. But this, too, was refused by the Jew. For, thank G-d, he was already wealthy and he had a household of fine children.
But every man has his price. And so, in desperation, Reb Levi Yitzchak offered the man that if he would stay in Berdichev for Sukkot, the Rebbe would assure him that they would be together in the World to Come.
When the businessman heard this offer from the Rebbe, he immediately agreed to stay in Berdichev for the festival of Sukkot. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and the entire community were delighted. But the businessman was sure that he had gotten the better deal.
The businessman retired to his lodgings to prepare himself for the holiday. Unbeknownst to him, Reb Levi Yitzchak issued an order to the entire Jewish community that no one should invite the businessman home for the holiday meals. Not only that, under no circumstance should anyone invite him into their sukka. It should be noted that it is a mitzva (commandment) to "dwell in the sukka" during the festival. This includes partaking of one's meals in the outdoor, temporary hut.
When the services in the main synagogue in Berdichev were over, the businessman thought it a little odd that no one invited him to their home and sukka to partake of the holiday meal. He returned to the Jewish inn where he was staying to contemplate the situation and found there wine, challahs, and a table covered with mouth-watering food. The businessman was once again baffled. Surely the inn has a sukka. Why did the innkeeper set up the meal in his room?
The businessman walked outside and easily located the sukka. He looked inside and saw the innkeeper and his family gustily singing songs in honor of the festival. Meekly at first, and then a bit more aggressively, the businessman knocked on the sukka door. But what was this? The innkeepers was utterly ignoring him, as if he did not exist at all.
This scene - the businessman knocking at sukkot throughout the town and not being invited to enter - repeated itself at each sukka he visited. His request to be invited in fell on deaf ears. The rumbling in his stomach meant nothing to him compared to the longing in his heart to sit in a sukka on the first night of the festival. After much effort, the businessman finally managed to extract from one of the Chasidim that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had decreed that he should not be allowed into a single sukka in Berdichev.
With trepidation and growing panic, the businessman went to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's home. "How have I wronged you that you commanded your Chasidim not to allow me to enter their sukkot?" he cried to the Rebbe.
Calmly but firmly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak demanded, "If you will nullify the promise I made to you that we would be together in the World to Come, I will tell my followers to allow you into their sukkot."
The businessman weighed his options. He tried using his keen business sense to decide if this was a good deal, or at the very least, not a total wash-out.
"What can I do?" he reluctantly thought to himself. "It is indeed a great thing to be assured a place with the Rebbe in the World to Come. However, I have never in my life not fulfilled the mitzva of eating in the sukka!" An inner struggle took place within the businessman. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was very patient and finally the businessman came to his decision. "All Jews are sitting in sukkot tonight and I will eat inside the house like Ivan? Rebbe, I give you back your portion in the World to Come so that I may fulfill the mitzva of eating in the Sukka. He then joyously sat himself down in the Rebbe's sukka.
When the festival concluded, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak called the Jew to his home."I am returning my promise. You see, I didn't want you to merit the World to Come as if it were a business deal or bargain. I wanted you to earn your place in the World to Come. So, I caused you to be tested in the mitzva of sukka and you have passed. You have shown true resolve concerning the sukka. Now you surely deserve an exalted place in the World to Come."
"May the Merciful One restore for us the fallen sukka of David.... May the Merciful One grant us the privilege of reaching the days of the Moshiach and the life of the World to Come."
(From the Grace After Meals on Sukkot)