Friday, October 9, 2020

Shemini Atzeres 5781



Hoshanah Rabbah/Erev Shabbos Kodesh-Shemini Atzeres 5781

21 Tishrei 5781/October 9, 2020


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            Succos is an all-encompassing holiday - soul, emotion and body. Our souls are rejuvenated with the feeling of unparalleled and joyous connection with Hashem. We are emotionally uplifted and swept away by the season of joy. As for our bodies, the succah envelops our entire being, our stomachs are nourished by delicious holiday meals, and the Four Species symbolize our spine, heart, eyes and mouth.

            Aside for the core organs symbolized by the Four Species, I often think about my fingers during Succos, especially during the days immediately prior. Although the Medrash doesn’t mention fingers, I invariably get a few splinters in my fingers as I take the wooden succah boards out of our garage and haul them up to our porch. Then, I get a few more bamboo splinters as I put the schach up. Finally, as I put the knots around the lulav, I always get a couple of pricks from the sharp edges of the lulav leaves. It’s amazing how much those hurt.

            Of course, the real message is that I buy strong gloves and use them when I put up the succah, but that’s a lesson I never seem to learn. So, I at least try to think of a symbolic lesson to be gleaned. What’s the message of all the finger pricks before Succos?

            As mentioned, Succos is a time of unparalleled connection with the divine. The succah contains the holiness of Yerushalayim and all we do in it is sanctified within its holy confines. Shaking the Four Species demonstrates that we can take the holiness within us and externalize it, radiating it outwards in all directions.

            This idea is all the more poignant for those who have the custom to shake the Four Species in the succah. Perhaps it symbolizes that we can take the holiness endemic to the succah and spread it in all directions. That is essentially the goal of the Jewish People in exile - to spread holiness and kiddush Hashem throughout the world!

            Before we can embrace and bask in that world of holiness, we must embrace unity and love for every Jew. Doing so entails that we stop pointing fingers. We must stop believing that our path towards G-d is the only proper one or that we have the monopoly on proper Torah outlook. The only area we should be unyielding is regarding adherence to halacha, but regarding the pathway to connection with G-d, we have to be willing to accept that there are different methodologies.

            The halacha is that the minimum acceptable number of walls for a succah is two walls plus an additional tefach-handbreadth of a third wall.

            The Zohar states that two walls and a little bit of a third wall is symbolic of a hug. When one hugs someone else, his arms wrap around the recipient, with his elbows bent inward, and his fingers edging inwards. It’s as if there are two full parts and an additional little bit doing the hugging. Incredibly, the succah is symbolic of a divine hug from G-d to us.

            One of the mornings of our beautiful Chol Hamoed learning program this week, Rabbi Dovid Rube, related this idea from the Zohar. He then added that when one hugs another, he pulls the person closely and tightly. Then, after feeling that embrace, the recipient is able to venture beyond, fortified with the love that was conveyed. That brief closeness gives him the ability to go beyond what is familiar and comfortable.

            The divine hug of Succos is meant, not only to remain with us throughout the year, but also to spiritually fuel us throughout the year. But we must also recognize that, not only are we hugged by the succah, so is every other Jew who performs this beloved and unique mitzvah. To fully appreciate and internalize the love of the succah we cannot point fingers accusatorially. We have to feel love for each other and see the good in each other in order to fully feel the love from above.

            There is one time when pointing is appropriate:

            The Gemara (Taanis 31a) states that in the future messianic world, the righteous will form a circle around Hashem. They will point towards Hashem in the center and declare, “This is Hashem, to Whom we have hoped; we will rejoice and be happy in His salvation.”

            The Chofetz Chaim noted that different sects of Jews serve Hashem in different ways. As long as their intentions are for the sake of Heaven and they observe halacha, they will all celebrate together. At that time, we will discover that the Jew who seems diametrically opposed to another may be on the other side of the circle, equidistant from Hashem.  

            Every Jew is part of that circle. The only appropriate pointing is inwards at G-d. But when we point at each other, the schach and the lulav metaphorically prick us, reminding us that their poignant message cannot resonate until we see the greatness of our brethren.

            May Hashem imbue is with the simcha of these days, banish pain, and raise the pride of Klal Yisroel who are fully committed to fulfilling His Will.


G’mar Tov & Git Kvittel,

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum