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by Rabbi David Y.B. Kaufmann
How do we recapture the joy? You know, the exuberance of riding your bicycle downhill, without training wheels and without tipping over, for the first time. The thrill of getting a hit, making a basket, winning you first tournament game. Getting a driver's license, getting behind the wheel of your own car - even if it was a clunker that needed a quart of oil every week.
We can think of a lot of firsts, many moments of excitement, delight and ecstasy. Special times, once-in-a-lifetime events. Occasionally, unexpectedly, our memories will replay the scenario, or parts of it, and we re-experience what we did, what we felt. But, truthfully, these come at random and largely unbidden.
So to mark special days, we have anniversaries - of a birthday, of a wedding, of the birth of a child or grandchild. (Mazel Tov!) But even as we celebrate, and acknowledge, and remember, we don't actually relive. The moment doesn't come back; the shock of unexpected joy doesn't course through us again. It's all drained up into our heads, as it were. We think it, we may even feel some echo of it, but we don't live it again.
Then how do we get the joy back? There's only one way, of course - that's to really live through the event again. And to do that, it has to happen all over again. Of course, each encounter, each experience is unique. But still, parallel events echo each other - and an echoed action perforce echoes the thoughts and feelings that created it.
For example, what can equal the emotions - let's not even bother labeling or detailing them - that accompanies the birth of our first child (or grandchild - mazel tov!)? Nothing. And yet, when the second and third and... child (or grandchild - mazel tov!) is born, are we any less ecstatic, any less transported, grateful or overwhelmed? Of course not.
The reason is probably simple and obvious: everything we experience has two parts, two components: a general and a specific. The general, or transcendent, if you will, comprises the universal characteristics - the trip to the hospital, the hours of waiting, the anxiety, etc. etc. The specific, or immanent, if you will, comprises the unique characteristics - a blue car instead of a red one this time, his parents watch the other kids or get to the hospital first - well, we don't need to give all the details.
And that's how and why we recapture the joy: by feeling, hearing, echoing the universal that's within, behind and structuring this particular moment of joy and accomplishment.
Which brings us to Simchat Torah. Rejoicing with the Torah. Or, to Re-Joy with the Torah, to experience again what we experienced when - standing at Sinai with all the other Jewish souls - we first received the Torah.
How do we do that? By re-doing what we do in moments of greatest joy - singing and and dancing. For in moments when the soul transports the body beyond itself, the body in a sense transports the soul - then "all" we can do - and all we do - sing and dance.
So this Simchat Torah - go to a synagogue and re-joy - re-dance and re-sing.
Rabbi Kaufmann is the author Two Minutes for Torah, a collection of short 50 essays on Torah topics. He is also the author of three novels, available on his website www.ScotchandHerring.com.
Sukkot is a time of unity and comradery. We sit together in the Sukka, dance together, pray together and recite a blessing on the Arba Minim, the four species of plants that are brought together.
The mitzva (commnadment) of the Arba Minim is based on the verse, "You should take for yourselves a beautiful fruit of the tree (etrog), a date palm frond (lulav), a sprig that has a thick woody stem (hadas) and willows of the brook (aravot)."
Our Sages attribute great symbolism to this mitzva, specifically regarding the unity of the Jewish people. Torah knowledge is the flavor of Judaism and performing mitzvot is the fragrance. As far as flavor and fragrance are concerned, there are four kinds of Jews.
First there is the lulav, a closed date palm frond, leaves united together, straight and tall. The dates that grow on the palm are flavorful but do not have a distinct scent. This is the species that we mention when reciting the blessing on all four kinds - "al netilat lulav." It symbolizes our Torah scholars, whose main occupation is studying Torah, the flavor of Judaism, just as dates have flavor. (While they observe mitzvot, they are recognized for Torah study.) They are tall beacons of light we look to for guidance and leadership.
The etrog, a citron, is pretty, fragrant and flavorful. The etrog stays on the tree year round, uniting the seasons. This symbolizes the very well-rounded Jew who studies Torah regularly and fulfills the commandments with joy and love.
Hadasim, myrtles, whose stem is woody and thick, has leaves that smell so good. Its leaves are clustered in united groups of three, with the top of the leaves of the bottom cluster covering the bottom of the leaves of the higher cluster. Hadasim are symbolic of Jews who love doing mitzvot. They strengthen all the Jews around them with their mitzvot and kindness. They learn Torah as well, but in general they are busy "doing."
Aravot, willows of the brook, commonly have redish stems, with clusters of two leaves up its stems. They grow bunched together, united and in abundance. They have neither taste nor distinct smell. Aravot are symbolic of those of us whose involvement in Torah study and observance of mitzvot are minimal.
Which of these Four Kinds is most important? It would seem to be the lulav as it is named in the blessing. And yet, the Biblical verse mentions it second, only after the etrog. If you leave out any of the four and remain with only three, you can no longer do the mitzva. The Torah gives primacy to the lulav in the blessing and to the etrog in the verse to teach us that each of the four kinds are equal.
The same is true for every Jew. Each one of us is necessary, with a unique part in the Jewish mission. The mission is incomplete without every Jews contribution. The value of every Jew is infinite. It is time to embrace every Jew. When we are united we complete each other. When we are united, G-d is overjoyed; our unity is irresistible. Therefore, our unity is what will bring Moshiach.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Excuse Me, Are You Joy-ish?
Gitty Stolik, a mother and grandmother living in Brooklyn, writes on Jewish thought and lore for a variety of Jewish publications. When she's not writing about joy and other topics, Mrs. Stolik applies the magic of joy and positivity to the field of education, specifically in her work with challenged children. She has been humorously dubbed the "Lemonade Therapist" for her special dose of perspective flip-overs.
Gitty Stolik's aspirations in life never included writing a book, until a phone call from a childhood friend changed her mind. The caller enthused about a certain teacher in her daughter's Jewish school. The teacher, apparently a Lubavitcher chasid, understood that girls love to laugh more than they love to learn. His life lessons, delivered with gentle humor, were indelibly etched into his students' psyches.
And, the friend continued, "The brilliant teacher is your son's father-in-law!" She was referring to Rabbi Shlomo Tiechtel, a smilingly-serious chasid. This epiphany - that humor can be used in a holy and powerful way, with lifelong effects - was too important to keep to herself.
The next morning, she jumped out of bed at an unearthly hour to plot the chapters of a book on humor, laughter and joy. The seeds for this book were planted over 20 years ago, when her son brought home a simple, 8 ½ x 11 blowup of an excerpt from a talk of the Rebbe that she'd pinned on the wall of her home: "The thing that was not yet done to bring Moshiach is the proper service of simcha, joy. The way to bring Moshiach is... through increasing pure joy. Try it and you'll see that it works." The seed just lay there, buried in a file cabinet after it had become tattered with the passage of time. Hadn't everything about simchah already been said? But now, with the phone call she had received, Gitty had made a remarkable discovery - humor and laughter are two powerful generators that sustain joy and keep it humming.
Mrs. Stolik's book, "It's Okay to Laugh, Seriously," is already in its second printing with Mosaic Press. What follows is an excerpt from the book:
I was in my house and going about my daily housework. My dear mother, who was visiting from Israel, was keeping me company in the kitchen. We chatted as I wiped down the counters, straightened up, swept, loaded the washing machine and transferred the clothing into the dryer.
Suddenly she asked me, in Yiddish, "Du zingst nisht - you don't sing while you work? When I got married," she continued, "I would hum and sing when I did my housework."
I put down the toddler clothes I was folding on the table and stared at my mother incredulously. I was silent, but my thoughts were tumbling like the clothes in the dryer, clacking in the background...
My mother who lived through the Holocaust ... sole survivor of her immediate family ... got married in a DP camp... sang as she worked-a few short years after her family was decimated? Yes, my mother was a happy person, with a spunkiness that life couldn't dampen. She forged on. She cried, but she laughed as well, and as time went on, she chose to cry less and laugh more. And she built. And she did not allow bitterness to taint and define her life.
I could not compare my sheltered upbringing to her tumultuous life. And yet, was I happy? And that is the question I am passing along to you: Are you happy? (Hmm, excuse me for getting personal... and putting you on the spot.)
I have been asking myself this question over the years, and I'm still in the same spot. Let's figure it out together... ...The joy we pull out despite all these so-called nasty things that happen to us proves - to ourselves, no less than to G-d - that our belief in Him is real and enduring. We offer G-d the joy we pulled out of the darkness, and we offer to Him our heart, whole despite the "hole." We face Him, metaphorically, showing that we are ready to receive. And we do receive joy, the Divine "amniotic fluid."
Furthermore, we activate (more of) His simchah when we practice simchah, like a reflection in the mirror. You smile at the face in the mirror, and it smiles back to you. It's a two-way street. When G-d considers how faithful we remain despite our assorted burdens, His love for us is reawakened and rekindled.
And He gives to us more than we give to Him. Joy, then, is a creative process and endeavor. Yes, joy is an art. And it is, arguably, the greatest form of creativity available to man, with opportunities freely available every day. Back to our question... Are we happy? Are we joy artists? In order to become joy artists, we will need answers to some fundamental questions: Do I have to be happy? Life deals out its cards. Sometimes I like the cards I get, sometimes I don't. When things are going the way I like, my joy will flow. Otherwise... I'll just "deal," but don't count on my good mood. Furthermore, could my joy just be my own inner business, my personal secret? Finally, how do I determine if I'm as "happy" as I could or should be? And whether that joy is authentic?
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
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: Wednesday, October 19 and Thursday, October 20, 10 am - 6 pm; Friday October 21, 10:00 am - 4 pm Sunday, October 23, 10 am - 6:00 pm. The Sukkas are: The City Hall Sukka at Foley Square, near Worth Street; the International Sukka in Ralph Bunch Park, First Ave. and 42nd St. at the UN; the Wall Street Sukka in Battery Park at Battery Place and State Street. For more info call (718) 778-6000. To find out about public sukkot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Our next issue of L'Chaim is #1444 for 26 Tishrei/October 28 - Shabbat Bereishit.
Freely translated and adapted
24 Tishrei, 5708 
Greetings and blessings,
I had thought that just like every year, on the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we would meet and be able to speak together. It appears that this year various factors stood in your way and prevented you from making the journey.
How regretful! As our Sages (Rosh Hashana 16b) state: "A person is obligated to appear before his teacher on the festivals." See the Kessef Mishneh to the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Torah 5:7.
Although at present, there are those who are lenient with regard to this and several explanations have been given in this context, a further point is involved. As a preface, there is a well-known question with regard to the wording of the liturgy: "We cannot ascend, appear, and bow down before You." (Musaf-additional prayer on the festivals) That we cannot "ascend and appear... before You," is understandable - "because of the hand sent forth against Your Sanctuary." But bowing down is seemingly possible in any place, as we say: "And we bend the knee and bow down" (the concluding Aleinu prayer). Why is the Holy Temple necessary for this?
The resolution of this question is that there are two levels in bowing down: the external expression of bowing: that one bows with one's body; or on a higher level in the external level of bowing, with regard to the actual deed, which is dependent on one's body, one demonstrates a commitment not to rebel against the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He; the inner expression of bowing that comes as a result of the bitul (nullification) of one's will before G-d's will, that he has no other will or desire at all; i.e., it is the soul that bows down.
The latter bowing is endowed to the Jewish people through their appearance before G-d on the festivals in the Holy Temple. After the destruction of the Holy Temple, although we can no longer bow down, a vestige of the holiness of this ray extends into the "sanctuaries in microcosm," Zohar II, 164b, the synagogues and houses of study, during the times of prayer (Likutei Torah, Parshas Berachos, the first maamar entitled Mizmor Shir..., sec. 2).
We see in actual fact that to reach the level of "Negate your will...," your intellect, and the other powers of your soul without assistance is very difficult.
For when a person appreciates his own worth, he will not find reasons sufficiently cogent to nullify his own will entirely. On the contrary, if he comes to the recognition and the decision that he must negate his own will, then a person who comes to such a decision is G-d-fearing and on a significant level. If so, it is difficult to comprehend why he cannot rely on the decisions made by his intellect and will. The proper counsel in such a situation is to seek help from a person whom he acknowledges is functioning on a higher level than his own and who has no self-interest in such matters. Then he will certainly heed the directives which that sage person instructed him in the paths of G-d. The appropriate time for such an encounter is on the three festivals, corresponding to the experience at the time the Holy Temple was standing. It is superfluous to elaborate further.
May it be G-d's will that the letter sent by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, will compensate for this, at least to the extent that can be conveyed in writing until you are able to see him face to face.
With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
From I Will Write It In Their Hearts, published by Sichos In English
What is Simchat Beit HaShoeiva?
In the times of the Holy Temple, festivities were held every night of Sukot in celebration of a special water-drawing ceremony that took place each day during the holiday. The dancing and singing were known as "Simchat Beit HaShoeiva," rejoicing at the place of the Water-drawing. Today, in many communities throughout the world, in central locations such as synagogues, yeshivot or community centers, Simchat Beit HaShoeiva is celebrated and commemorated with live music and dancing. To find a location near you call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Maharash, was the fifth Chabad Rebbe. His passing was on the 13th of Tishrei (Shabbat, October 15 this year).
Once, the Rebbe Maharash was speaking with one of his chasidim, a simple businessman who was neither a great scholar nor one who meditated at length when praying. The Rebbe said to this chasid, "Elye, I envy you. You travel to various fairs; you meet many people. Sometimes, in the middle of a business transaction, you get into a warm discussion about something Jewish and you awaken the other fellow's interest in studying more about Judaism. This causes joy On High and G-d rewards such 'trade' with the blessings of children, health and sustenance; the larger the fair, the more work there is and the greater is the livelihood earned."
The Rebbe was not spouting platitudes, nor being patronizing. He truly envied this simple Jew who, through injecting Judaism into his business affairs, transcended the mundane.
The Rebbe Maharash's comment was not addressed to a Torah scholar, or a person who was well known for his contemplation during his G-dly service. No, the Rebbe Maharash was speaking with a simple Jew. The lesson of his words, therefore, are even more powerful, for they apply to each and every Jew, from the simplest to the greatest.
We should continually increase our Jewish knowledge, day by day. But, we needn't wait until we are great Torah scholars before we imbue our lives and each activity within our day with a higher purpose. For, we can arouse the envy of even the greatest tzadikim by just happening to get into a warm discussion about Jewish matters even in the middle of a business transaction!
A Special Mitzva
The mitzva (commandment) of sukka is a special mitzva for it completely surrounds a person from head to toe, with all his clothing including his shoes. Furthermore, any activity done in the sukka (eating, sleeping etc.) is a mitzva. To teach you: A person has the ability to serve his Creator not only when he learns Torah and prays but also when he takes care of his physical needs, and the matter depends solely upon him. When he truly desires it, he will gain the awareness that not only is this service possible but it's even an easy service, as our Sages say regarding sukka that it is an easy mitzva.
(Likkutei Sichot vol. 2)
Resepct for the Sukka
The attendant of the Rebbe Maharash once entered the sukka while angry. The Rebbe said to him: You need to behave with derech eretz (respect) in front of the s'chach (the folliage on top of the sukka); the s'chach do not like anger.
(Seifer HaSichot 5704)
Affecting the Supernal Realms
When a Jew sets up the walls of the sukka, the walls of the supernal sukka are set up. When he covers it with s'chach, he thereby covers the supernal sukka. When he sits in the sukka, all the lights and revelations of the supernal sukka are drawn down.
No Sukka Decorations
The Previous Rebbe explained that "In Lubavitch" they did not make sukka decorations, not under the s'chach and not on the walls of the sukka. "By my holy father, the Rebbe [Rashab], the sukka decorations were those who sat in the sukka. The fear of accepting the yoke of heaven on Rosh HaShana, the avoda of Erev Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur, and the joy of Sukkos were, for my father, experiences of the innermost soul."
(Seifer HaSichot, 5704)
Before Reb Mordechai of Neschiz assumed his position as rabbi, he was a merchant. His son, Reb Yitzchak, recalled that every time he would return from a buying trip, he would take a portion of his profits and put it aside in a special box to be used to buy an etrog.
One year he had amassed the sum of six silver rubles, and he made his way to the town of Brody to purchase the etrog. As he travelled down the road, he was surprised to hear the sound of weeping. He came upon a poor man sobbing over the loss of his horse, without which he had no means of support. Reb Mordechai told the man to stay put, and with his silver rubles, he rushed off to purchase a new horse for the man. The poor man couldn't believe his eyes when he saw Reb Mordechai approaching with a horse! He gratefully heaped blessings on his benefactor and went on his way.
As for Reb Mordechai, now left without any money, he also turned towards home. He realized that he would be without an etrog for the upcoming festival, but he thought to himself: "What's the difference? Buying an etrog is a mitzva commanded by G-d, and helping my poor brother is also a mitzva commanded by G-d." A smile crossed his face and he chuckled to himself: "Everyone else will make the blessing over an etrog; I'll make my blessing over a horse." And so he continued home in a very happy mood. In fact, someone brought him an etrog in good time to use for the Yom Tov, and that year he made a blessing not only over an etrog, but over a horse as well!
Preparations for the festival of Sukkot were under way, but for the poor, there were often obstacles. Finding wooden boards with which to erect the sukka was always hard, and so every year Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch amassed wooden boards that he lent out to needy Jews.
One year when the eve of Sukkot fell on Friday night, a tattered-looking man limped up to Reb Mordechai's door and asked if he could borrow a few boards to build his sukka. The tzadik replied that unfortunately there were none left. Without a word, the poor fellow turned and limped off to continue his search for the requisite boards.
Reb Mordechai watched sadly as the man disappeared into the alleyway, and then burst out in tears. He addressed G-d, crying, "Master of the Universe! See how Your children love the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka! Here You see a poor, wretched cobbler, lame in one leg, with torn clothing and no proper shoes tramping through the mud, doing what! - looking for boards to build his sukka! Heavenly Father, look down from Your holy dwelling place and bless Your people, Israel--`Spread out over them Your Sukka, Your Tabernacle of Peace.'"
Reb Mordechai went outside, climbed his roof, and searched until he discovered a few loose boards. He then called his attendant and instructed him to bring the boards to the poor cobbler, and since time was short before the holy Shabbat, to help him to build the sukka as well.
The tzadik, Reb Pinchas of Koretz, didn't have a moment of peace. There was no dearth of suffering people--some needed a blessing for health, some for children, still others needed guidance in business affairs. Since Reb Pinchas couldn't turn away from his fellow Jews, they came to him day and night, knocking on his door, pouring out their hearts and souls.
Reb Pinchas did all he could for them. In fact, so completely did he devote himself to his brethren, that he felt his own divine service suffering. One day Reb Pinchas prayed that he become disliked by his fellow man. Then, he would be free of their demands, and would be able to devote himself to his own spiritual service. And so it was that from that day on he became a recluse, never emerging except to pray in the synagogue.
When the festival of Sukkot approached he tried to find someone to help him build the sukka, but no one was willing, since all his fellow Jews disliked him so much. He had to hire a non-Jew to do the work, and when he needed to borrow tools, even that wasn't easy because of the animosity his neighbors felt toward him.
After services on the first night of the holiday, Reb Pinchas wanted to fulfill the mitzva of inviting guests into his sukka, but no one would accept his invitation. When he arrived home, he entered the sukka and began chanting the traditional invitation to the first of the Ushpitzin (the Forefathers, who visit the sukka each night). When he looked up, he saw Abraham standing outside the door of the sukka.
Reb Pinchas saw that this year the Patriarch was unwilling to enter, and he cried to Abraham, "Why do you not enter my sukka? What is my sin?"
Our father Abraham replied, "I have the custom to enter only those places where guests are welcome."
Reb Pinchas understood from that response that he had been wrong in his path of service. He prayed that he be returned in favor to his fellow Jews, and that he be able to continue as before.
The voice of the messenger heralds and proclaims: Your mighty deliverance comes! Behold, my Beloved is coming - it heralds and proclaims. He comes with myriad bands of angels, to stand upon the Mount of Olives...He approaches to sound the shofar, beneath him the mountains will split...A man named Tzemach has appeared; it is David himself... Arise, you who are covered in earth; awake and give praise, you who rest n the dust... When he rules Jerusalem the populous city, G-d will be a tower of deliverance to His King...
(From the prayers for Hoshana Rabba)