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Sukkos/Parshas Bereishis - Vol. 10, Issue 1
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In his sefer Derech Hashem (4:8), the Ramchal writes that when we fulfill the mitzvah of taking the four species on Sukkos, it inspires fear in the hearts of gentiles who see us holding them, as the Torah says (Devorim 28:10), "All of the nations of the world will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will fear you," as the four species correspond to Hashem's 4-letter Ineffable Name. Although the Gemora in Menachos (35b) interprets this verse as referring to the mitzvah of tefillin and the fear that it inspires in non-Jews, the Ramchal extends this concept to the four species as well.
The Ramchal's insight is supported by the wording of the Yehi ratzon (may it be Your will) prayer that many have the custom to recite prior to taking the four species, in which we say, "The nations of the world will know that the Name of Hashem is called upon me, and they will be afraid to approach me." While this is a fascinating explanation, it begs the question: What in fact is so intimidating about the four species and tefillin that inspires fear in gentiles when they see us performing these mitzvos?
Additionally, the Medrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 30:2) that on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish people and the nations of the world come before Hashem for a court case. There is no way for us to discern who won, but when the Jewish people emerge carrying their lulavim and esrogim, this indicates that they were victorious. This Medrash is difficult to understand. On Rosh Hashana, Hashem judges each individual based on whether he has done more mitzvos or more sins; similarly, each nation is judged, and so too the entire world. However, no mention is made of a judgment between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. What is the nature of the court case between them on Rosh Hashana?
Rav Yehuda Wagschal of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim explains that the court case is rooted in a much earlier disagreement which dates back to Yaakov and Eisav, who fought over the blessings that their father Yitzchok intended to give. Eisav felt that he was entitled to receive them, but Rivka recognized that Yaakov deserved them and helped him scheme to receive them, which caused Eisav to hate him and to want to kill him. What was the subject of the disputed blessings? They were material in nature, as Yitzchok blessed Yaakov, "May G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine" (Bereishis 28:28). Why did Yaakov, who spent his time engrossed in Torah study, need to be blessed with physical bounty instead of with spiritual success?
Rav Wagschal explains that Yitzchok was well aware of Yaakov's superiority to Eisav. Nevertheless, he wished to give the blessings to Eisav with the intention that he would channel his material success to help support Yaakov in his service of Hashem. Rivka didn't disagree in concept with Yitzchok's plan, but she recognized that Eisav viewed physical pleasures as an end to be enjoyed unto themselves, and if he received his father's blessings, he would keep all of the bounty for himself. Therefore, she had no choice but to arrange for the blessings to be given to Yaakov, who understood that material success is not an end, but a means of enabling a person to better serve Hashem. This is the fundamental dispute between the Jewish people, who embrace Yaakov's worldview that the pleasures of this world are a vehicle for spirituality, and the nations of the world, who follow Eisav's path and seek to live an Epicurean existence. On Rosh Hashana the two sides present their claims to Hashem.
In addition to commanding us to take the four species on Sukkos, the Torah instructs us to rejoice with them before Hashem in the Temple. In explaining the rationale behind this mitzvah, the Sefer HaChinuch (324) writes that the mere sight of the four species engenders natural feelings of happiness; the Torah commands us to elevate these feelings and use them for spiritual rejoicing. Similarly, we refer to Sukkos in our prayers as z'man simchaseinu - the time of our happiness - as it is celebrated at the time of the gathering of the crops. Therefore, the Torah commands us to channel the natural feelings of joy that we experience upon seeing the successful harvest and direct them toward the performance of mitzvos.
With this introduction, Rav Wagschal explains that the reason that non-Jews become afraid when they see us holding the four species is that on a deeper level, the four species represent a challenge to their entire worldview. The nations of the world follow in the ways of Eisav, who viewed the physical world as an end unto itself, and when they see us rejoicing with the four species and elevating them by using them in our service of Hashem, their very essence feels threatened, as they realize that this world belongs to us as Yaakov's descendants.
The mitzvah of tefillin serves a similar purpose, as we say in the Yehi ratzon prayer prior to putting on tefillin: l'shabed b'zeh ta'avos u'machshavos libeinu la'avodaso - tefillin serves to subjugate our desires and thoughts to the service of Hashem, not to eradicate our desires, but to elevate them to a higher purpose. Therefore, the Gemora teaches that when non-Jews see us wearing tefillin, they become frightened.
Each Rosh Hashana the Jewish people and the nations of the world come before Hashem to litigate their dispute about who rightfully deserves this world and its associated blessings. The Medrash teaches that the result of this judgment is only clarified when the Jewish people emerge with their lulavim and esrogim, which symbolize the triumph of our worldview of elevating the physical world by channeling natural pleasures for the service of Hashem.
Although the Torah equally commands us to take all four species, in practice the lulav, hadasim, and aravos are bundled together, while the esrog is held separately and is brought together with the other three species only to perform the mitzvah of shaking them. Why isn't the esrog somehow bundled with the other three species? The Vilna Gaon explains that Hashem doesn't want us to simply tie the four species together and hold them, but rather He wants the Jew who is taking the four species to himself become part of the bundle, as he connects the esrog to the other three species.
Similarly, Rav Wagschal points out that the tefillin shel rosh contains the letters shin and dalet from Hashem's name Sha-dai, while the tefillin shel yad has the letter yud. It is only through the wearer's body that all three of the letters are linked and joined together to complete Hashem's name. Because the mitzvos of taking the four species and wearing tefillin enable our physical bodies to be uplifted through becoming an integral component of the mitzvah fulfillment, they therefore inspire fear and trepidation in the nations of the world.
Just prior to Moshe's death, he blessed each of the twelve tribes. In the blessing that Moshe gave to the tribe of Gad, he invoked the fact that they saw and requested for themselves the first portion (a reference to the territory of Sichon and Og, which was the first part of the land of Israel that was conquered), because they knew that that is where Moshe's burial plot would be hidden.
However, in Parshas Mattos (Bamidbar 32:1-5), the Torah explicitly records that the reason they wanted this portion of land was because it was well-suited for grazing their abundant livestock. How could Moshe say that their motivation was based on the fact that he would be buried there when the Torah gives a completely different explanation and says that it was due to their animals? Further, Moshe himself alluded to the fact that his actual burial spot would remain hidden, in which case it would be impossible for future generations to go there to pray. Why did the tribe of Gad want to have Moshe buried in their portion of the land if they would never know where he was actually buried?
Rav Yisroel Belsky explains that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people became very dependent on Moshe, who led them on a daily basis and taught them Torah. As they prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel, they grew concerned about how they would manage in his absence. They decided that the only way to continue was to understand the secret behind Moshe's greatness and to emulate him. After contemplating the source of Moshe's growth and development, they recognized that the period of his life in which he worked as a shepherd was a critical prerequisite to his being selected as the redeemer and leader of the Jewish people.
Rabbeinu Bechaye explains (Shemos 3:1) that working as a shepherd gives a person time alone to think. Focusing on the magnificent world of Hashem which surrounds him will lead him to focus his thoughts on Hashem, which is conducive for prayer and prophecy. Being around people often leads to sin, while separating from them as a shepherd does can help keep a person pure and holy. Additionally, a shepherd develops feelings of compassion and empathy for others, as he is concerned about the welfare of his sheep.
When the tribe of Gad requested the land on the east side of the Jordan River in order to pasture their livestock, their intentions were not mundane and materialistic as they would appear at first glance. Rather, they were motivated by a genuine desire to emulate their soon-to-depart leader Moshe by following in the path that made him great. In this light, Rav Belsky novelly suggests that the two seemingly disparate explanations given for their request are in reality one and the same. When Moshe mentioned in his blessing to the tribe of Gad that they desired the portion in which he was "hidden," Moshe was referring not to his burial plot which would be hidden, but rather to the hidden secret behind his success and accomplishments that they wished to emulate, namely his work as a shepherd.
After relating what Hashem created on each day of Creation, the Torah records that He saw what he had made and it was good. However, at the end of the sixth day of Creation, at which time Hashem effectively completed making the entire universe, the Torah records that He saw what He had created and it was very good. This is difficult to understand. If each of the individual days of Creation were viewed as merely good, it would be understandable for the cumulative sum of them to be described as harbeh tov - a lot of good - but the term tov me'od implies that the total sum of the good wasn't just quantitatively greater, but it was qualitatively different as well. How do six units of good become transformed into something which is very good? When a painter wants to produce a masterpiece, he may first fill the canvas with all of the shades of blue, followed by the greens, reds, and every other color in turn. Each of the colors may indeed be beautiful by itself, but it is only when the painting is completed and all of the colors combine to produce one cohesive picture that it can be described as a masterpiece. Similarly, the Seforno explains that although the value of what was created on each individual day was merely considered as good, the total sum of all of the parts of Creation functioning in one harmonious unit was elevated into another category and was described as very good. In modern terms, this phenomenon is described as the sum being greater than the whole of the individual parts.
On the recent Yom Tov of Sukkos, we read in Koheles (4:9) tovim ha'shnayim min ha'echad, which literally means that two people are better than one. However, if this is to be taken at face value, the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech isn't required to understand that two people can accomplish more than just one. Instead, Rashi writes that Shlomo is coming to teach us that two people working together can often achieve more than the sum of what the two of them could have done while working independently, as many projects will only be undertaken when they are working in tandem.
Interestingly, Rashi adds that an example of this is marriage, which enables the couple to accomplish and produce far more than they could have done on their own. This is difficult to understand. Although there is certainly no shortage of good reasons to get married, is increased productivity one of them? Most eligible husbands are able to study far more Torah without the financial responsibilities and other time commitments that generally come with marriage, and the average young woman who is dating has far more free time to pray and do mitzvos each day when she doesn't have a house to run and young children to take care of.
However, Chazal teach us that Hashem doesn't see things the way that we see them. The Gemora in Berachos (17a) teaches that the merit in which women earn their unique share in the World to Come is through walking their sons to school where they study Torah and waiting for their husbands to return from distant yeshivos, which are obviously merits that she can accrue only after marriage. Similarly, the Gemora in Yevamos (62b) teaches that any man who isn't married is lacking not only in happiness, blessing, and peace, but he is also deficient in Torah itself.
However, when these two deficient people come together in marriage, they become a new entity which is greater than the sum of the individual parts. As Rashi explains, they will be able to undertake new projects that neither would have accomplished on his own, and they will be able to accrue merits through Torah study and giving to one another that they were unable to achieve while single.
One of the seven blessings recited under the chuppah at a wedding is yotzer ha'adam - Who makes man. If this blessing was thanking Hashem for the creation of Adam, the original man, it should say yatzar ha'adam - Who made man - in the past tense. Instead, it is praising Hashem for the creation of a new entity - the new couple - at this very moment, and for this reason it is written in the present tense. Just as Hashem created a new category of tov me'od through the symbiotic interactions of the Creation as a whole, and just a master painter creates a stunning work of art through the intricate combination of the colors in his palette, so too can every new couple create a new and wonderful bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel through the harmonious combination of their unique talents and skills.
After Adam and Chava ate from the forbidden fruit, they heard the sound of Hashem approaching, and they attempted to hide from Him. Hashem called out to Adam, who responded that he was afraid because he was naked. Hashem challenged how Adam knew that he was naked, questioning whether he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Adam responded, "The woman whom You gave to be with me gave me from the tree, and I ate."
Commenting on this defense, Rashi cryptically writes that in giving this explanation, Adam was denying the good that Hashem had given him through Chava. This is difficult to understand. Although it may have been inappropriate for Adam to "pass the buck" and blame Chava instead of accepting responsibility for his own actions, in what way was this considered a lack of appreciation on his part? Wasn't Adam just telling the truth?
Rav Aryeh Finkel explains that this question is rooted in a fundamental error. He compares it to a case of a newlywed couple who are opening their wedding gifts. Upon opening the envelope from a distant uncle, they are flabbergasted to see that the card contains a check for one million dollars. After calming themselves down, the wife points out that the uncle didn't even bother to write a note or sign the card. The husband responds in shock that his wife could even notice such a flaw. At a time like this, when they have just received such a valuable and totally unexpected gift, how could somebody notice such a relatively minor oversight? They should be so overcome with excitement at their good fortune that there is no place to focus on or even think about such trivialities.
Similarly, Hashem had just given Adam the most precious gift possible: Chava, a wife and helpmate. The Gemora in Yevamos (63a) teaches that Adam, desperate for a mate, sought a wife with every species that was created, but he wasn't satisfied until Hashem created Chava. A loving and supportive wife should have been worth so much to him that, like the husband in the story, his intense joy over his discovery precluded him from finding any fault in her. The fact that he was able to blame her for the sin of the forbidden fruit was rooted in his lack of appreciation of her true value. For this reason, Rashi writes that in ascribing a deficiency to Chava, Adam was revealing his lack of gratitude to Hashem for the priceless gift that He had given him.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Is rain always considered a curse on Sukkos, and if not, under what circumstances is it deemed so? (Peirush Mishnayos L'Rambam Sukkah 2:9, Ritva and Meiri Taanis 2a-b, Bikkurei Yaakov 639:39, Aruch HaShulchan 639:20, Piskei Teshuvos 639:18)
2) The Mishnah in Sukkah (51a) teaches that a person who didn't merit witnessing the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in the Beis HaMikdash never saw true joy. Why was Simchas Beis HaShoeivah specifically a cause for such tremendous happiness? (Darash Moshe Parshas Pinchas)
3) We refer to Sukkos in our prayers as z'man simchaseinu (the time of our happiness). How can it be that we are expected to reach the pinnacle of joy at a time when we are required to leave the security and familiarity of our comfortable homes and live in crowded, unfurnished, temporary dwellings for an entire week? (Darkei Mussar)
4) In blessing the tribes prior to his death, why did Moshe give the shortest blessing to Yissachar (Devorim 33:18), the tribe of Torah scholars, saying only V'Yissachar b'ohalecha - and Yissachar in your tents? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Taima D'Kra Hosafos)
5) Rashi explains (Bereishis 1:1) that the Torah begins with the story of Creation so that if the non-Jews accuse us of stealing the land of Israel from them, we will be able to answer that Hashem created the entire world and is entitled to give any portion of it to whomever He chooses. What is the purpose in doing so, as no non-Jew will ever accept such an argument to our right to the land of Israel, as we've sadly witnessed in the past 60 years? (Peninei Daas)
6) Hashem created woman because He realized that it isn't good for man to be alone (2:18), which implies that if not for this reason He wouldn't have done so. Wouldn't it have been necessary to create woman in order for Adam to reproduce and populate the world? (Ramban, Nesivos Rabboseinu)
7) Rashi writes (3:4) that the serpent succeeded in convincing Chava that eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge wouldn't cause her death by pushing her against the tree and demonstrating that touching it hadn't caused her to die as she had claimed (3:3). As Chava knew that the prohibition against touching the fruit hadn't come from Hashem but was added by her (Rashi 3:3), why did she accept the demonstration as proof that eating it, which was forbidden by Hashem, wouldn't bring about her death? (Sifsei Chochomim)
8) What was the first episode of domestic violence in world history? (Baal HaTurim 3:12)
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