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Imagine your dream location. Far from civilization, surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of paradise. Oblivious to the hustle and bustle of your daily life, the serenity and beauty of the setting carries you to another world.
In a spiritual sense, the mitzva (commandment) of Sukka, after which the approaching holiday is named, is just such a mitzva.
It is a mitzva that literally encompasses you. It surrounds you. It commemorates the way that the Clouds of Glory surrounded the Jews on all sides as they travelled through the desert, insulated from the harsh terrain and all types of predators. Unlike other mitzvot where only a part of our being is involved in the mitzva, when it comes to sukka, we actually go into the mitzva and allow it to encompass every part of us.
Another unique aspect of the mitzva is found in Chasidic teachings.
Being within the four wall of the sukka serves to elevate anything, even the most mundane act, that you do in the sukka.
You can just let your feet do the walking into a sukka, have a bite to eat with the appropriate blessing and sit. And you're doing a mitzva! If you want, you can have a nice chat, or listen to some music. And these acts are elevated to a higher spiritual plane since they are being done as part of dwelling in the sukka.
You can meditate or you can read. You can shake a lulav and etrog in the sukka. You can sit down or stand up. You can even take a nap in a sukka and it can be considered a mitzva!
Finding a sukka is really not as difficult as you may think. Many Chabad centers have a sukka-building service and even offer pre- fabricated models. If you don't have one of your own, you can visit your local Chabad-Lubavitch House which will have one open to the public. They might even have a mobile sukka on a flat-bed truck.
Then sit down, relax with a cup of coffee (or spring water) and a piece of cake, say the blessings (see below) and eat.
The mitzva is to "dwell" in the sukka as we would normally live in our homes. To fulfill this mitzvah, we should have a meal there or, at the very least, eat food made from one of the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt. One should first recite the regular blessing (Baruch Ata Ado-nei Elo-haynu Melech Haolam boray meenay mezonot) and then say the special sukka blessing "Boruch Ata Adon-nei Elohay-nu Melech Haolam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu layshayv baSuka - Blessed are You... Who made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the Sukka."
So now that you are a sukka maven and you know how easy and uplifting it is to do the mitzva of sukka, why not give it a try?
This week's Torah portion, Ha'azinu, opens with Moses' words: "Listen, heaven, and I will speak; hear, earth, the words of my mouth." With these words Moses called upon heaven and earth to bear witness concerning his admonitions and exhortations to the Jewish people regarding their performance of Torah and mitzvot (the commandments).
The commentary Sifrei offers an explanation for Moses' selection of heaven and earth as witnesses. "Listen heaven" - because Torah was given from heaven; "hear earth" - because upon it the Jewish people stood when they accepted the Torah and said "All that G-d spoke we shall obey and hear."
Torah and mitzvot were given to us by G-d, Who is infinitely higher than heaven and earth. In seeking to exhort Israel to a greater degree of performance of Torah and mitzvot, it is logical to assume that this could be best accomplished by stressing the fact that Torah and mitzvot were given by G-d, rather than by focusing upon the point that Torah and mitzvot are connected to heaven and earth. Why, then, the emphasis on heaven and earth?
A Jew is expected to serve G-d on two levels: on one hand he is expected to serve G-d with pure and simple faith and with acceptance of the Heavenly Yoke - elements that derive from the soul's essence. On the other hand his service must permeate his internal powers of intellect and emotions so that they too understand and feel G-dliness.
In practical terms this means that a Jew is to connect his soul's essence with his inner powers, so that not only does he serve G-d in thought, speech, and action out of a sense of simple faith, but he also comprehends G-dliness in his mind and loves and fears Him in his heart.
Moreover, a Jew is expected not only to serve G-d in the general and ongoing manner of regular Torah and mitzvot, he is also to serve Him through repentance - teshuva. This level of service, a level of service that emanates from the soul's essence and seeks the innermost aspect of G-dliness, must permeate the person's powers of intellect and emotion as well.
This is why when Moses desired to rouse the Jews to the service of Torah and mitzvot, whose performance was to be not only with pure faith but with the inner powers of intellect and emotion as well, he mentioned that Torah and mitzvot were given through heaven and earth.
Thus, he aroused within the Jewish nation their inner "heaven and earth," and the lesser powers of emotion, speech and action that are likened to and on the level of earth.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Dancing with the Angels
by Rabbi Yossi Lew
Over a year ago, I visited Poland as part of the "March of the Living," which takes high school juniors and seniors for a week to Poland to visit the horrors of the Holocaust (and then a week in Israel). We were in the shtetl (Jewish village) called Tykocin, not too far from Bialestock. We visited the still standing spectacular shul (synagogue). What distinguishes this refurbished shul is not just its beauty; it is its walls. The walls of this 400-year-old shul are decorated with words from the prayer book. The entire service to welcome the Sabbath is on the wall. Many other prayers, painted attractively, cover all four walls. Perhaps there were not that many books available in that time, certainly not in this remote shtetl, so they painted the words on the tall walls in paint that really lasts.
Just being present in a place where Jews came to pray for 400 years is extremely moving. After we prayed there, we were told a provoking and moving story about a survivor from a small shtetl who, on his deathbed, said he was looking forward to "tantzen mit di malachim" - dancing with the angels - after his passing.
When he was a youngster, the Nazis invaded his town during the festival of Sukkot (1939). All of the Jews in his town were ordered to assemble in the town's main square. Understanding that they were soon to leave town, the boy asked his father how they would be able to dance on the festival of Simchat Torah.
An SS guard overheard the boy's innocent question and said, "Tantzen? You want to dance?" With that he grabbed the boy together with three others, and made them dance in a circle. He then shot one of the kids through the head and told the other three to continue dancing or they would be shot too. He then shot another to death, and then another, leaving just that young man, the one who had asked about dancing. He ordered that young man to continue dancing alone.
And so, arms stretched out to the air, the young man continued turning around in sheer terror, scarred forever. The Nazi beast then asked the boy, "With whom are you dancing?"
The boy replied: "Ich tantz mit di malachim!" (I am dancing with the angels.) Inexplicably, the Nazi let the boy live.
After surviving the Holocaust, this person would always find some time during the yearly dancing on Simchat Torah to dance on his own in the middle of the circle, just as he did as a boy in the town square. He called it the "malachim tantz." Now, on his deathbed, he was talking about how he would soon be dancing with the angels, this time for real.
After this story we all stood up and danced. We danced for the members of that shul whose final dance was brutally ended in gunfire or in gas, and who are now dancing with the angels. We danced because we were here in the name of those holy martyrs, while the vile beasts who sent them to heaven are in Purgatory.
And we danced because this is our response to that eternally damned villain, Hitler. The way I see it, there is nothing we could say or do that would be more powerful than to dance. For the eternal dance of the Jew is just that: no one can, or will ever, succeed in making it stop.
During the Holocaust, heroism was not just exhibited in the Warsaw ghetto uprising or by the partisans. Their actions were worthwhile, their deeds are certainly worthy of recalling and preserving. However, no less impressive was the Jew who maintained his or her faith in the hellish conditions, or the Jew who with even less than the meager rations did not hesitate to fulfill another mitzva, or those who endangered their lives to wear tefillin, to pray, to study Torah, and to sing songs of belief like "Ani Maamin" (I believe...in the coming of Moshiach") on their way to the gas chambers. We must recall, never to forget, the heroism of those who maintained their Judaism and their belief in G-d through impossible conditions.
More and more stories like his are being revealed. Stories that leave one with incredible encouragement and inspiration to learn what Jewish people did under the worst circumstances in history. In a time when G-d was hiding His face, these Jews, many of them simple and plain folk, never stopped looking for Him.
It is almost 70 years since the Holocaust. Survivors are diminishing in numbers. Third and fourth generation Jews are not hearing about the experiences of the Holocaust as part of their day-to-day life. If special measures are not taken to impart information on the Holocaust, the forthcoming generations will consider this recent event as part of a distant and far-off history.
Parents and educators alike must take measures to assure These measures must be taken-up by parents and educators alike.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter. Rabbi Yossi Lew lives in Atlanta, Georgia and is the Dean of the Atlanta Rabbinic Ordination Program.
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 Wed., Oct. 3 - Thurs., Oct 4, 10 am - 6 pm, Fri., Oct. 5, 10 am - 1 pm, and Sunday Oct. 7, 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 12 Tishrei/Sept. 28 and 19 Tishrei/Oct. 5. Our next issue, #1241, will be for 26 Tishrei, Oct. 12.
Freely translated and excerpted
Between Yom Kippur and Succos, 5741 
These are the days when, having been blessed on Yom Kippur with a good and sweet year, we are preparing for the Festival of Succos - "the Season of Our Rejoicing." At this time some reflection is in order:
True, we are living in exile, a time when G-dly revelation is not as prevalent. This diminished light of Torah has its effect in the world in its relations with the Jewish people and, in some Jews, in their relationship to Judaism.
(It should be stated that these two are interconnected. It is only when Jews, individually or collectively, proudly and openly adhere to their Jewishness that they earn the respect of the world around them.
Furthermore, by adhering to a Torah life-style, which means actually learning Torah and doing Mitzvos (commandments), we not only diminish but eventually completely eliminate the only cause of the Exile (as we clearly say in our prayer - "Because of our sins we were exiled from our land") and the Exile is shortened and eventually ended by the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach.)
Nevertheless, the fact that we are still in Exile must not, and does not, dampen the joyful preparations for Succos, much less the actual joy of Yom Tov (the holiday), particularly the Festival of Succos (including Chol HaMo'ed, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah) which has been singled out and designated as "The Season of Our Rejoicing."
An additional factor, which is also one of our fundamental beliefs and basic principles of our Torah, is Bitochon (trust) in G-d. This means true and absolute trust in the Master of all the universe, whose Divine Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and specifically, and in detail.
This trust includes, first of all, that He surely granted that everyone be favorably sealed in everything and in every detail, including and especially the fulfillment in our own very days of the hope, heartfelt yearning, and most fervent daily expectation of Moshiach "for whose coming I wait every day."
The basis of this trust is the simple belief of every single Jew. For Jews are "believers the sons of believers," this intrinsic belief having been inherited from our Father Abraham. This belief unites and unifies all Jews and, furthermore, it is perfectly equal in all Jews though they be unlike each other in many other aspects.
It is this trust that makes a spiritual uniting of the Jewish people a reality, unifying all Jews into one entity. For their common simple belief also pervades and encompasses everything in which they differ, including their understanding, and level of study and observance of the Torah.
This unity is also reflected in Yom Kippur, the unique and only day in the year, which of all the festivals ordained in the Torah, is celebrated for one day only, both in and outside of the Holy Land.
Yom Kippur is the day on which all Jews conclude on the same culminating "resume" and proclaim with profound inspiration and in a loud voice: Shema Yisroel - Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One; Blessed be the name of His glorious Kingdom forever and ever; Hashem He is G-d!"
This same unifying principle is reflected also in the Festival of Succos, in combining together the "Four Kinds" (Esrog, Lulav, Myrtle, and Willow), symbolizing all different types of Jews, into one Mitzvah, which is created by virtue of a Jew unifying them.
And also in the Succah itself, concerning which the Torah says: "It is possible for all Jews to sit in one Succah."
May G-d grant that just as on Yom Kippur, after the many prayers and the culminating resume, one long shofar blast is sounded - a Tekiah Gedolah, according to custom, followed by the loud proclamation: Next year in Jerusalem!
So may every Jew in the midst of the entire Jewish people, may every Jewish man and woman, very soon indeed hear the sound of G-d's Great Shofar announcing our liberation, followed immediately by - "Bring us... to Jerusalem Your Holy House with everlasting joy."
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, a great scholar and exceedingly pious person, was the Nasi (leader) of the Sanhedrin during the times of the Second Holy Temple. The Talmud relates that during the nightly Sukkot celebrations of Simchat Beit Hashoeva in the Temple, he would juggle with eight flaming torches and they would not touch one another. He would also bring joy to bride and groom by entertaining them at their wedding. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel supported the Jewish rebellion against the Roman government. He was one of the ten martyrs slain by the Romans that we read about on Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
During the holiday of Sukkot we fulfill the mitzva of lulav and etrog by blessing and holding together the lulav (date palm), the hadas (myrtle), aravot (willow), and the etrog (citron). The mitzva is only considered fulfilled if all of the objects have been held together. From this mitzva we can learn about the importance of the unity of the Jewish people.
Why is it so important for these four species to be united? They represent different "categories" of Jews, one who learns Torah and does mitzvot, one who only learns Torah, one who only does mitzvot, and one who does neither.
And yet, all of these different "kinds" of Jews must be united.
All Jews are united. We are all members of the Jewish people, bound together by our Torah. Just as when the four species are separate they are incapable of being used to perform a mitzva, so too are we dependent on each other, on our unity, to fulfill our mission in this world.
Being united does not mean eradicating all differences so that we all think and act in the exact same way. Rather, G-d created each individual with his or her own specific character traits, strengths and weaknesses. True unity is revealed people not only accept and tolerate each other's differences, but learn to find the goodness that is a part of every Jew, and uncover the lesson that can be learned from that person. This is the message of the lulav, etrog, hadasim and aravot, of all four species that we hold together and bless together. And just as we bless the species when they are held together, so too are we blessed by G-d when we, too, hold ourselves together and stand before Him as one.
As we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, a holiday that is known as "the festival of our rejoicing," we ask G-d to grant us the greatest joy of all, with the arrival of Moshiach and the rebuilding of our Holy Temple, where we shall surely be able to fulfill the mitzva of "serving G-d with joy."
You shall draw water with joy (Isaiah 12:3)
Water is tasteless; wine has a wonderful flavor. Water is symbolic of our performance of mitzvot purely because G-d has so commanded us. Wine is symbolic of the pleasure that is derived from a rational comprehension of Torah and mitzvot (commandments). The commandment to pour water upon the altar - "You shall draw water with joy" - thus alludes to a Jew's unconditional obedience to G-d. At the same time, our total submissiveness to G-d engenders a feeling of joy - delight and gratitude in being able to carry out His will. When a Jew rejoices in the performance of a mitzva, he merits that his "water," his non-intellectual acceptance of G-d's will, is transformed into the "springs of salvation." For just as a spring is perpetually connected to its source, so too does he become perpetually bound to G-d, meriting salvation in all his endeavors.
(Likutei Sichot, vol 2)
On the eve of Sukkot, Reb Chaim of Zanz told his sons that he needed several thousand rubles. As soon as they brought him the money that they had quickly borrowed from various wealthy householders, he distributed it all to the needy. As he entered his sukka that evening he said: "People are accustomed to decorate their sukkot with all kinds of pretty ornaments. But the beauty of my sukka is different: charity makes my sukka beautiful!"
On Simchat Torah, all the advocating angels rush to the defense of the Jewish people and berate the Satan. "How can you accuse such a wonderful nation as the Jews of any wrongdoing!" they cry. "Just look at them - men, women and children, going to their synagogues to rejoice with the holy Torah!" Hour after hour the angels describe the joyful dancing and the love even the smallest Jewish children show for the Torah as they kiss the scrolls, until the Satan slinks away in shame...
(Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)
by Sudy Rosengarten
Everyone pitied us because Poppa was a shammos, often considered little more than the shul (synagogue) janitor, and we were still living on the "East Side" of Manhattan, the crowded world of "greenhorns" that young people tried to escape. Mornings, Poppa would rush to the Shearis Yisroel shul on Columbia Street, where his father had been shammos. He made the stove, prepared the prayer books and tidied up.
Unlike everyone else, Mamma saw nothing degrading in being a shammos. To her, cleaning a shul was no less meritorious than cleaning the Holy Temple; it was nothing short of a mitzva (commandment). To prove she really meant what she said, she shared Poppa's mitzva by washing down the ladies' room every Friday, in anticipation of the Sabbath. Even we children were included in the mitzva and assigned chores.
Columbia Street was a dilapidated dead end lined with shuls. On Shabbos and Yom Tov (Jewish holidays) it was filled with thronging crowds, come to hear the famous cantors of the day, or to be briefed on the latest East Side gossip, or "simply" to pray. Of all the shuls on the block, Shearis Yisroel was perhaps the most impressive. A luxurious chandelier swayed from the domed ceiling; biblical murals covered the walls. It was only later that one saw that the chandelier was black, the walls peeling, and the floors warped.
On Simchas Torah the stoops and banisters of all the shuls would be overflowing with people, either unable to push into the already jammed buildings or out to catch a breath of air between the hakafos - dancing with the Torah. Children ran from shul to shul determined not to miss any of the dancing in any of them. Wherever you turned, there was laughter and friendship and the throbbing joy of holiday spirit.
Hakafos never started in Shearis Yisroel till Avrumele Koll arrived. Since his family had moved to Brooklyn, it meant an hour's walk for him to be able to celebrate with us, but he always came. He knew that we wouldn't start without him.
The Kolls had come from Israel during the 1929 Arab riots. But though they lived in the U.S., they never stopped talking about returning "home." Avrumele shared that "home" with us every Simchas Torah, when he reenacted what he remembered from his childhood in Jerusalem.
When Avrumele did finally come, he was welcomed with shouts of happiness, and all the children rushed to get to him first. Climbing all over him, they chattered happily, asking questions while dragging him along. Everyone pushed into the shul. The street was suddenly empty.
Avrumele was pale and thin, with dark laughing eyes. It was suddenly very quiet. His voice seemed to come from long ago and far away. It suggested pain and longing. It seemed as though he reached for something from the depths of his soul. If you closed your eyes, you could actually feel yourself alone with him in the ruins of Jerusalem. A glow radiated from his eyes, his face. The poignancy of his tunes sent shivers up your arms. Everyone pressed closer.
Suddenly, with a great shout, he jumped to the top of the pot-bellied stove and started to dance. Avrumele was turning faster and faster. Hands and feet shot out in strange rhythms. He danced in movements so quick that everyone gasped. His body was inseparable from his song and his song was inseparable from his soul. He twisted and sputtered and exploded like a flame before extinction. Then he was silent. His arms fell. His body sagged. A long drawn-out groan escaped him. He collapsed in a heap on the stove.
All eyes were glued to the hypnotic form. Everyone stopped breathing. Slowly, in an agonizing, searching, straining gesture, Avrumele rose to one knee. The tune was now soft and whispered. His throat snagged on the words. But as he got to his feet, a shower of dancing raindrops was released. They tinkled and gurgled. They hopped and skipped with glee. The song welled and thickened, became a swirling sea.
Children climbed to fathers' shoulders and hung onto woodwork to see better. Ladies stood on chairs, pulled down the curtain and leaned over the balcony. Round and round went Avrumele, while everyone stood gasping from the effort to keep up with him, exhausted from the strain not to miss a movement. But Avrumele had no intentions of stopping. On and on he went, taunting us, pulling us after him, daring us to match his holiday joy. His dance and song seemed never to end. Avrumele seemed never to tire.
When he finally did stop he flashed us all an embarrassed smile and jumped down from the stove. Poppa pushed through the crowd to bring Avrumele a glass of foaming beer, and then it was time for everyone to start dancing in the first hakafa.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim
Rabbi Yishmael taught: In the merit of three things, one of which is the mitzva (commandment) of Lulav, we will merit three things, the destruction of [the evil nature of] our enemies, the building of the Third Temple and the name of Moshiach.
(Talmud, Pesachim, 5A)