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RABBI CHAIM LOBEL הרב חיים לובל

Sukkoth
Candle Lighting 10/12/11 6:01 PM NYC DST

Sukkoth, more than any other holiday, is the “Zman Simchatenu”, the time of our joy.
Rabbi Chaim Lobel – Young Israel of Aberdeen, NJ
www.yiaberdeen.com


 

Sukkoth

“Sukkoth shall be celebrated for seven days...for seven days you shall celebrate to G-d in the place of G-d's choosing... and you will be only joyous.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

According to Rashi (1040-1105), “And you will be only joyous” is not a commandment, it’s a guarantee. How can the Torah guarantee joy for all who celebrate Sukkoth?

Since the guarantee immediately follows the commandment, “for seven days you shall celebrate to G-d in the place of G-d's choosing “ (i.e. the Bet HaMikdash), perhaps Rashi is referring to the Bet Hashoevah, an all night procession to celebrate the drawing of water for the holiday’s unique service of water libation on the Altar. The Talmud says, “"He who has not seen the Simchat Beis Hashoeva has never in his life seen joy!" (Talmud 200 CE - 500 CE, Sukkah: 51a)

Or maybe Rashi is referring to the awesomeness of the Shlosh Regalim (the three pilgrimages to Jerusalem) during the time of the First Temple, particularly with Sukkot being celebrated just after the nation’s sins were forgiven on Yom Kippur. 

Once in Jerusalem, the people would personally witness twenty daily miracles, ten in Jerusalem and ten in the temple itself (Aboth D’Rebbe Nathan Chapter 35). Among them, nobody was ever injured, nobody ever stumbled, everybody was able to find lodging, and there was room for everybody in the temple courtyard. People would come to Jerusalem free of worries.

Rashi could be talking about any or all of the above but, if Rashi is, we have a problem.

At the beginning of Parshat Masei (Numbers 33), Nahmanides (1194 – 1270) presents a question and answer posed by Maimonides in his Guide to the Perplexed (1135 – 1204; 3:50). Why does the Torah repeat the statement “And they journeyed . . . and they encamped” 42 times?

“When we notice the narratives in the Torah, which have no connection to any of the commandments, we are inclined to think they are entirely superfluous, lengthy, or repetitious; this is only because we do not see these occurrences as noteworthy. For example, the stations the Israelites made in the desert appear useless. Yet, the Torah explicitly says that the stations were written “by the commandment of G-d”. However, it is indeed most necessary that these be written. Miracles are only convincing to those who witness them; future generations are only familiar with the miracles through the account of others; future generation may consider them untrue. Miracles cannot continue for future generations. The greatest miracle in the wilderness was the forty years supply of Manna. The wilderness described in the Torah consisted of places that were remote from cultivated land and naturally uninhabitable for Man. (Numbers 20:5) G-d knew that, in the future, people may doubt the miracles. Therefore, the details of the stops that the Israelites will strengthen the fact that the only way Israel survived was through the Manna.” (Translation with the help of Dr. M Friedlander; Jews' College, London 1881 – 1907)

If Hashem was concerned with future generations believing in miracles explicitly memorialized in the Torah, all the more so that concern should apply to events only recorded by our sages. How can the guarantee of joy on Sukkoth solely relate to celebrations of which we only have the faintest memories?

Rashi only says Hashem has promised we will be joyous. However, this brings us back to the original question. How can Hashem guarantee our joy on Succoth?

The Sforno explains, visiting Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash and witnessing all the miracles was not the only tourist attraction. The Jewish people would also visit the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) and witness firsthand how the greatest scholars of the generation delved into the Torah and brought forth its treasures. (Sforno 1475-1550; Deuteronomy 14:23)

According to the Sforno, an integral part of the experience in Jerusalem is furthering one’s understanding of Torah.

As the Ralbag (1288-1344) explains (Exodus 23:17), when a person witnesses the miracles, when he sees the greatest torah scholars living Torah, delving into its deepest mysteries, when he stands in the very House of God, he will become aware of who God is and it will transform his relationship with the Almighty. Henceforth, all his mitzvoth will be materially changed because of his new understanding of whom he serves and the performance of the commandments will bring him joy.

According to the Ralbag, this is the meaning of “and you will be only joyous”, that doing mitzvoth will bring you joy because you’ll be doing mitzvoth for a God with whom you’ve become intimate.

Today, we can only become intimate with God through Torah study and observance. No other holiday gives more inspiration for one to be joyous. As the Yalkut Shemoni (654) says, by the Holiday of Sukkoth we find the word “Simcha” – Joy, three times. Why? Because the Jewish people are confident celebrating knowing that on Rosh Hashana - The Day of Judgment, they received a faithful judgment. And after Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, the Jewish people are confident their mitzvoth and studying of Torah are desirable by G-d. G-d has forgiven us and wants us to keep striving for future spiritual heights.

Today we can take Maimonides lesson a step further. Maimonides not only teaches us why the Torah needs to recount every station in the wilderness. Maimonides teaches us how to create memories. By personally involving our children in the Mitzvoth, the preparations and celebrations of Sukkoth, we create memories that last a lifetime, happy memories of enjoying the holiday through the fruits of our labors.

The old saying that “seeing is believing” bears a lot of truth. People, including Torah observant Jews, are naturally inclined to find it difficult to believe in anything that defies nature and lies completely outside their personal experiences. As Maimonides says, “Miracles are only convincing to those who witness them . . . G-d knew that, in the future, people may doubt the miracles.”

Therefore, today when we celebrate Sukkoth we wonder what exactly happened in Jerusalem during our glory years. However, the only we way we can observe Sukkoth properly and receiving the blessing of “and you will be joyous” is becoming intimate with the Mitzvoth. Today, while celebrating Sukkoth we can only bring into our Holiday our prayers, sitting in the Sukkah, and most importantly coming closer to Hashem by further understanding His will, the Torah.

Chag Sameach

Happy and Joyous Holiday 


 
   
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