Thursday, October 1, 2020

Succos 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Succos 5781

14 Tshrei 5781/October 2, 2020


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            It’s been an arduous few months. Aside for the loss of life, financial loss, emotional loss, and anxiety that the pandemic has generated thus far, people are very restless. People can’t wait to stop needing to social distance, wear masks, constantly wash hands, and being at the mercy of governors and politicians. For a society that was used to traveling constantly, being forced to remain grounded - literally - has been very challenging.

            To that end, Singapore airlines came up with a novel idea - flights to nowhere. For people who miss the experience of flying, and the whole airport rush - security, and baggage check in, tickets could be purchased for one of these unique flights. Stewards and stewardesses would review safety and emergency procedures before takeoff and would serve beverages and service those aboard while in the air. The planes would take off and remain in the air for about three hours, after which the plane would land... exactly where it took off from.

            This was a widely touted idea for a few weeks. Only in the last few days was the idea scrapped by Singapore Airlines. However, it did happen in Australia and Taiwan.

            It sounds somewhat silly. But upon further reflection it may not be so foreign after all.

            At the bar mitzvah of my younger brother, R’ Ya’akov, a number of years ago, my older brother, R’ Yitzie, shared the following:

            A family was on their way to a vacation. The car was completely packed with suitcases and provisions for the getaway. After a few hours of driving and six bathroom breaks, the atmosphere in the car was becoming quite tense. The younger kids are getting rowdy and k’vetchy, the older kids are beyond restless, and the parents are at wits end. They have been traveling down the seemingly endless Thruway for three hours, passing nothing but a continuous blur of bare trees. Just then, the father announces that their exit is not too far ahead. “It’s starting to get dark, so I am having a hard time seeing the signs. Everyone, please look out your window and let me know if you see a sign for Exit 392.” All at once, the car becomes completely silent. Faces are pressed against the windows as all family members eagerly search for the first appearance of a sign heralding the imminent “Exit 392”. Suddenly, the first sign comes into view and everyone starts screaming in a frenzied tone, “There it is!” “There is the sign!” “It’s three miles ahead!” “We’re almost there!” “Yippeeee!”

            New signs keep coming into view and the excitement in the car keeps mounting, two miles, one mile, a half-mile, and then…. Exit 392 in all of its glory!

            “The father stops the car, and everyone jumps out to marvel at the sign. They have been waiting for this exit for so long and here it is at long last. They stop a passing car and ask the driver to take pictures of them huddled in front of the sign. They gleefully take out a barbecue and prepare a delicious supper. As they eat, they reminisce about the lengthy trip and how long it took them to get there, how many times they had to stop along the way, and how they had all thought that they would never get there.

            When they finally finished the celebration, they packed everything up and gathered back into the car. With a final look at the sign, they slammed the van doors shut. The father pulled back onto the Thruway and headed home.

             “It seems like a ridiculous story. The family had finally arrived at the exit but they failed to realize what that meant. They celebrated finding the exit, but they didn’t get off the highway. What’s the use of finding the exit it you don’t follow it?”

            At that point, my older brother turned to my younger brother and said, “Yaakov, today you are becoming a Bar Mitzvah! Many people celebrate their Bar Mitzvah with gala celebrations, beautiful receptions, and tremendous fanfare. But as soon as the guests leave and the lights in the hall are dimmed, they return to their daily lives and the whole shebang becomes an expensive memory. In a sense, such people are no different than the family who found the exit but, after pictures and supper in front of the sign, got back on the highway.

            “A Bar Mitzvah, and any other joyous occasion, must be viewed as an exit. The celebration is wonderful but the real greatness is dependent on you. You have to follow this exit as it leads you to a new road, a road to greatness and spiritual pursuit, which will help you develop the greatness that you innately possess. All of tonight’s celebration is merely externals. It’s the other component, the one that remains hidden from view, i.e. the commitment you accept upon yourself tonight in utilizing this ‘exit’, which comprises the focal point of your Bar Mitzvah celebration.”   

            With our son - Avi’s bar mitzvah only a few weeks away iy’H, this great message resonates with us even more.

            But in truth, this idea isn’t only applicable to a bar mitzvah or joyous occasion.

            Rabbi Shimshon Pincus noted that the month of Tishrei is a magnificent journey.

It begins with the recitation of the psalm “L’Dovid Hashem Ori” and blowing Shofar each day throughout the month of Elul, continuing with Selichos the week prior to Rosh Hashanah, the symbolic fruits eaten on Rosh Hashanah eve, the recitation of Tashlich at a flowing body of water, the unique prayers of the Ten Days of Teshuva, Shabbos Shuva, Kapparos, Yom Kippur – beginning with Kol Nidrei and concluding with Neilah, the holiday of Succos, sitting in the Succah, waving the Four Species, Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, and climaxing with the celebration of Simchas Torah.

            The fifty-two days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Simchas Torah are a spiritual superhighway leading us on a beautiful and uplifting journey.  But that is merely the road for the spiritual journey. It’s up to us to decide when the holidays conclude and life resumes its routine, what do we want to have accomplished that will remain with us?

            RaBBI Pincus concluded that many people enjoy the journey, but they don’t go anywhere. In a sense, they take off at the beginning of Elul, but then land in the same exact place 7 weeks later.

            So, we ask ourselves: what is our destination? What are we trying to accomplish during the joyous celebration of Succos?

            Currently, the world is living in fear of an organism that is undetectable by the human eye, yet is highly contagious.

            The Hebrew word for contagion is מדבק. It is similar to the word דבק - glue, because contagions unwittingly connect and stick to a person. It is also reminiscent of the word דביקות. The dictionary translates דביקות as stickiness. However, it also refers to the deepest level of connection and bonding. We aspire for דביקות with Hashem. In fact, the Torah instructs, ״ובו תדבק״ - in Him you shall cling. How can one connect and “cling” with the divine? The Gemara explains we do so by following in His ways - by being compassionate, tolerant, kind, patient, and loving. We also do so by trusting in Him and seeking to be close with Him.

            Perhaps more than any other holiday of the year, the Yom Tov of Succos is a time of דביקות, when we feel inextricably connected with G-d. Our sins, which disconnect us from Him, have been wiped away, we have recommitted ourselves to our ideals, and now we can bask in His presence.

            On Succos we feel secure in our connection with Him and, in that security, we discover inner joy.

            The following quote is from Rav Yechiel Perr in his powerful book, “Faith over Fear”, which is “a path to bitachon”[1]:

            “Look at how much people appreciate our Torah! Why can’t we appreciate it as well? I think we are too preoccupied with our worries - even spiritual ones - to concentrate on what’s in front of our noses...

            “Someone who lacks bitachon can’t grasp any of the experiences that slide through his hands. All of life, and davening, and Torah pass through you without your ever getting a chance to taste them. You have children and raise them without tasting it. Life escapes you and all of a sudden you are an old man and you wonder where it all went...

            “Life goes by in a flash because we don’t know how to slow it down with experiences. We are steeped in being plagued by worries of tomorrow. Sometimes the machar is tomorrow, sometimes it is forty years from now. Either way, worry stems from a lack of bitachon. By ridding ourselves of our worries, we stand to regain our lives.”

            Succos is about connecting with Hashem deeply and intimately. It’s about feeling secure in the Hands of Hashem. That is the true meaning of bitachon - a deep faith which breeds feelings of serenity and security.

            The message of Succos couldn’t be more meaningful than now. We are plagued by worry, fear, and doubt of what the future will bring. We fear for our health, we are unsure about the economy, we are unnerved by the political future, and so many people and families are broken and suffering.

            With all that, we sit down in our succah and look heavenward, and we remember what our only assurance is - that Hashem is running the world.

            We grasp the Four Species in The Succah is an enclosure of sanctity, where even food and sleep become sanctified. hands and wave them in all directions, reminding us that G-d isn’t just “up there” but He surrounds us on all sides, embracing us within the walls of the succah and controls every aspect of our lives.

            We don’t ignore our fears. With A reservoir of bitachon we can feel inner joy. That inner joy bursts forth and manifests itself in external celebration during this incredible holiday.

            Perhaps this year the external celebration will have to be different, and we won’t be able to dance and rejoice in the way we are used to. But the source and reason for our celebration is, in a sense, deeper and more real than ever before.

            When this glorious Yom Tov ends, we do not want to land where we have taken off from. We hope to be on a different level, in a different place - not having left our problems behind but being far better equipped to handle them.

            ה׳ לי ולא אירא - Hashem is with me; I will not fear.”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] Together with his first book “Mind over Man”, these are two of the most refreshingly candid and poignant books I have ever read in my life. They are thought-provoking, incredibly insightful, and full of truth.