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 Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres - Vol. 6, Issue 55
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Ul’kachtem lachem bayom harishhon pri eitz hadar kapos temorim
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.


U’seir izim echad chatas milvad olas hatamid minchasa v’niska … u’seir chatas echad milvad olas hatamid u’minchasa v’niska (29:16, 22)

            In the section describing the additional sacrifices which are to be brought on each day of Sukkos, there is a peculiar difference in phrasing in reference to the goat which is brought each day as a Korban Chatas. Although this sacrifice is identical on each day of Sukkos – one male goat – the Torah calls it a “seir izim” in connection with the 1st, 2nd, and 4th days of Sukkos, but calls it simply “seir” when it is discussed on the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th days of the holiday. As the Torah is precise with every word that it uses, this repeated change is hard to understand.

            The Vilna Gaon offers a brilliant explanation for this linguistic curiosity. The Gemora in Sukkah (55b) teaches that a total of 70 bulls are offered on Sukkos, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that all of the nations are spiritually associated with either Yishmael or Eisav and derive their strength from them. The Zohar further teaches that Yishmael is mystically referred to as “seir izim.” Eisav is called simply “seir,” as the Torah refers to him as “ish seir” (Bereishis 27:11).

Since the Gemora explains that the 70 bulls represent the 70 nations of the world, all of whom descend spiritually from either Yishmael or Eisav, it is appropriate to offer 35 bulls corresponding to Yishmael and 35 for Eisav. Because Yishmael was the elder of the two, we begin by offering the 13 bulls on the first day on his behalf. The Torah therefore refers to the Korban Chatas of that day as “seir izim,” which refers to Yishmael, and this is repeated with the 12 bulls sacrificed on the 2nd day.

However, if the 11 bulls offered on the 3rd day also corresponded to Yishmael, he would have 36 bulls, leaving only 34 for Eisav. To allow each to have a total of 35, the 11 bulls on the 3rd day are brought on behalf of Eisav. The Torah therefore refers to the Korban Chatas on that day as “seir.”. The 10 bulls which are brought on the 4th day may be brought for Yishmael, bringing his total to the desired 35, and the goat on that day is referred to for the last time as “seir izim.” This leaves the bulls on the three remaining days to be offered for Eisav to bring his total to 35, and they are all referred to as “seir. ”


V'lo kam Navi od b'Yisroel k'Moshe (Devorim 34:10)

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 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.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Sukkos 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, Bikkurei Yaakov 639:39, Aruch HaShulchan 639:20, Piskei Teshuvos 639:18)

2)     The Gemora in Shabbos (151b) rules that it is forbidden and spiritually dangerous to sleep alone in a house. Does this prohibition also apply to sleeping alone in a sukkah? (Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 1:79, Daas Torah Orach Chaim 639:1, Ma'adanei Asher Parshas Emor 5770)

3)     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)

4)     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)

5)     The mystics teach that we are joined for our meals in the sukkah by seven ushpizin (guests) - Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid - with each of them serving as the primary guest on one of the days of Sukkos. If a person doesn’t recite the invitation to the ushpizin to join him, do they still come? (Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah 11:13, Shalmei Moed)

6)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (59a) derives from 33:4 that a non-Jew who studies Torah is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. Does this prohibition apply even to a non-Jew who is learning in order to convert to Judaism? (Maharsha Shabbos 31a, Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 1:41)

  © 2011 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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