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 Parshas Haazinu/Sukkos - Vol. 7, Issue 49
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Sh'al avicha v'yageidcha z'keinecha v'yomru lach (32:7)

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer served as the beloved Rav of the prestigious Jewish community of Slutzk. However, the position as spiritual leader of the community kept him quite busy and left him little time for Torah study. When he was presented with an offer to leave the Rabbinate to become the Rosh Yeshiva in another town, he jumped at the opportunity. Before making a final decision, he traveled to discuss the matter with his illustrious mentor, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.

Rav Isser Zalman laid out three arguments in favor of his proposed decision to accept the new position. Firstly, the position of Rav of a community, in which one must rule daily on difficult questions of Jewish law, is fraught with tremendous responsibility. One wrong decision could, G-d forbid, cause somebody to eat non-kosher food or unjustifiably have to pay money to another person, whereas giving a daily Gemora shiur (class) would be a much lower-risk activity.

Secondly, in his present position, he was forced to spend a large portion of the day dealing with simple, uneducated laymen who weren’t able to appreciate his greatness in Torah. In a yeshiva setting, on the other hand, he would be able to spend the entire day engaged in Talmudic discourse with young scholars who could appreciate his talents and who would challenge him to maximize his own potential.

Finally, the obligations of his current position were so numerous that they left him insufficient time to engage in his own personal Torah study. The new position being offered would leave him free of distractions so that he would be able to focus his efforts on loftier pursuits. Rav Isser Zalman concluded by suggesting that each of the three reasons unto itself constituted a powerful argument for accepting the new position, and when considered together they seemed to point unequivocally in that direction.

Rav Chaim responded that Rav Isser Zalman’s logic indeed seemed correct. However, Rav Chaim pointed out that he had overlooked one compelling consideration: this is not the way such matters have traditionally been handled. Rav Isser Zalman was not the first Torah scholar in history to serve as Rav of a community who found himself spending a disproportionate amount of his day engaged in activities that he would prefer to avoid. Nevertheless, there is no mesorah (tradition) of these Rabbonim abdicating their positions due to the aforementioned considerations.

In our verse, the Torah teaches that when in doubt, a person should consult those older and more experienced than him, who can guide him based on the wisdom of their years. In this case, Rav Isser Zalman’s seemingly logical reasoning was outweighed by the simple observation that throughout the generations, our elders obviously had a different perspective and this is not the way that they conducted themselves.

Vayavo Moshe vay'dabeir es kol divrei ha'shira ha'zos b'aznei ha'am hu v'Yehoshua bin Nun (32:44)

Prior to sending the twelve spies to bring back a report about the land of Israel and its inhabitants, Moshe blessed Hoshea and changed his name to Yehoshua (Bamidbar 13:16). From that time onward, he is always referred to by his new name. Why in our verse does the Torah suddenly revert and once again refer to him as Hoshea?

The Chanukas HaTorah answers by noting that the Gemora in Sanhedrin (107a) teaches that when Sorah’s name was changed from Sarai to Sorah, the letter yud complained that it would no longer be used in her name. It was only appeased when Hashem “paid it back” by adding it to Hoshea’s name when Moshe changed it to Yehoshua. Sorah’s name was changed when she was 89, one year before the birth of Yitzchok. Since she died at the age of 127 (Bereishis 23:1), the yud was neglected for the final 38 years of her life.

Hoshea’s name was changed to Yehoshua when the spies were sent in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt. The events of Parshas Haazinu took place at the end of the 40th year of their sojourn in the wilderness. As such, it comes out that the yud, which was added to Hoshea’s name to pacify it over its removal from Sarai’s name, had already been used for 38 years, which is precisely the amount of time that Sorah lived after her name was changed. Therefore, the Torah refers to him once again as Hoshea to allude to the fact that although his name remained Yehoshua, at this point the yud had received its full "compensation."

B’chamisha asar yom l’chodesh ha’shevi’i hazeh Chag HaSukkos shivas yamim l’Hashem (Vayikra 23:34)

According to one opinion in the Gemora in Sukkah (11b), we are commanded to sit in sukkahs in order to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Jews during their travels through the wilderness. As this miracle began immediately upon the Exodus from Egypt, a number of commentators question why the holiday commemorating the miracle takes place in Tishrei and not in Nissan, when the miracle began?

The Vilna Gaon answers that we aren’t remembering the Clouds of Glory which initially protected the Jews in Nissan, as those clouds were taken away at the time of the sin of the golden calf. Rather, we are commemorating the clouds which returned on the 15th day of Tishrei after Hashem forgave the Jewish people, and which remained to surround and protect them for the duration of their sojourn in the wilderness. He explains that the Jews were forgiven on the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), and on the 11th Moshe commanded them regarding the building of the Mishkan. They brought their contributions for the Mishkan for two days (Shemos 36:3), the 12th and the 13th, and on the 14th Moshe realized that the donations were sufficient and announced that no more should be brought (36:6).

On the following day, the 15th of Tishrei, the work began on the building of the Mishkan and on that day, the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jewish camp, which we celebrate and remember on Sukkos. If the purpose of Sukkos is to celebrate the forgiveness which the Jewish people received, as symbolized by the return of the Clouds of Glory, why the clouds didn’t return immediately after Yom Kippur and why Sukkos doesn’t begin on the 11th day of Tishrei?

Rav Mattisyahu Salomon writes that people assume that the highest level of forgiveness is that Hashem will completely erase the sin as if it never happened. However, in teaching the fundamentals of proper repentance, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 1:42) explains that there is an even higher level. He writes that it is possible for Hashem to completely erase a sin and any decree of punishment which may have been associated with it, and nevertheless, Hashem still has no interest in the person’s Divine service. In addition to confessing his sins and promising not to return to them, a person must also beseech Hashem to allow him to once again find favor in His eyes so that his mitzvos will be desired by Him.

Of all of the petitions that we make of Hashem in the emotional prayer known as Avinu Malkeinu, one of the shortest is Avinu Malkeinu, kasveinu b'sefer zechuyos – Our Father, our King, write us in the book of merits. What is the intention of this request, as Hashem will give us reward for the good deeds that we did even if we don’t pray for it, and He certainly won’t write down mitzvos which we haven’t actually done simply because we petition him to do so?

Rav Doniel Movshovitz of Kelm explains that although it is the shortest of the requests, it may well be the most important. The Gemora in Shabbos (32a) teaches that although everything which happens in the world emanates from a Divine decree, Hashem chooses to bring about good deeds through righteous people and punishments through guilty people. The book of merits to which we refer in our request represents the book of people who find favor in Hashem’s eyes and whom He will use as His agents for the performance of mitzvos.

Although Hashem said that He forgave the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, they obviously had yet to reach the highest level of forgiveness, which is manifested through Hashem allowing a person to serve Him through the performance of mitzvos. It was only through their continued repentance in the days following Yom Kippur that they finally reached the level of finding Divine favor. This was revealed through Hashem allowing them to begin the construction of the Mishkan, which was to be His unique dwelling place in this world, on the 15th of Tishrei, and on that day the Clouds of Glory returned to signify that they had been completely forgiven.

After the difficult period of introspection and teshuvah which culminates with the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, we arrive at Sukkos, which we refer to in our prayers as æîï ùîçúéðå – the time of our rejoicing. The happiness comes from a feeling that our teshuvah was accepted at the highest level, as demonstrated by our ability to serve Hashem during these eight days with an unprecedented number of unique mitzvos, such as dwelling in the sukkah and taking the four species.

With this explanation, we may now understand that the Mishnah in Sukkah (2:9) teaches that when one is forced to leave his sukkah due to the rain, he should view himself as a servant who attempted to pour a glass for his master, only to have it spilled back in his face. As a person should always be sad when his efforts to perform a mitzvah are unsuccessful, why do Chazal emphasize this point specifically in regarding to being evicted from the sukkah?

Now that we understand that the joy of Sukkos emanates from a feeling that our repentance has been accepted to the point that we are able to once again serve Hashem with a myriad of additional mitzvos, it is obvious that a Divine message kicking us out of the sukkah should cause great pain due to its symbolic meaning. We should all enjoy a year in which we find ourselves in the book of merits and have a Sukkos full of mitzvos, true joy, and dry weather.

Ba'sukkos teishvu shivas yamim (23:42)

The Torah commands us to dwell in the sukkah for seven days, eating and sleeping there as we would in our own homes. Unfortunately, the size and layout of many houses aren’t conducive to building sukkahs large enough to accommodate the family’s needs. If a person’s sukkah isn’t big enough for everybody to fit in it, meals can be eaten in shifts. However, sleeping in shifts isn’t very practical. Is it permitted to wait until some of them are sleeping and then gently drag them out of the sukkah?

As far-fetched as this suggestion sounds, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach actually rules that it is permissible. He explains that the mitzvah is only to go to sleep in the sukkah, but once a person is already sleeping, he is unconscious and exempt from any further obligation in mitzvos until he awakens. Although permissible, this may not be so feasible, as if the person wakes up while being moved, he must once again return to the sukkah to fall asleep, thereby defeating the entire purpose of the plan.

Nevertheless, Rav Yisroel Reisman suggests a more practical application of this ruling. If the weather forecast calls for a torrential downpour in the middle of the night and a person doesn’t want to be awakened by it, he can simply go to sleep in the sukkah, and once he is sound asleep, somebody can spread a cover across the top of the sukkah. Although this invalidates the sukkah, the person is already sleeping and exempt from the mitzvah, and doing so will allow him a warm and dry night’s sleep.

Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillas Yaakov (Devorim 33:4)

As Moshe prepared to bless the Jewish nation prior to his death, he informed them that the Torah is an absolute and incontrovertible inheritance which belongs uniquely to the Jewish people. From Moshe's emphasis on the Torah belonging solely to the Jewish nation, the Gemora in Sanhedrin (59a) derives that a non-Jew who studies Torah subjects other than the laws of the seven mitzvos in which they are obligated is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. As this prohibition is expressed in general terms, it would appear to apply across-the-board to any non-Jew who wishes to engage in Torah study for any reason. If so, does this blanket prohibition apply even to a non-Jew who is learning the laws for the purpose of converting to Judaism?

The Gemora in Shabbos (31a) records a fascinating episode involving a non-Jew who heard about the regal and majestic garments worn by the Kohen Gadol (Shemos 28:4) and decided to convert to Judaism so that he could attain this lofty position. He approached Shammai and asked him to facilitate his conversion on the condition that he would be appointed Kohen Gadol. Shammai rebuffed him and pushed him away. Undeterred, the man then approached Hillel with the same request. Hillel responded by arranging for his conversion, but Hillel told him that he could not be appointed Kohen Gadol until he first studied the relevant laws. Upon beginning to do so, he discovered that a non-Kohen is forbidden to serve in the Temple (Bamidbar 3:10).

The Maharsha questions how Hillel could accept a prospective convert who was clearly motivated by ulterior motives. He explains that Hillel first insisted that the man learn the pertinent laws, and after he discovered that he was ineligible to become Kohen Gadol and still wanted to convert nevertheless, only at that point did Hillel accept him. As far as the prohibition against non-Jews studying Torah, the Maharsha suggests that because he was doing so for the purpose of conversion, it was permissible.

However, Rav Akiva Eiger notes that Tosefos (Yevamos 24b) gives an alternative explanation for Hillel's conduct, suggesting that he was so confident that the man would ultimately prove himself to be a sincere and genuine convert that he converted him even before he began to study and discovered that he was ineligible to become Kohen Gadol. According to this explanation of the episode, there is no proof that a prospective convert is permitted to study Torah, and Rav Akiva Eiger suggests that the reluctance of Tosefos to explain the incident along the lines of the Maharsha is an indication that Tosefos maintains that a non-Jew may not study Torah even for the purpose of conversion.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Sukkos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Berachos (21a) derives from 32:3 the mitzvah to recite a blessing prior to Torah study. If somebody is unsure whether he recited the blessing that day, the Mishnah Berurah (47:1) rules that because this is a Biblical commandment, he must say it again out of doubt. The Mishnah Berurah (47:28) rules that because there is a dispute whether a person who stayed awake the entire night is obligated to make a new blessing in the morning, one should not do so because of the rule of safek berachos l'hakel – when a person is in doubt whether he must make a blessing, he should refrain from doing so. Why isn’t the rule quoted in the former ruling, that one must be strict when in doubt regarding a Biblical obligation, applicable in the latter case? (M’rafsin Igri)

2) If a person is forced to spend Sukkos either in a community which has the four species (Vayikra 23:40) but no sukkah or in a place which has a sukkah (23:42) but not the four species, which one should he choose? (Mateh Ephraim 625:22, Elef HaMagen 625:22)

3) If the Jewish people lived in sukkahs during their sojourn in the wilderness (23:43), were they exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah during this time just as our sukkahs are exempt from mezuzahs? (Beis Elokim Shaar HaYesodos 37, Gilyonei HaShas Eiruvin 55b)

4) Rashi writes (Devorim 33:18) that the tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared their profits with the tribe of Yissochar in order to allow them to be free to engage in the study of Torah. For enabling this Torah learning, the tribe of Zevulun receives half of the reward for the study that occurs as a result of their financial support. Is it possible to make a similar financial arrangement regarding other mitzvos, where the supporter who enables the fulfillment of the mitzvah will receive half of the reward, or is this opportunity uniquely available for the enabling of Torah study? (Derech Sicha Parshas Vayechi)

5) Rashi writes (34:8) that because Aharon was a lover and pursuer of peace, every single Jew cried and mourned over his death, but not all of them cried over the death of Moshe. As the Torah is coming to eulogize Moshe and relate his praises, why does it record a fact which would seem to be less than complimentary? (Me'Rosh Amana)

  © 2012 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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