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Parshas Haazinu/Sukkos - Vol. 10, Issue 49
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
The Seder HaDoros (4954) records a fascinating historical incident. The Ramban had a student by the name of Avner who left the path of Torah observance and eventually rose to become a prestigious minister to the Spanish king. One year, in the middle of Yom Kippur, Avner sent a messenger to bring the Ramban before him in the king's palace. On the holiest day of the Jewish year, in front of his illustrious former teacher, Avner proceeded to commit the dastardly deed of killing a pig, cooking it, and eating it.
Although Avner had sunken to the lowest spiritual abyss imaginable, he still retained the knowledge that the Ramban had imparted to him. After eating the pig, he asked the Ramban how many kerisos (spiritual excisions) he was liable for his actions. The Ramban responded that he would suffer four kerisos for what he had done. Avner attempted to argue that he was actually liable five kerisos, but the Ramban gave him a stern look of disapproval. Avner, stricken with the ingrained reverence he once felt toward his teacher, was speechless and unable to continue.
At this point, the Ramban asked Avner what had caused him to leave the Torah path. He replied that the Ramban had once claimed that Parshas Haazinu, the final lessons taught by Moshe prior to blessing the people before his death, contains within it allusions to the entire Torah and to everything which will occur throughout history. Avner found such an assertion ridiculous and viewed it as an insult to his rational faculties. This was the beginning of his cynical questioning of everything which he had ever been taught and held as sacred.
The Ramban held his ground and responded that his original contention was indeed valid. Avner challenged the Ramban to locate a reference to him in the parsha. The Ramban silently prayed for Divine assistance, and our verse was revealed to him. Beginning with the second word in the verse, the third letter in each word spells the name Avner.
Upon realizing the implications of the verse, which means "I will scatter them, and I will cause their memory to cease from mankind," in which his name is contained, Avner was overcome by an intense fear and asked his teacher if there was any hope for him. The Ramban replied, "You heard what the verse says (and its connotations)." At that point, Avner set sail in a boat with no destination, allowing it to take him in whichever direction the winds and waves would send him, and he was never heard from again - in precise fulfillment of the words of the verse in Parshas Haazinu which refers to him.
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.
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.
v'anaf eitz avos v'arvei nachal (Vayikra 23:40)
The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 658:2) that the four species may not be taken on Shabbos. The Mishnah Berurah explains that the Rabbis made this enactment due to a fear that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to shake the four species. To learn how to do so, he may carry them to the house of a knowledgeable Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. Although this would indeed be a tragedy, why did our Sages see fit to deny tens of thousands of people this tremendous mitzvah simply because a few Jews may unintentionally carry them to a Rabbi to learn how to shake them?
The Medrash notes (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) that while the esrog has both a good taste and a pleasant smell, and the lulav and hadas each have one of these good qualities, the aravah which we are commanded to take together with them has neither taste nor smell. Each of the species represents a different kind of Jew: some have both Torah and good deeds, some have one but not the other, and sadly there are Jews - like the aravah - who have neither. In a beautiful lesson in the importance of unity among the Jewish nation, Hashem says that they should all be taken together to atone for one another.
The impending arrival of Sukkos is heralded by streets full of Jews purchasing the four species. Certainly when Sukkos arrives, everybody will be excited to bring his beautiful esrog and lulav to the synagogue to perform the mitzvah with great fervor. When the normal time for the taking of the species arrives on Shabbos but none are in sight, people will become curious about the omission.
Upon asking, they will be told that it is because of the aforementioned fear of another Jew accidentally carrying them outside. The questioner will wonder which uneducated Jew we could possibly be concerned about, as anybody who grew up with a formal Jewish education will know how to shake the species and will certainly know that they may not be carried outside on Shabbos for any reason.
The answer will be that we aren't worried that a Jew in Jerusalem or Brooklyn would do such a thing, but there are sadly many Jews in Kansas City who may inadvertently transgress. The questioner will press on, challenging why the tens of thousands of learned Jews of B'nei B'rak and Lakewood must lose out because of a few ignorant Jews in the Midwest.
However, from the fact that the Rabbis nevertheless made this decree, we see that they understood that there is more to mitzvos than just looking after oneself to do them properly. As much as we think Hashem will be happy if we do what we are supposed to, we forget that He doesn't look at us as individuals but as part of the collective Jewish nation. If some of His children do His will with the greatest precision while a much larger group lags sorely behind, the overall picture from His perspective is grim.
The Sages appreciated that as much as Hashem would enjoy the taking of the four species by those who know how to do so, the pain caused by those who may accidentally transgress is so great that it outweighs the pleasure He would receive. Upon understanding this, the questioner will be left with a new appreciation of the sense of responsibility which we are required to feel toward our Jewish brethren. This new recognition will inspire him to a newfound commitment to reach out to educate and draw near those unfortunate and uneducated Midwestern Jews - of whom this author is one - in a manner which taking the four species could never have accomplished.
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.
The Torah testifies that nobody will ever reach the tremendous spiritual heights attained by Moshe. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2) that even Moshiach won't be able to reach the level of prophecy achieved by Moshe. How can this fundamental belief be reconciled with another comment of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2), who writes that every Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moshe? Further, while the Rambam discusses only theoretical potential, Rashi writes (Shemos 6:26) that Aharon was actually considered equal to Moshe. How is it possible that Aharon, great as he was, was on the level of Moshe, whom the Torah calls the greatest prophet who ever was or ever will be?
Rav Elchonon Wasserman and Rav Moshe Feinstein explain that it is certainly true that in raw, objective terms of accomplishment, nobody will ever reach the sublime heights attained by Moshe. If his celestial "score" was 1000, nobody - not even his brother Aharon - has ever or will ever score 1000. If so, in what way can Aharon or anybody else be considered equal to Moshe?
While it is true that Moshe scored 1000, this was only because he received a special neshama (soul) with the capability of scoring 1000. It may be that Aharon only scored 900 or 950, yet he is still considered Moshe's equal because his soul didn't have the same abilities as Moshe's. When Moshe was born, he filled up the house with light (Sotah 12a), something which can't be said of Aharon and certainly not of any of us. Aharon did, however, utilize every last talent with which he was blessed, such that whatever score he received was the maximum possible for the soul he was given. Although Aharon's raw score was lower, his "grade" was the same 100% as Moshe's, and in that sense they were equal.
While in this world people are given honor and respect based on their score, only Hashem knows what somebody was actually capable of accomplishing and grades them accordingly. Rav Moshe explains that this is the intent of the Gemora (Bava Basra 10b) in which an ill Rabbi briefly passed over into the World to Come and returned to declare that he saw an upside-down world, one in which "the higher ones were on bottom and the bottom ones were on top."
In this world, because we don't know somebody's potential, we have no choice but to respect somebody who scores 300 more than a person who scores 200. In the World of Truth, however, Hashem measures every individual against his own personal yardstick. Many times the person who scored 300 had the ability to score 400, giving him a grade of 75%, while the person who scored 200 didn't have nearly as many talents and the best he could have hoped for was 250, yielding a grade of 80%. In the "upside-down" World of Truth, the latter will come out on top, as Hashem doesn't judge with the superficial tools available to us.
The boy or girl at the top of the class and the relative or co-worker who always seem to do more than us and accomplish it quicker will be held to a higher standard by Hashem. We should take comfort in the recognition that Hashem won't compare us to anybody else, judging every individual on the basis of his or her talents and trials. At the same time, we should use this knowledge to utilize our personal strengths to become the best Jew that we are capable of being - one who will merit sitting next to Moshe in Gan Eden.
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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 the Jewish people lived in sukkahs during their sojourn in the wilderness (Vayikra 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)
3) If a person is forced to spend Sukkos either in a community which has the four species (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)
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)
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