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Torah Attitude: Succos: Huts, happiness & security
We are commanded to be happy on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuous and Succos. In Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (529:2), it says: "A person is obligated to be happy and good at heart on the festivals, he, his wife and children and whoever is around him. How does he make them happy? The minors he gives roasted grain and nuts. He buys the women garments and jewellery according to his means. And he is obligated to feed the strangers, orphans, widows as well as other poor people."
Happiness requires other people
True happiness can only be enjoyed when we include others in our celebration. As Rashi so beautifully expresses (Devarim 26:14 ), "I was happy and I made others happy." Imagine celebrating a wedding without guests. It is unlikely that anyone would enjoy a celebration of any happy occasion without family and friends around them. The Torah educates us to make sure that we also include the disadvantaged in our celebrations.
Time of our gladness
Although all three festivals are times of happiness, the one festival that is expressly described as the "time of our gladness" is Succos. It might be a little surprising that the most joyous occasion of the year is celebrated in a primitive hut under the open sky, rather than in the comfort of our homes. On a simple level, we can understand the reason for Succos being the time of happiness as it is celebrated at the time when the produce has been harvested. As it says (Vayikra 23:39),"On the 15th day of the 7th month, when you gather the crop of the land, you should celebrate a Festival of G'd for seven days." It is understandable that in any agriculture community the time of the harvest is a season to be joyous. The Torah teaches us to elevate our celebration to a higher level by reminding us that although the farmer worked hard throughout the summer, it is the blessing of G'd that fills his barns and storehouses with produce.
However, we can understand this period of joy on a deeper level that goes beyond the agriculture pleasure of harvesting one's produce. The Torah commands us to take the four species (lulav, myrtle, willow and etrog) on the Festival of Succos. The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 30:2) explains why we take the four species on Succos, after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After having been to court, and receiving the judgment, it was customary that the victorious party would celebrate with palm branches as a sign that they won the case. It is not by chance that the Succos celebration follows the judgment of the High Holidays. Already on Rosh Hashana during the Days of Judgment, our trust in G'd's mercy is so strong that we dress in our fine (white) clothing and partake of a festive meal to celebrate despite these are the Days of Awe. In a court case of life and death, people would customarily dress in black. But we dress in white in anticipation that G'd will make a miracles for us. As a nation, we have no doubt that we survive. Our fear is restricted to individual levels.
There is even a deeper level to understand the meaning of Succos being the "time of our gladness" which explains why it is celebrated in a simple hut. The Torah commands us to sit in a succah to commemorate how G'd looked after our needs in the desert. As it says, (Vayikra 23:42-43): "You shall dwell in Succahs for seven days so that your generations will know that I made the Children of Israel dwell in Succahs when I took them out of the land of Egypt." On one level, the Talmud (Succah 11b) explains that this refers to the actual succahs our forefathers dwelled in. On a deeper level, our sages (ibid) explain that this refers to the clouds of glory that enveloped the Jewish people during their 40 years sojourn in the wilderness. The clouds protected them from heat, their enemies and other natural dangers and difficulties.
Huts in autumn
The Tour Shulchan Oruch (825) asks if dwelling in Succahs is to remind us of what happened at the time of the exodus from Egypt, then why do we not celebrate Succos in the month of Nissan, the time when we celebrate our exodus from Egypt. The Tour answers that the month of Nissan is the time of the beginning of the summer when it is customary for people to dwell in cottages and sit in the shade of huts. It would not be as noticeable that we dwell in the huts in order to fulfill the commandment of the Torah if we did so in the spring as sitting in huts in the cooler climate of autumn. Therefore, the Torah commands us to build our succahs in the month of Tishrei, when the rains set in, when everyone leaves their cottages to return to their homes. This is the time when the Jewish people leave our homes to dwell in succahs to commemorate the protection we enjoyed when G'd took care of us after the exodus of Egypt.
Shade of trust
The Zohar (Part 3:103B) takes it a step further and describes the ones sitting in a succah as sitting in the "shade of trust". By leaving the so-called "security" of our regular homes and spending a week under the sky we express a tremendous trust in G'd. No security guard guarantees our safety in these primitive huts. Only the direct protection of G'd looks after us and provides our security when dwelling there. Just as young children feel totally secure when taken care of by their parents, so do we express total trust in G'd, as well as a feeling of security being looked after directly by G'd Himself, when we enter the Succah.
Trust in G'd
Material wealth does not necessarily provide happiness as the saying goes: "Money is not the key to happiness". Good health is also not a single factor that makes a person happy. So what makes a person happy? Security. We live in a society of general affluence with a staggering number of people being depressed and suffering from anxieties. The statistics of especially young people committing (or trying to commit) suicide are frightening, not to mention the frequency of substance abuse to escape the realities of life that surround them. All this stems from our lack of security and tranquility. Whether caused by terrorist threats or whether it comes from financial, social or medical insecurity, the results are the same. By internalizing the message of Succos, and feeling complete trust in G'd, the more we merit G'd's protection and the more we will be able to utilize the "time of our gladness" to bring real happiness into our lives.
Torah Attitude: Parashas Beresheit: "An act of G'd"Summary
The universe was created in seven days. Scientists are groping and searching to explain the wonders of the universe. The Torah's explanation of the Creation has not changed for over three thousand years. In the beginning of the Creation, G'd made mature creatures. Scientists make two fundamental errors in their assumptions. C-14 carbon dating is unreliable. There was a change in nature as a result of the Flood. The theory of evolution by Darwin has been refuted. It is physically impossible for some animals to have developed immunity to poisons, toxins and other deadly substances through the evolutionary process. The sheer complexity and intricacy of all the parts of the universe and how they interact points to a Creator who designed it all with great precision. For example, the relationship between the Sun and Earth and the workings of the human eye did not develop by chance or mutation. "Jealousy, passions, and honour-seeking take a person out of this world". Any honest person would feel obligated to follow the instructions of the Creator. The Theory of Evolution led Nazi Germany to develop their horrendous atrocities. G'd made the wind blow at the Red Sea to allow for free will. The honest, objective mind seeks the truth and sees and experiences the Creation as an act of G'd.
Seven days of Creation
This week's torah portion describes the creation of the universe in the course of seven days. Many people find it difficult to accept and understand the way the Creation is described in the Torah, as scientific discoveries over the last few centuries have called into question the Creation and have offered alternative theories as to the origin of the universe.
Anyone who approaches the development of the universe with an objective perspective realizes that the scientists who question the Creation are themselves groping and searching to explain the wonders of the world, both the macrocosm of galaxies and the microcosm of our planet and everything on it. Scientific theories that were accepted one hundred years ago have been discarded for more advanced theories. And so the pattern continues, with no end in sight.
On the other hand, the description of the creation of the universe set out in the Written Torah, and explained by our sages, has not changed since the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, over three thousand years ago. Even within the world of scientists, many have come to the conclusion that there is a higher power that created and controls the universe. At the same time, the scientific theories that seek to discredit the Creation are being questioned by increasing numbers of scientists.
Two fundamental errors
Many scientists scoff at the description of Creation in the Torah as being under six thousands years old. They put forward measurements that clearly show the universe to be millions of years old. However, they make two fundamental errors in their assumptions that: (1) nothing was created with maturity; and (2) time and the maturing process has always been constant.
In the beginning of the Creation, G'd made mature creatures. Our sages tell us that Adam and Eve were created as grown-ups, twenty years old (Beresheit Rabba 14:7). They were not born and did not experience the normal growth patterns from infancy to adulthood. Although they appeared to have grown into twenty year old adults, the truth was that they were created to enjoy their first moments of existence as mature adults. Similarly, G'd created many other mature creatures and things, such as geological formations, some of which appeared to be millions of years old. In the same way, the stars were created with their light reaching earth although they were millions of light-years away.
One of the more popular theories of determining the age of physical substances is C-14 carbon dating. However, this method is based on a totally unreliable assumption that atomic disintegration has always been constant. If objects were created with millions of years of maturity, carbon dating cannot accurately measure their age.
Change in nature
In addition, carbon dating assumes that the functioning of natural laws has always been constant. In next week's Torah portion (Noah), we read about the change in nature after the Flood. "G'd said all the days of the earth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." (Be:8:21-22) This implies that during the flood there were no regular seasons or times. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno explains that prior to the Flood the orbit of the sun had been in a straight circle which caused there to be no seasons. The weather was constant like in springtime, bringing about a perfect environment for both plants and living beings resulting in much longer life spans.
The sawfly refutes Darwin
The very famous theory of evolution by Darwin has been refuted over the years by many scientists. A number of years ago, there was an article in the German magazine Die Zeit, showing the impossibility that the sawfly developed through evolution. Although the resins and oils of the pine tree are highly toxic to all other insects, the larva of the sawfly carves out an ecological niche on the fragrant needles. The larva is capable of eating these needles without being poisoned. It somehow separates the poisonous oils and resins from the digestible pulp in order to avoid them entering into its digestive tract and stores them in two goitre-like sacks located at the sides of its oral cavity. These sacks are covered with a shitinous membrane and are thus insensitive to the resin acids. According to the theory of evolution, some ancient variety of the sawfly larva must have switched from a normal leafy diet to one of the needles. This change could only have occurred through gradual mutations. In order to stimulate the larva to develop a mechanism for digestive separation and protection, its food must have already consisted of pine needles. On the other hand, the larva could not live on pine needles until a complete mechanism was developed in order to cope with the poisonous affects of the needles. This would have brought the sawfly's evolutionary progress to a standstill. We find similar problems with the electric eel and poisonous snakes. It is physically impossible for some animals to have developed immunity to poisons, toxins and other deadly substances through the evolutionary process.
The Sun and Earth
Just by looking at the universe, in all its magnificent glory, and by observing the exact order to the minutest detail, the objective mind must conclude that there must be a Master who created it all. The sheer complexity and intricacy of all the parts of the universe, and how they interact, points to a Creator who designed it all with great precision. For example, the relationship between the Sun and the Earth is extraordinary. There is a distance of 149,500,000 km between them, which is the exact distance necessary to make the conditions of life possible here on the Earth. If the Sun had been just a little further away, the whole Earth would be covered in ice. If the Sun had been a little closer, all fluids on Earth would evaporate and the ground would go completely dry. As King David so eloquently expressed, (Tehillim 19), "The Heavens declare the glory of G'd. And the firmament shows His handiwork "
The human eye
Another example of the hand of the Creator is the intricacy of the human body. The camera of the eye, with its photo systems and self-cleaning abilities, with its transmission facilities to send information to the brain brings into question how such a complex series of functions could have developed by chance and mutation. This is but one example of what Job declared, (Job 19:26), "From my flesh I see G'd."
Jealousy, passions and honour-seeking
All this coming about by a Big Bang further developed by chance occurrences and mutations along the way is as likely as a printed book being produced by a big explosion in a printing press. So how can it be that millions of educated people allow themselves to believe in the Theory of Evolution? We may find the answer in the words of the Mishnah: (Pirkei Avos 4:21), "Jealousy, passions, and honour-seeking take a person out of this world". These three character traits cause people to lose their objective mind and turn a blind-eye to even the most obvious facts.
We have all experienced and seen people act totally irrational because of their jealousy, strong passions, and pride. Man was created with certain natural passions. Rabbi Saadia Gaon explains in his introduction to Emunot Ve'deot (Beliefs and Character Traits) that in order to satisfy these passions to the fullest, people will allow themselves to ignore the Creator. Any honest person would feel obligated to follow the instructions of the Creator once they acknowledge that there is someone who created the universe and put humans upon this earth. One would have to accept that there is a purpose and set of rules that have to be followed.
Law of the jungle
By following the Theory of Evolution and chances occurrences, there is no one to account to at the end of days. This means that one can follow the law of the jungle, where the survival of the fittest is the rule. It is no secret that this was one of the basic ideas that lead Nazi Germany to develop their horrendous atrocities. This is what King David refers to when he says: (Tehillim 14:1) "The vile person says in his heart, 'There is no G'd.' They [the vile person and his people] have corrupted and done abominable acts. (Ibid 10:3-4). For the wicked person praises himself in the achievement of his personal desire in the pride of his countenance [he says, G'd] will not investigate All his thoughts are 'There is no G'd.'"
On the other hand, we find that people who were able to elevate themselves to control their passions and desires and humble themselves to their fellow human beings, clearly saw the truth: there is a Creator who runs the world. The most respected Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a country full of idol-worship, wrote in his book, My Struggles with Truth: "Truth to me is the most fundamental of principles Not only the relative truth that is within our comprehension, but the absolute and eternal truth - G'd The innumerable manifestations of divinity strike me with amazement and awe Day by day, my recognition grew that He alone is, and that all the rest is not real at all The means of learning the Truth are so simple as they are difficult. Sometimes they are beyond the ability of a prideful person, but are within the reach of an innocent child. He who searches for the truth must humble himself until he is but dust even lower than this. Then, and only then, will he be able to see even the merest glimpse of the Truth."
Why did G'd create a world where people can make mistakes and think that it came about by chance occurrences? Would it not make more sense that the Creator would show Himself clearly and show the world who is in charge? We can gain an insight as to the ways of G'd from the splitting of the Sea. This event was preceded by a strong wind, as it says, (Shemos 14:21) "G'd moved the Sea with a strong east wind overnight and the waters split." However, we are also told (Pirkei Avos 5:4) that there were ten wonders at the splitting of the Sea, including the creation of twelve tunnels, one for each tribe. These obviously were not the workings of the wind. So why did G'd make the wind blow at all? What is the purpose to make it look like the wind was responsible for the miracles at the sea? The answer is that the whole purpose of the Creation is for men and women to be able to exercise free will to decide between right and wrong, between good and evil, with reward and punishment as consequences. Even though that there is 99.9% proof that the Hand of G'd is behind all of Creation, G'd will always leave some opportunity for those who wish to choose wrong and pursue evil. Otherwise, there would be no choice, no reward, and no purpose to Creation. There will always be the opportunity, starting from the beginning of the Creation and continuing throughout history, to question the methods and motives of G'd. However, the honest, objective mind seeks the truth without being affected by any personal passions or interests and sees and experiences the Creation as an act of G'd.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network