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 Sukkos/Parshas Bereishis - Vol. 9, Issue 1
Compiled by Oizer Alport


V'Chag ha'asif b'tzeis ha'shana b'asepecha es ma'asecha min ha'sadeh (Shemos 23:16)

The Torah initially refer to Sukkos as Chag ha'asif - the festival of the ingathering - and not by its more well-known name, "Sukkos," which is not used in conjunction with the festival until much later (Devorim 16:13). Additionally, the commentators point out that if the Yom Tov of Sukkos commemorates the Ananei HaKavod (Clouds of Glory) that surrounded and protected the Jews in the wilderness, seemingly it should logically be celebrated in the spring when the Clouds of Glory first began to escort the Jews after their Exodus from Egypt, not in the fall when we are commanded to observe it.

The Vilna Gaon answers the second difficulty by explaining that although the Ananei HaKavod first appeared in the month of Nissan, they subsequently departed after the sin of the golden calf. It wasn't until 15 Tishrei, five days after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, that the Clouds returned, this time to remain for the duration of the 40 years that the Jews traveled through the desert. It is this return of the Clouds of Glory that we commemorate by celebrating the holiday of Sukkos at this time.

Using this insight, the Meshech Chochmah resolves the first question by explaining that at this point in time, the Jewish people still had not sinned with the golden calf and the original Clouds of Glory were still present. The reason for celebrating Sukkos in the fall was not yet applicable, and the Torah had to refer to it by an alternate name based on the ingathering of the yearly harvest. In Parshas Re'eh, on the other hand, the clouds had already disappeared and returned, and it was appropriate to refer to the holiday at that time as Chag HaSukkos, the festival which commemorates the restoration of the Clouds of Glory.

U'lekachtem lachem ba'yom ha'rishon pri eitz hadar (Vayikra 23:40)

In discussing the mitzvos of Sukkos, the Torah commands us to take four species: lulav, esrog, hadasim, and aravos. However, none of the species are referred to in the verse using the names by which we know them. The esrog is called a pri eitz hadar, the fruit of a beautiful tree. Commenting on this verse, the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:10) cryptically remarks that this refers to Avrohom. How is this Medrash to be understood, and in what way is Avrohom comparable to an esrog?

As mentioned, the Torah isn't clear about the identity of the four species we are commanded to take. In attempting to identify the beautiful tree to which the Torah is referring, one of the proofs offered by the Gemora in Sukkah (35a) involves a play on the word hadar. Although the word means "beautiful," by switching the vowels it can be reinterpreted to mean "dwells." In other words, the Torah commands us to take a fruit which dwells on the tree from year to year. Unlike other fruits, which grow, blossom, and fall off of the tree in the span of a few months, an esrog remains on its tree from year to year.

Rav Yissochar Frand explains that the Gemora is symbolically teaching us that an esrog represents consistency and dependability, traits in which Avrohom excelled. In Parshas Chayei Sorah, the Torah (24:1) records that Avrohom was old and ba ba'yamim - coming with his days. This peculiar expression is difficult to understand. What does it mean to come with one's days? The Zohar HaKadosh explains that each day of a person's life which is used properly is deposited in his celestial bank account. The Torah testifies that Avrohom was consistent in using every day of his life to serve Hashem, and as a result, he came with all of his days to Olam Haba.

In Parshas Vayeira (Bereishis 22:4), the Torah records that on the third day of traveling, Avrohom raised his eyes and saw the location where he was to perform the Akeidah. The Medrash Tanchuma (22) questions why Hashem waited three days to show the place to Avrohom? The Medrash answers that He did so to prevent the nations of the world from arguing that Avrohom was overcome by a momentary burst of emotion and slaughtered his son. Instead, Avrohom had three days to carefully and rationally consider the consequences of his actions. Even so, he passed this and nine other trials (Avos 5:3) to which Hashem subjected him with flying colors, demonstrating the reliability and consistency associated with the esrog.

The Maharal cites a fascinating Medrash, which discusses which is the most important and all-encompassing verse in the Torah. The first opinion proposes (Devorim 6:4) Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad - Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One. The next opinion argues that even more important is (Vayikra 19:18) V'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha - You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Each of these positions is understandable and not surprising.

The last opinion unexpectedly suggests that the most important verse is (Shemos 29:39) Es ha'keves ha'echad ta'aseh va'boker v'es ha'keves ha'sheini ta'aseh bein ha'arbayim - one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and one lamb you shall offer in the afternoon. Although important, how could this verse, which describes one of the daily sacrifices, possibly be compared to the other verses which discuss fundamentals of Judaism?

The Maharal explains that this verse is referring to the Korban Tamid - the Continual Offering. This offering was brought every day of the year, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Regardless of anything which transpired in the Temple and independent of any other offerings which needed to be brought, the Korban Tamid was offered day-in and day-out, day after day, year after year. As such, it is the ultimate symbol of consistency, which is a fundamental concept in Judaism, so essential that it is mentioned in the same breath as the Shema and the obligation to love our fellow man.

We live in a society which bombards us each day with new obligations and new distractions. As a result, excuses, explanations, and requests for extensions have become commonplace and accepted. While they keep us out of trouble at work and in our interactions with others, we should realize that Judaism holds us to a higher standard. The next time we catch ourselves justifying our inability to perform a mitzvah due to extenuating circumstances, let us remember the importance of the Korban Tamid and strive to achieve the consistency of Avrohom and the esrog.

Mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem

The Gemora in Taanis (4b) rules that although Sukkos corresponds to the time when we begin to need rain for the success of the crops, we don't begin to pray for rain on Sukkos itself because rain on the holiday is considered a curse. We must wait an additional two weeks after the end of Sukkos to allow sufficient time for those who ascended to the Temple for Sukkos to return home without getting wet.

According to this logic, we should similarly stop praying for rain two weeks before Pesach to allow people to ascend in dry travel conditions. Why do we continue praying for rain up until Pesach, praying for something which if answered would significantly impede the ability of people to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash with their Pesach sacrifices?

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv suggests that this is due to the power of inertia. The issue of those traveling to Yerushalayim is one which must be taken into account, but it is not compelling. Therefore, when Sukkos comes at the end of the summer, when we haven't been praying for rain, this consideration is sufficient to delay the change in our prayers to begin petitioning Hashem for rain. On the other hand, when Pesach arrives at the end of the winter, when we are currently asking for rain, this argument isn't strong enough to cause us to alter the status quo and cease our prayers prematurely.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains the difference with a practical observation. When people go to the Temple for Sukkos, they haven't yet taken out their winter wardrobes and travel in clothes which are ill-suited to protect them from the rains on their return journey, so we must give them sufficient time to return home before we begin to ask for rain. On the other hand, when people ascend to Yerushalayim for Pesach, they are properly outfitted in their winter gear which will be able to stand up to any inclement weather they encounter, and we are therefore permitted to continue our prayers for rain.

Finally, Rav Chaim Kanievsky posits that the answer lies in a psychological difference. The verse in Tehillim (55:15) states B'Beis Elokim ne'haleich b'ragesh - in the House of Hashem (the Temple) we will walk with feeling. It is pointed out that the letters in the word b'ragesh are short for barad, ruach, geshem, sheleg - hail, wind, rain, and snow. This hints that when one merits traveling to the Beis HaMikdash, his excitement and enthusiasm is so great as to allow him to overcome the greatest of hurdles and to travel in even the most inclement weather. As a result, we are permitted to continue praying for rain in the weeks before Pesach because those ascending to Yerushalayim won't be deterred by the rains. After Sukkos, on the other hand, people are returning to their homes without the emotional charge and would find the rains tremendously burdensome, so we have no choice but to delay our petitions


Vayitzer Hashem Elokim es ha'adam afar min ha'adama vayipach b'apav nishmas chaim vayehi ha'adam l'nefesh chaya (2:7)

A man who was stricken with cancer was presented by his doctor with a painful and heart-wrenching decision to make. In order to treat his illness, the doctor would need to perform surgery, and in order to access the affected region, he would need to cut through either the man's esophagus or his vocal cords. As a result, the man would permanently lose either the ability to eat, requiring the insertion of a feeding tube, or the ability to speak. From a medical perspective, the two options were equal, so the doctor gave the man the choice of how the surgery should be performed.

Although most people would approach this tragic decision by weighing which of the two faculties is more important to them, this patient was an observant Jew who understood that his decision would have important ramifications for his ability to perform mitzvos. If he gave up his ability to eat naturally, he would no longer be able to perform the Biblical mitzvos of eating matzah, eating on the day before Yom Kippur, and eating in the sukkah. On the other hand, if he lost his faculty of speech, he would be unable to say Shema and Birkas HaTorah.

Unsure of the proper course of action, he approached a well-known Rav for guidance. However, rather than focus on weighing the mitzvos to be preserved and lost, the Rav surprised the man by citing the translation of Onkelos on our verse. The Torah records that Hashem formed man from the dust of the ground and blew into him the soul of life, at which point man became a living being. Onkelos renders the phrase "and man became a living being" as a reference to the fact that he acquired the ability to speak.

In other words, as advanced as man may be, virtually everything that he can do can also be duplicated by other living creatures. Onkelos is teaching us that what makes man uniquely human and elevated above all other species of animals is the ability to speak. In light of this insight into the special status of the power of speech, the Rav advised the man to preserve his vocal cords and forego the ability to eat naturally. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein adds that even according to the man's initial approach of weighing the mitzvos involved, it is clear that the mitzvos which required the power of speech are performed much more regularly than those which are associated with the ability to eat and would therefore take precedence.

Vayipol Elokim tardeimah al ha'adam vayishan vayikach achas mi'tzalosav vayisgor basar tachtenah (2:21)

In relating all of the details and the order of the Creation, it isn't until our verse, the 52nd verse in the Torah, that the letter "samech" appears. After creating Adam, Hashem cast a deep sleep upon him. After taking one of his ribs to form his wife Chava, Hashem closed Adam's flesh. Why doesn't the letter "samech" appear for so long, and what is the significance of the fact that it is first used in this verse?

Rabbi Paysach Krohn explains that when spelled out, the letter "samech" is written "samech-mem-chaf," which is also the word which means "support." The Gemora teaches (Yevamos 62b) that a man who dwells without a wife is lacking many things, one of which is a wall. The commentators explain that a supportive wife can serve to protect and encourage her husband. The Mishnah (Taanis 26b) teaches that lo hayu Yamim Tovim l'Yisroel k'chamisha asar b'Av uk'Yom HaKippurim. Literally, this means that the happiest days for the Jewish people were the fifteenth day of Av and Yom Kippur, as on these days eligible young women would go out in the field in order for the men to select their matches. However, the Arizal suggests that the words chamisha asar b'Av can be interpreted as referring not only to the fifteenth day of the month of Av, but also to the fifteenth letter in the aleph-beis (Hebrew alphabet), which is the letter samech, as on that day the Jewish men went to find their walls of support.

The Torah relates that Hashem created Chava to serve as an "eizer k'negdo" - helpmate opposite him - for Adam. The numerical value of this phrase is 360 - the number of degrees in a circle which surrounds and protects what is inside of it. The Targum renders the word "helpmate" into Aramaic as "samech" - supportive wall. For this reason, a bride walks around the groom under the wedding canopy to symbolize this function, and the groom marries the bride by giving her a circular ring. Therefore, the very letter which means support and is written as a circle is used for the first time to describe the creation of the first person - Chava - who fulfilled this role.

Ha'min ha'eitz asher tzivisicha l'vilti achol mimenu achalta (3:11)

Although we are taught that the Torah is the blueprint for the entire world and all people who will ever live and every event which will ever occur is alluded to somewhere in the Torah, we are generally unable to pinpoint the specific allusion to a given person or incident. However, the Gemora (Chullin 139b) explicitly spells out where Mordechai, Esther, and Haman are hinted to in the Torah.

The Gemora teaches that Haman is alluded to in our verse, in which Hashem asks Adam Ha'min ha'eitz - have you eaten from the tree which I prohibited to you? On a simple level, this is a play on words, as the Torah is not written with vowels, so the vowels in the word Haman can be changed so that it is pronounced "Haman." However, if the Torah found no more appropriate place to hint to Haman, there must be a more profound connection between him and Adam's sin of eating from the forbidden fruit.

On a basic level, the Shelah HaKadosh points out that the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge was a sin involving eating something forbidden, and the Gemora teaches (Megillah 12a) that Haman was able to threaten the Jews with destruction because they sinned by eating forbidden food at Achashverosh's party.

On a deeper level, the Chiddushei HaRim explains that Amalek, from whom Haman was descended, represents the concept of questioning belief in Hashem. The word Amalek has the same numerical value as the word safek (doubt), and Amalek came to attack the Jews right after they expressed uncertainty about Hashem, asking (Shemos 17:7) Ha'yeish Hashem b'kirbeinu im ayin - is Hashem in our midst, or perhaps not? Haman isn't alluded to in the verses relating the actual sin of eating from the forbidden fruit. Instead, his name is contained in our verse, which presents a question that seems to call Hashem's omniscience into doubt, as it appears as though He isn't sure if Adam ate from the forbidden tree or not.

The B'nei Yissochar points out another beautiful parallel. In the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, all of man's senses were involved and therefore damaged except for one. Chava sinned by listening to the temptations of the serpent with her ears, seeing the beautiful fruit with her eyes, taking it from the tree with her hands, eating from it with her mouth, and convincing Adam to eat from it as well using her speech. Only the sense of smell was not involved in the sin, as the sense of smell is more connected to spirituality and the serpent had no sway over it. For this reason, Mordechai, who the Gemora teaches (Chullin 139b) is alluded to in the section in the Torah which lists the spices in the anointment oil (Shemos 30:23), is connected to the theme of smell and was able to overcome Haman.

However, my brother-in-law Yonah Sklare points out that the connections between Haman and this episode in the Torah run much deeper than this. While the Gemora taught us that Haman corresponds to Adam's sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, the Vilna Gaon adds that the relationship between Achashverosh and Vashti parallels the relationship between Chava and the serpent.

Rashi writes (3:1) that the serpent was motivated by Chava's beauty and had a goal of engaging in relations with her. Similarly, Chazal teach (Megillah 12a) that Achashverosh and Vashti's intentions at their parties were to bring about immoral interactions between the drunken men and women whom they placed in close proximity to one another.

As a result of Chava's sin, man's eyes were opened and he needed to wear clothes since he was embarrassed by his previously-acceptable state (3:7). Not surprisingly, the Gemora teaches (Megillah 12b) that Achashverosh called Vashti to appear before him without any clothing. At the end of the first chapter of the Megillah (Esther 1:22), Haman convinced Achashverosh to decree that every man should rule in his home, which is remarkably similar to the curse that Hashem gave Chava (3:16) that as a result of her enticing Adam to sin, husbands would rule over their wives.

A critical component of the miracle of Purim was wine. Not surprisingly, one of the opinions in the Gemora (Berachos 40a) about the identity of the forbidden fruit is that it was a grape. How do we understand this conceptually? Adam and Chava sinned by eating from the tree of wisdom, but what exactly is wisdom? The Ramban writes (2:9) that wisdom is desire. Before man ate from the forbidden fruit, he had no independent desires and wanted nothing except to do Hashem's Will.

Now that Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit, we have our own desires which aren't always congruent with the Torah. What does wine have to do with this? Wine takes away our inhibitions and enables us to express our deepest personal desires. We see in the Megillah that the inner desire of Haman and Achashverosh was to be anti-Semitic and to destroy the Jews, but we also celebrate that even after the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, the true inner desire of every Jew is to do Hashem's Will.

Adam and Chava sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit which taught us the difference between good and evil, so on Purim we are obligated to drink to the point that we can no longer differentiate between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. Not surprisingly, the Gemora teaches (Shabbos 88a) that Purim is the Yom Tov when the Torah which was originally accepted under duress at Mount Sinai when Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them with extinction was now lovingly and willingly reaccepted in the times of Achashverosh, because that is the true inner desire of every Jew.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Shabbos (151b) rules that it is forbidden to sleep alone in a house. Does this prohibition also apply to sleeping alone in a sukkah? (Rokeach Hilchos Sukkah 219, Shu"t Doveiv Meishorim 1:79, Daas Torah Orach Chaim 639:1, Ma'adanei Asher Parshas Emor 5770)

2) If a person doesn't recite the invitation to the ushpizin (guests) to join him in the sukkah, do they still come? (Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah 11:13, Moreh B'Etzba 9:289, Kaf HaChaim 639:8)

3) In what case would one not be required to bring out another Sefer Torah after an invalidating mistake was found in the Sefer Torah which is being read, even if the error was located in the first three verses of the reading? (China V'Chisda Kesuvos 7)

4) Did the creations on each day occur at night or during the day? (Bereishis Rabbah 12:14, Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 7)

5) Prior to eating from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge which could cause him to die, why didn't Adam first eat from the tree of life, which was permitted to him and which would allow him to live eternally? (Tosefos Rid)

6) Which two mechutanim (fathers of the bride and groom) in the Torah had the same name?

7) If Chanoch was so righteous and walked with Hashem (5:22), why does the Torah tell us so little about the details of his life? (Chasam Sofer quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

  2013 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 parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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