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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Reb Pinchas of Koritz was beloved by all the inhabitants of his city. People would seek out his wise counsel on a variety of matters. As a result, Reb Pinchas' schedule became overburdened. He no longer had the time to study and pray as he desired.
Turning to G-d in prayer, he petitioned: "Make people hate me. Let them flee my company so I will have time to pray and study."
Reb Pinchas' prayer was accepted and people began to shun him. They would not speak to him or do favors for him. Reb Pinchas, however, was happy. He was able to focus on his Divine service without distraction.
Then came the holiday of Sukot. Reb Pinchas desired to have guests, but no one wanted to come to his house. He was unhappy, for on the festival it is a mitzva (commandment) to have guests grace one's table. Ultimately, however, he accepted the fact. It was better to lack guests for the holiday than to be disturbed the entire year.
On Sukot, our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, together with Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and King David, visit the sukot of the Jewish people. As Reb Pinchas was about to enter his suka, he saw our father Abraham waiting outside.
"Welcome to my suka," Reb Pinchas told him.
"Sorry, I will not enter," Abraham replied.
"Well, if none of my descendants feel at home as guests here, I don't think I will either."
That was enough for Reb Pinchas. He prayed for his original good graces to be restored and for him to find favor in people's eyes again.
The Torah commands: "For seven days you shall dwell in sukot." In defining this mitzva, our Sages explain that for the duration of the holiday, these small huts with roofs of branches and leaves must be considered as our homes. All of our daily routines should be carried out within them. As our Sages explain: "A person should eat, drink, relax... and study in the suka."
Proverbs tells us to "Know Him in all your ways"; and our Sages comment, "This is a short verse upon which all the fundamentals of the Torah depend."
For G-dliness is present not merely in the synagogue or in the house of study, but in every dimension and corner of our lives. This concept becomes manifest through dwelling in a suka. The suka teaches us that every aspect of our conduct can serve as a means to relate to Him and become linked with His oneness.
The unity established by this mitzva resolves the differences that exist between spirituality and material existence. Usually, we see the two as opposite. Spirituality, we often think, is otherworldly in contrast to physicality which is tangible and real. From G-d's perspective, however, both the material and the spiritual are expressions of Himself and can be fused harmoniously. Living in a suka helps us adopt this mind frame and attune ourselves to this inner unity.
Reprinted from Keeping in Touch
According to the mystical teachings of the Zohar, heavenly "ushpizin" (guests) visit the suka on the festival of Sukot. They are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Each day, one of these righteous people is the "main" guest who brings the others along. On the first night of Sukot, 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 (circumcision), 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 Sukot) 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
The Happiest Man on Earth
By Mendel Jacobson
He sees the man dancing as if there are no worries in the world. His legs pump in a rhythm only his soul could produce. He looks like a flame, flickering on and on, reaching for a place beyond anything he has ever known. Wow, how could that man be so happy?
Startled, the 14-year-old boy didn't realize he'd asked the question aloud.
"Which man?" His father asks him again.
"That man," the boy points to the whirling man. "He must be the happiest man on earth."
His father looks to where his son is pointing and sees the black-bearded man with five children in tow; his eyes fill with tears and he sighs. "That man just lost his young wife six days ago."
"But then how can he be so happy, how can he possibly dance like that?"
"Because it is Simchat Torah and it is a mitzva (commandment) to dance and to be happy. This is what a Jew does; this is what a real Chasid does."
Although this story happened before I was born, I have heard it many times.
The year was 1969 and, on the second day of Sukot, the young man lost his wife to leukemia. Every year, on Simchat Torah, the young man would take his five young children to a small shul (synagogue) in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, where they would dance with the Torah and rejoice with the community. That year the young man did the same. The children's grandmother, their mother's mother, dressed them in their finest clothing and sent them off with their father to East Flatbush.
It was there, in that little shul, that this dialogue between father and son took place.
After the dancing in East Flatbush ended, the young man and his five children walked back to Crown Heights. He dropped his younger children off at home with their grandmother and hurried to 770 Eastern Parkway, the central Chabad Synagogue, where the Lubavitcher Rebbe was about to begin a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering). Every year on Simchat Torah, before the dancing would begin, the Rebbe would speak for a number of hours, discussing the intricate energies of Simchat Torah and hakafot (circuits of dancing on Simchat Torah). At different times throughout the talk, the Rebbe would pause and the Chasidim would begin singing a nigun, a Chasidic melody sometimes dating back hundreds of years. The young man of whom we speak had the privilege to begin the nigunim at the Rebbe's farberengens.
The shul at 770 Eastern Parkway was packed from floor to ceiling; people were clinging to bleachers and rafters just as they did to the Rebbe's every word. As the Rebbe finished the first part of his talk, he turned to the young man and motioned for him to say L'chaim (To Life!) on some vodka. The crowd, watching with awe, all knew the young man had just lost his wife and they were wondering what his choice of song would be.
Through the hush of thousands of people, a small but defiant voice could be heard: "Mi vadiom nye patonyem, ee v'agniom nye s'gorim," a hope-filled Chasidic Russian song meaning, "We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn." As the Rebbe began emphatically swinging his arms, he suddenly stood up and the crowd became more and more excited, singing in a frenzy, "We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn; we in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn." Faster and faster they chanted, as if in a trance. Those present could not believe this little man, swinging back and forth, raising his voice from the depths of his soul, "We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn," as if G-d had not just taken his beloved wife, as if he was truly the happiest man alive.
Fast-forward 20 years. A call comes in to a major Jewish children's organization in Brooklyn.
"My name is so-and-so and I'm wondering if you could send some manpower to assist me with a Simchat Torah program I am hosting for the children of my community."
"Sure," the man working in the organization happily replies. "But, if I may ask, why are you hosting a children's program for Simchat Torah - are you a youth director at a synagogue?"
"No, I'm not, but when I was growing up, my father and I would go to a small shul in East Flatbush to celebrate Simchat Torah. One year, as I stood watching the people dancing in a circle, I noticed one man who looked so happy, as if everything in the world was perfect. I stood there transfixed, wondering how this man could exude so much joy. I asked my father and he told me that this man had just lost his wife but, because he is a real Jew and the Torah says to be happy on Simchat Torah, he is happy. This made a very big impression on my 14-year-old mind - that a Jew could put aside all his pain and suffering and be happy just because it's a mitzva was unbelievable to me - so on that day I made myself a promise: in the future, when I have the means to do so, I will help other Jewish children celebrate the true happiness and joy of Simchat Torah."
Fast-forward another 17 years. On 23 Cheshvan, 2006, the hero of our story, Reb Hirsh Gansburg, the young man who lost his wife in 1969, completed his mission down on earth. Yet, his life - and the life of his wife - is as true and vibrant as ever. His children and grandchildren have built families and communities, bringing light into this universe; the people he has influenced continue to influence others.
The story of the young man has taught me much: even in the saddest of times, even when all seems lost, with a little joy, a little dance, a smile, everything can change.
And this much I know is true: "We in water will not drown, and in fire will not burn."
How do I know, you ask? That man, the one who took his five children to dance in East Flatbush those 37 years ago happens to be my grandfather, may his memory be blessed.
If you're in Manhattan, visit one of the Lubavitch Youth Organization's public Sukot during the intermediate days of the holiday. They will be open Oct. 16 and 19 from 10 am - 6 pm, Oct. 17 from 10 am - 4 pm and Oct. 20 from 10 am - noon. The Sukot are: the International Suka in Ralph Bunch Park, First Ave. and 42nd St. at the UN; the Gar-ment Center Suka in Greely Square at Broadway and 33rd St.; the Wall Street Suka in Battery Park at Battery Place and State St. For more info 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 11/18 Tishrei, 5769 - Oct. 10/17, 2008. The next issue (#1042) is for 25 Tishrei /Oct. 24, the Torah portion of Bereishit.
Freely translated and adapted
During the Intermediate Days of Succos; the week of the Torah portion Brochoh; the Hakhel year 5741.
To All Jewish Children of pre-Bar/Bas Mitzvah Age G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
You surely know that we are now in a special year, called the year of Hakhel (Year of Assembly). During the time when the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem was in existence, it was in this year - and precisely in these (first) days of Chol-hamo'ed (the intermediate days of) Succos - that the special Mitzvah (G-d's commandment) of Hakhel was carried out: All Jews, men, women, and children, even the very young ones, were assembled in the Bais HaMikdash, where the King read before them portions from the Torah, and everybody listened very attentively, and learned to keep and do all that is written in the Torah throughout their entire life.
You surely also know that the Torah requires us, all Jews, to observe the anniversaries of important happenings in the history of our Jewish people; and to think deeply about these events, and to relive them as we were there in person, in order to learn from them the proper lessons and to apply them in our personal lives, in our daily life here and now.
For example: When our very first festival, Pesach (Passover) - on the 15th of Nissan - comes around, the uppermost thought in our mind is how G-d took us out from the Golus (exile) and slavery of Egypt, and made us free to serve Him and fulfill His Mitzvos.
Similarly, when the days of Hakhel come around (once in seven years), everyone of us, including the very small children, must become deeply mindful that our homes and every Jewish home, also the Jewish school that houses the children (and their classmates), should be pure and holy, like being in the Bais HaMikdash; and that in every Jew, young and old, there is a "king" that rules and directs his daily activities, this being our Emunah (belief) in G-d, with which we begin our everyday life, as all of us, including the tiny tots say immediately upon rising in the morning: Modeh Ani - "I give thanks to You, living and eternal King." We must listen attentively, with obedience and devotion, to this "king" in us, in order to make sure that everything we do is in keeping with what is written in His Torah.
Everyone should also be involved in Hakhel: Starting now and continuing through the year - on suitable occasions, and particularly on Shabbos - to get together for the purpose of learning a portion of Torah or a Torah subject, and encouraging each other in the doing of Mitzvos all the better.
In order that all this should be with still greater Hatzlocho (success), it would be a good idea for those who can participate more often in such gatherings, to form a kohol, a permanent group, or unit, under the same name everywhere "Tzivos Hashem" "G-d's Army," to which every Jew already belongs from childhood, all the better to carry out the Divine order: "Fill the earth and master it" - mastering all that is around him/her by filling the environment with true light, the light of Torah and Mitzvos, so that everyone will see and know that the whole world is G-d's.
Wishing you much Hatzlocho in all above, and a joyful Yom Tov, and that the entire year should be a good and sweet year,
What is some of the symbolism of the lulav, etrog, etc.?
The lulav (palm), etrog (citron), hadas (myrtle), and aravot (willow) are joined together, and a blessing made over them during the Sukot holiday (except on the Sabbath). They are symbolic of how we should serve G-d. The etrog is shaped like the heart (considered to be the seat of wisdom), indicating that we should serve G-d with our minds; the lulav is like the spine - our entire body should be used for G-dly purposes; the hadasim are shaped like eyes, for we are enjoined not to go after that which our eyes desire. The arava is like the mouth, for we should fill our mouths with words of Torah, and be vigilant with our speech.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Everyone dances on Simchat Torah, the greatest scholar and the simplest Jew. Everyone is equal; no one can tell who is the Torah sage and who has never even studied. All Jews are on the same level.
A person dances with his feet, not with his head. The feet are responsible for transporting the whole body, including the head. If people danced with their "heads" on Simchat Torah, their rejoicing would be limited, each person being only as joyful as his intellectual capacities allow. The Jew who studied more would be happier and would dance more intensely; the Jew who studied less would be less happy and take only a few steps.
The joy of Simchat Torah, however, is unlimited and knows no bounds. By dancing with our feet, we express a higher level of joy that transcends all intellectual understanding.
Everyone dances on Simchat Torah: the Jew who has never heard of G-d, and the Jew who has never had an opportunity to study Torah, who only knows that the Torah is something very precious. This knowledge alone causes him such happiness that he begins to dance, and his joy is so intense that it is immeasurable.
It is for this reason that Simchat Torah is not celebrated by sitting down and studying, for our happiness is not derived from how much Torah we understand. On the contrary, we dance with a completely rolled-up Torah scroll! Encased in its mantle, no one can even see what is written in it.
On Simchat Torah, everyone dances: the Jew who has studied much and the Jew who is just starting out on the journey, the learned scholar and the one who has no idea what Torah is all about. For on Simchat Torah all Jews are equal, rejoicing in the Torah with an infinite joy.
Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; O earth, the words of my mouth (Deut. 32:1)
Our Sages stated: "The words of every individual who has fear of heaven will be obeyed." Moses, who possessed tremendous fear of heaven, first called upon the celestial spheres to listen to him. The lower, human realm would then follow and obey automatically.
(Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigora)
How did Moses, the most humble man to ever walk the face of the earth, dare to demand the attention of the heavens? Because the more insignificant a person considers himself, the more right he has to ask that the heavens pay him mind.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the Children of Israel (Deut. 32:8)
G-d established the borders of all the countries of the world so that the Jewish people, by living in those lands and observing Torah and mitzvot (commandments), could elevate the sparks of holiness they contain. The purpose of the Jews' exile among the nations is to illuminate the world through "the candle of mitzva, and the Torah, light."
And He said, I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be (Deut. 32:20)
G-d assures us: "Even though I will hide My face and subject the Jewish people to the laws of nature, it will only be a temporary situation. For even in their exile I am mindful of their 'end,' and will always protect their eternity."
The hakafot (cirucits of dancing on Simchat Torah) were in full swing. Round and round went the circle of dancing worshippers in the little shul. I had come to watch, that's all. Somebody from the circle pulled me into the whirling mass of dancers. I turned my head to glance at the man who had "roped me in." He seemed elderly and I wondered where he got so much strength to dance and dance without end. I was astonished to see that tears were streaming down his cheeks. An inner happiness and ecstasy were written over his noble face.
"It's a long time since I had such inspiring hakafot," said my dancing partner. "It was exactly thirty years ago today, during the terrible days after the First World War. I lived in Riga then, the capital of the newly born independent Republic of Latvia.
"That night we were sheltering in a cellar. Things were not going well for the nationalists. They were losing ground and they suspected treachery. Anybody suspicious was shot, without even any investigation. Suddenly sentries saw a light in a top floor apartment. 'The spy nest has been discovered!' the sentries decided, and they rushed to the house to lay their hands on the spy.
"Whom did they rush to seize? Zalman. And who was he? I will tell you. He didn't know what it meant to be sad. Heaven knows, he had plenty of worries. But G-d had blessed him with a cheerful disposition, and seemingly nothing, absolutely nothing could break his spirit. Zalman was with us in the cellar that night. That night of all nights, when Jews rejoice and dance with the Torah we sat downcast, shivering with every explosion.
"Zalman couldn't stand it any longer. 'Brothers!' he exclaimed. 'It's Simchat Torah tonight! We must rejoice!' But his words fell flat. He looked hurt, then he suddenly remembered something. 'I see, my friends, that without a little shnapps there will be nothing doing. I have a pint of shnapps at home, which I've been saving for tonight. I'll be right back.'
"Before we could stop him Zalman climbed to the sixth floor where he lived. He picked up a candle and found the bottle. He was so happy that he danced about with the candle burning in one hand, and the bottle in the other, forgetting all about the war, the bombardment, and the regulations.
"Now, my young friend, you understand what the sentries saw in the darkness of the night. It was just as we were preparing to celebrate hakafot that the sentries burst in, crying, 'Where is the dirty spy? Turn the spy over to us, or we will have you all shot!'
"At this moment Zalman stepped forward, bottle in hand, and calmly said: 'Officers, it was I that you saw with the light upstairs, but I was not signaling to the enemy. I..."
" 'Never mind, come along!' the soldiers said briskly, and marched poor Zalman off under heavy guard.
"If we had been depressed before, now we were truly grief-stricken. He would be put to the wall and shot immediately. Time dragged slowly. Suddenly we heard steps, and presently in walked - who do you think? - Zalman! We couldn't believe our eyes, but the bottle in his hand looked real enough. There were tears in all eyes.
" 'Stop it! Stop!' cried Zalman. 'Let's just celebrate!' But we would not start until he told us what had happened.
" 'Didn't I tell you, we have a great and mighty G-d?' Zalman began. 'When I was brought to headquarters the duty officer hardly looked at me. "To be shot!" he called out. I looked at the officer for a moment, and I called out: "Styopka! What on earth are you saying!"
" 'The officer gazed at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. "What a joke! You, Zalman, a spy! Well, well, sit down and let's talk about old times. Do you remember when I used to come to your house to remove the candlesticks on Saturday mornings, and light a fire in the winter? I was a kid then, but you treated me as though I was a grown-up. I loved you, Zalman. Those were happy days in our little town, but these are grim days. You are lucky that I was on duty tonight. It was not even my turn, but I was substituting for a friend. You would have been a dead duck by now. But, what's the idea of the bottle? Is it Purim tonight?
" 'You ought to know better, Stepan Ivanovitsch,' says I to him. 'No, it's Simchat Torah.'
" 'Sure, I remember. You go round and round in a circle dancing. Well, go back to your dancing, and say a prayer for us, Zalman. You Jews are marvellous, risking your neck for your religion, dancing in the shadow of death...'
"That was Zalman's simple story. He got a pass to come back to us. And then we began hakafot. Oh, those hakafot! I'll never forget them. Every Simchat Torah, I remember them; for the last 30 years!"
From The Complete Story of Tishrei
The festival of Shemini Atzeret has one special ritual: extraordinary simcha (rejoicing). Rejoicing on this day is ordained by the verse "you shall be only joyful" (Deut. 16:15). Chasidism explains the significance of simcha in terms of the maxim "simcha breaks through barriers." We can draw an analogy between this maxim and the fact that Moshiach, too, is referred to as "The one who breaks through" (Micha 2:13). This teaches us that simcha has the power to break through the barriers and obstacles of the exile and hasten Moshiach!
(Living with Moshiach by Rabbi Immanuel Schochet)