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Once, on the festival of Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism) told his disciples the following:
"On Simchat Torah people generally oversleep a bit because of the late festival meal and the dancing of the night before. But the angels do not have this sort of schedule, so naturally, they 'wake' up on Simchat Torah at the same time as usual. The angels want to begin chanting their songs of praise to G-d, but they are not permitted to do so until the Jews begin their prayers. So off they go to tidy up the Garden of Eden-Paradise.
"Now, in the Garden of Eden, the angels find articles they have never before encountered. What could these things be? The Garden is strewn with soles of shoes! The angels are mystified. They are accustomed to finding prayer books, Shabbat candles, coins for charity, tefilin, and mezuzot in the Garden, but shoe soles?
Off the angels go to question the angel Michael. The angel Michael explains to them that this is his doing-these soles and slippers are the result of Jews dancing with the Torah. Lovingly, the angel begins collecting the soles. "These are from Kaminka and these from Mezeritch," and so on, he enumerates.
Then the angel Michael proudly insists that he is superior to the angel who binds crowns for the Creator from the prayers of the Jewish people. "The torn soles of Simchat Torah make a finer crown," he declares.
Many of us aren't gifted with a "good" head. Not everyone has a kind and caring heart. But most everyone has feet with which to dance and hands with which to clap.
And we all have voices with which to sing-though some of us are more in tune than others.
The festival of Sukkot is referred to as the "Season of Our Rejoicing." In addition to participating in the mitzvot (commandments) of eating in a sukka, and shaking the lulav and etrog, we have been given the additional mitzva to rejoice and be happy.
During Sukkot itself, in commemoration of a special service that used to take place in the Holy Temple, celebrations take place in Jewish communities all over the world. At these celebrations, known as Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva, Jews celebrate in a manner in which all Jews are truly equal, by rejoicing!
The dancing and festivities of Sukkot and Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva culminate in the whirling and twirling and uninhibited exuberance of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice equally with the Torah, not with heads and hearts, nor with our wallets, but with feet and shoes and with the soles that are later collected in the Garden of Eden and woven into a most luminous and fine crown for the Creator.
Celebrate with your family, with friends and with your feet during the upcoming "Season of Our Rejoicing." Get out there and exercise your soles and your soul simultaneously!
- (Back to text) The angel Michael is the angel of loving-kindness. He is responsible for bestowing upon the Jewish people blessings of children, health, and wealth.
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 (commandment). 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 mitzva. 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
The Case of the Missing Etrog
by Chaya Shuchat
It was the second day of Sukkot and my husband came home and cheerfully informed me that his lulav and etrog were nowhere to be found. He had given his set to a yeshiva student who was making rounds to hospitals and nursing homes, to give patients the opportunity to fulfill this important mitzva (commandment). The young man, in turn, had passed in on to someone else who promised that he would personally return it. The chain broke down at that point but it was clear that someone had my husband's set of Four Species, and it was not him.
Unfortunately, I was unable to digest this news with the same equanimity that my husband displayed. A lulav-and-etrog set is not cheap - somewhere between $100 and $200 for a nicely grown, plump, unblemished citron and a firm, straight-backed lulav branch. This is on top of all the additional holiday expenses - new clothing and shoes for all the children, festive meals nearly every night.
Before I reacted, though, I recalled a story that I heard in childhood, of a poor rabbi who sold an heirloom set of tefilin, his only valuable possession, in order to afford a beautiful etrog. His wife was so incensed at what he had done that she grabbed the etrog and bit off its tip, rendering it unfit for a blessing.
My sympathies at that moment were completely with the rebbetzin, and I probably would have done worse things to the etrog, had it been in my possession. But our precious set of Four Species was currently in the hands of a well-meaning yeshiva student, who at the moment was trudging around Brooklyn to find Jews who had not managed to acquire their own set. This image calmed me down somewhat, at least enough to ask through clenched teeth: "And if you must lend out your lulav and etrog, why can't you at least buy a cheap set just for lending?"
"And why," my husband inquired patiently, "should a Jew in the street make a blessing over a lulav and etrog less beautiful than the one I choose for myself?"
I found it difficult to argue with his logic. People who spend over $100 on a set of fruit and branches will fall for a mystical argument anytime.
I reminded myself of another childhood story, of a different rabbi (or maybe it was the same one?) who set out with the precious rubles he had hoarded all year, to purchase a truly outstanding set of Four Species. Along the way, he passed a poor coachman whose horse had just keeled over and died. The poor man was now left without any means of support. Without hesitation, the rabbi handed over the entire sum to the coachman to purchase a new horse. After all, he reasoned, blessing the Four Species is a mitzva, and charity is a mitzva, too. When everyone else in the synagogue blesses the Four Species, he will say his blessing over a horse.
Applying the rabbi's logic to my own situation, on the cosmic mitzva scale there really is no difference if my husband makes a blessing over his set, or if that same set is used by hundreds of other Jews on the streets of Brooklyn. Mitzva = mitzva, right? Especially since the mitzva is compounded many times over, by all the people using it.
I remembered one year when my husband's etrog had been returned to him covered with brown splotches, testimony to the dozens of hands that had gripped it. I had looked distastefully at the bruised etrog, thinking of the many hours he had spent browsing the etrog market, trying to find the most perfect, unblemished fruit. But my husband had seen it differently: "All the hand-marks make the etrog more beautiful."
Putting the missing-etrog saga into perspective, I couldn't be too angry. As the rabbi in the story had remarked to his etrog-chomping wife, family harmony is also a mitzva, and if G-d had seen fit to deprive them of one mitzva there was no reason not to have the other. The rabbi kept his peace, and so did I. My husband mentally relinquished all claim to his lulav and etrog, and gifted it with a full heart to the student who had borrowed it.
We made do with borrowed etrogim for the duration of the holiday, as my husband's set never was returned. I still wish he had found a more reliable agent, but mess-ups do happen. As we say in Yiddish, "zol es zain a kappara - let it be an atonement," and let our forgiving attitude in this instance stand us in good stead the next time we inadvertently lose or damage someone else's property.
I am writing this story nearly a year later. Looking back, I have to say that G-d amply repaid us for the cost of the missing etrog. In fact, we were able to set aside enough money to easily meet all of this year's holiday expenses, including the most beautiful lulav and etrog that we can find.
Reprinted with permission of the author, originally appeared on chabad.org
If you're in Manhattan, visit one of the Lubavitch Youth Organization's public sukkas during the intermediate days of the holiday. They will be open Sun., Sept. 26 - Tues., Sept. 28, 10 am-6 pm, and Wed., Sept. 29, 10 am - 1 pm. The Sukkot are: the International Sukka in Ralph Bunch Park, First Ave. and 42nd St. at the UN; the Garment Center Sukka in Greely Square at Broadway and 33rd St.; the Wall Street Sukka in Battery Park at Battery Place and State St. For more info 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, 5771 - Sept. 24/Oct. 1, 2010. The next issue (1140) is for 30 Tishrei/Oct. 8, the Torah portion of Noach.
18th of Elul, 5738 (1978)
Excerpts from a freely translated letter
...It has often been pointed out that man's mission in life includes also "elevating" the environment in which he lives, in accordance with the Divine intent in the entire Creation and in all its particulars, by infusing holiness and G-dliness into all the aspects of the physical world within his reach - in the so-called "Four Kingdoms" - domeim, tzome'ach, chai and medaber (inorganic matter, vegetable, animal, and man).
Significantly, this finds expression in the special mitzvoth (commandments) which are connected with the beginning of the year, by way of introduction to the entire year - in the festivals of the month of Tishrei:
The mitzvah of the sukkah, the Jew's house of dwelling during the seven days of Sukkoth, where the walls of the sukkah represent the "inorganic kingdom";
The mitzvah of the "four kinds" - esrog, lulav, myrtle and willow - which come from the "vegetable kingdom";
The mitzvah of shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar being a horn of an animal;
And all of these things (by virtue of being Divine commandments, mitzvoth) are elevated through the medaber, the "speaking" (human) being - the person carrying out the said (and all other) mitzvoth, whereby he elevates also himself and mankind - Both in the realm of doing as well as that of not doing - the latter is represented in the mitzvah of the fast on the Holy Day, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
Thus, through infusing holiness into all four kingdoms of the physical world and making them into "vessels" (and instruments) of G-dliness in carrying out G-d's command - a Jew elevates them to their true perfection.
It also follows that just as in regard to his personal perfection, which is expected to rise in harmony with his rising state, so also in regard to the four kingdoms he is expected (and given the ability) to raise, from time to time, the state of perfection to which he elevates them (as explained above) - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in the manner of doing the mitzvoth (where there can be grades of performance, such as acceptable post facto; good to begin with; according to unanimous opinion; with enhancement, etc.) and their inner content.
Taking into account the assurance that G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity, it is certain that, notwithstanding the fact that only a few days remain until the conclusion of the year, everyone, man or woman, can achieve utmost perfection in all the aforesaid endeavors, according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory - "by one 'turn,' in one instant," since the person so resolved receives aid from G-d, the absolute Ein Sof (Infinite), for Whom there are no limitations.
May G-d grant that the efforts to achieve utmost perfection in the outgoing year and the good resolutions to achieve perfection in all the abovementioned matters each day of the coming year, should bring down upon everyone G-d's blessings in all needs, material and spiritual, also in complete measure - "Out of His full, open, holy, and ample Hand."
And - very soon indeed - the complete blessing given to all the Jewish people and to each individual, "And (G-d's) Sukkah - the Holy Temple - will be in Shalem" - the city complete with goodness and holiness, Jerusalem, at the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Moshiach.
SHLOMO means "his peace." King Shlomo was the son of King David and Batsheva (II Samuel 12:24) renowned for his wisdom. He is the author of three books from the Bible: The Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. King Shlomo organized the building of the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
SHLOMIT means "peaceful." She was the daughter of Divri from the tribe on Dan (Leviticus 3:24).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
A unique aspect of Sukkot that is not found in any other festival is the "Ushpizin," the seven supernal guests that visit us in the sukka on each night of the holiday.
While all of the Ushpizin (Aramaic for "guests") visit the sukka on each of the seven nights of Sukkot, each supernal "guest" is specifically associated with one of the holiday's seven days, and leads the other guests.
We learn about the Ushpizin from the Zohar, the basic book of Kabala. The Zohar explains that it is the "seven shepherds of the Jewish people" who are the Ushpizin and that their order (of dominance) is as follows: On the first night Abraham; the second night Isaac; the third night Jacob: then Moses, Aaron, Joseph and on the final night David.
Each one of the seven shepherds is associated with one of the seven Sefirot, or divine attributes, which are mirrored in the seven basic human character traits.
As each supernal "guest" visits our sukka, he empowers us with the quality that defines him. Abraham is chesed (kindness), Isaac is gevura (strictness), Jacob is tiferet (beauty, or harmony), Moses is netzach (victory), Aaron is hod (splendor), Joseph is yesod (foundation) and David is malchut (sovereignty).
Why do the Ushpizin visit on Sukkot, and not any other holiday?
Sukkot, more than any other Jewish festival, is associated with Jewish unity. In fact, in the Talmud it states, "It is fitting that all Jews should sit in one sukka." Since, in practical terms, that's impossible, as least in principle, we are expected on Sukkot to behave in a manner that enhances Jewish unity.
And, in fact, one of the prime mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot, making a blessing over the "Four Species" (palm, etrog, willow and myrtle), represents all kinds of Jews bound together as one!
So, the Ushpizin, join us and our earthly guests, on a holiday when we try even harder to enhance Jewish unity.
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 to the needy. As he entered his sukka that evening he said: "Some people decorate their sukka with all kinds of pretty ornaments. But the decoration in this sukka is charity!
(A Treasury of Chasidic Tales)
The gabbai (overseer) of the synagogue came up to the rebbe, Reb Shalom Ber of Lubavitch, and invited him to begin the hakafot (circles around the bima with the Torah scrolls). But the Rebbe just shrugged and said, "I'm not ready yet." The Rebbe then walked over to a businessman who worked on commission and asked him, "Tell me, how do you run your business?" "It's easy," replied the merchant. "I bring in merchandise from the market in the big city and I offer it to the small retailers. To those who pay me for the goods I brought them before, I give more merchandise on credit." Now, the word for credit is "hakafa," the same word that signifies the circuits made around the bima with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah. The Rebbe explained to all those in the shul, "After we have paid G-d in cash - the varied kinds of divine service of the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - then He will give us a new consignment of goods - blessings for the New Year - on credit. In full expectation of a successful 'business deal' we will now begin the hakafot."
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.
Sukkot, 1914. The effects of the World War II in Europe were being felt as far away as the Holy Land. Many of the supply routes were closed and provisions were scarce. The old Jewish settlement suffered numerous losses, not only from the pervasive hunger but also from the contagious illnesses that were taking their toll. Nonetheless, whenever holidays rolled around the atmosphere was charged with spiritual exultation and joy.
In those days, the sukka of the famous Reb Mottele of Chernobyl was a major attraction. The tzadik had quickly become one of the most beloved figures in Jerusalem ever since his arrival from Russia ten years previously.
Everyone had been astounded that first year, when Reb Mottele had built the most elaborate and beautiful sukka anyone had ever seen. Not only had the tzadik put it up himself, but he had also decorated it with considerable artistic skill. The sukka was made of the finest wood, with ornate carvings on its panels depicting scenes relating to the holiday.
Reb Mottele had brought the seven heavy panels with him from Russia. As he had once revealed, the amazing sukka had been inherited from his father, who had inherited the family treasure from his own father. With each succeeding generation, its wooden walls had absorbed additional measures of holiness.
For ten years the Jews of Jerusalem had marveled at the sumptuous structure, which was in striking contrast to their own humble booths. Crowds of people would gather around it in awe. Indeed, many stories were told about its powerful spiritual aura. It was even said that Rabbi Dovid'l of Lelov had pronounced it "a likeness of the supernal sukka on high."
That particular year, however, when the residents of Jerusalem made their annual trek to admire Reb Mottele's sukka, they got the shock of their lives. Gone was the imposing, elaborately carved edifice; instead, they found the tzadik sitting in a tiny, wobbly shack. Out of respect for Reb Mottele they hid their astonishment and said nothing. But they were naturally quite curious and could not help speculating as to what had happened.
A number of theories were proposed. Someone suggested that perhaps the terrible famine had forced Reb Mottele to sell the sukka, but this explanation was rejected out of hand. Everyone remembered how several years before a famous philanthropist had arrived in Jerusalem and offered Reb Mottele a veritable fortune if he would sell it. Reb Mottele had absolutely refused. No, there had to be another explanation. It was simply impossible that Reb Mottele would willingly part from his beloved sukka. But if so, where was it?
For the next few months the disappearance of Reb Mottele's sukka was the talk of the town. Then one day the mystery was solved, from a completely unexpected direction:
One evening during that particularly cold winter, a gathering was held in a Jerusalem synagogue commemorating the passing of a tzadik from a previous generation. Many of the most prominent figures in the holy city attended, among them the elder Chasid Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gottlieb.
Suddenly, in the middle of the commemorative meal, Rabbi Yisrael Meir stood up and requested the floor. The hall was immediately silent. "I would like this occasion to also serve as an expression of my personal thanksgiving," he stated. "It would have been fitting to arrange a separate celebration, but unfortunately, times are such that it is beyond my financial ability to do so.
"A few months ago my young grandson became very ill," he began. "His condition worsened until the doctors said that the only way to save his life would be to bathe him in warm water several times a day. You all recognize what this meant at a time when it was impossible to obtain a drop of kerosene or a lump of coal. How would we be able to heat the water to give the lad even one bath a day?
"At that point I went to my Rebbe, Reb Mottele, and explained my grandson's predicament. For a brief moment Reb Mottele was quiet. Then he jumped up, grabbed my arm and led me to a storage shed in the back of the house. Opening the door he pointed inside and said, 'Take wood from here.'
"What can I say?" Rabbi Yisrael Meir shook his head in disbelief. "When I saw that he was pointing to the panels of his sukka, my whole body began to tremble. Surely I was hallucinating. But Reb Mottele would not allow me to even think about it. 'You must take the wood. It is a case of saving a life.'
"With a broken heart I followed his instructions, splitting the holy panels into small pieces so they would catch fire and burn. My grandson was bathed as per the doctors' orders, and thank G-d, last week he was pronounced completely well. I would therefore like this meal to be considered in honor of his recovery. To tell you the truth, I don't know what is more impressive," he concluded, "the miracle of my grandson's recovery, or the piety of Reb Mottele..."
The etrog (citron) is a unique fruit in that it remains on the tree for an entire year, thriving precisely on the changes in climate of the different seasons. For this reason the etrog is symbolic of the Jew, the eternal wanderer who must endure all kinds of trials and tribulations as he suffers in exile. Yet like the etrog, the Jew will thrive even in the most adverse conditions and emerge triumphant with the coming of Moshiach.