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Torah Attitude: Succos - Parashas Bereishis: Turn depression into gladness
It seems anticlimactic to go from the elevated spiritual experience on Yom Kippur into a period of time that focuses on joy and happiness. A person should have specific times when he should contemplate his mistakes and transgressions of the past, and feel broken about his misconduct that has created like an iron curtain between him and his Father in Heaven. Out of the broken heart must grow true happiness that G'd is ready to accept the one who tries to rid himself of his past misconduct. The Time of Our Gladness is the natural continuation that follows directly after the Ten Days of Repentance. When we enter the Succah we reflect on G'd's lovingkindness as he took us out from the bondage of Egypt. We should utilize the joy that follows after repenting for our past misconduct as a conduit to accept upon ourselves the Torah and its commandments. As the morning dawned, and the sun rose again, Adam realized that despite his sin of yesterday, he had a future and G'd would give him a chance to repair the damage.
Throughout the month of Elul, Jews worldwide blew the shofar every morning in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar was supposed to penetrate our hearts and arouse us to do teshuvah (repent) and return to the ways of G'd. After a month of preparation, we stood in judgment on Rosh Hashanah together with all the nations of the world. After that we were given a second chance to do teshuvah and get close to G'd during the Ten Days of Repentance. Finally, we came to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, even Jews who otherwise do not observe the commandments flocked to the synagogues. Some just came to connect; others came to pray sincerely for atonement for their past misconduct and to achieve a favourable final verdict for the year to come. On this day, we refrained from eating and drinking, as well as other physical activities and were almost like angels, totally dedicated to the service of G'd.
Time of Our Gladness
Now immediately after Yom Kippur, we have four days to prepare ourselves and get ready for the Festival of Succos. In our prayers we refer to this festival as the Time of Our Gladness. It seems anticlimactic to go from such an elevated spiritual experience on Yom Kippur into a period of time that focuses on joy and happiness. We would think that after Yom Kippur we would be expected to attempt to maintain our elevated spiritual state we achieved over the past forty days.
We might be able to understand the transition from Yom Kippur to Succos with an amazing insight from the first Lubavitcher Rebbe's famous work, The Tanya (Part 1, Chapter 26). The Tanya writes that a person should have specific times when he should contemplate his mistakes and transgressions of the past, and feel broken about his misconduct that has created like an iron curtain between him and his Father in Heaven. However, one should be careful that this should not bring one into depression for depression leads to nothing positive. It only causes that one is unable to function and blocks the heart like a stone. A person who is depressed will be easy prey for his evil inclination. He will continuously fall and, because of his lack of self-esteem, he will not fulfill the commandments (see also Shaarei Kedushah by Rabbi Chaim Vital 1:2).
The Tanya continues that, on the contrary, from one's broken heart one should develop a sense of true happiness. This happiness stems from the realization that G'd is ready to accept everyone who tries to rid themselves of their past misconduct. This in turn gives us the push to overcome our evil inclination and enables us only to do what is right.
With this insight, we can well understand that Succos, the Time of Our Gladness, is the natural continuation that follows directly after the Ten Days of Repentance. G'd simply guides us to utilize whatever we have achieved throughout the High Holidays to serve Him in joy and happiness and to avoid the pitfall of falling into depression because of our past misconduct. Already on the night after Yom Kippur one should rejoice and have a festival meal. The Chayei (Adam 145:41) and other halachic authorities base this on the words of the Midrash. The Midrash Rabbah (Koheles 9:7) relates that on this night a Heavenly voice announces: "Go and eat and drink in gladness for G'd has accepted your deeds [of repentance]."
Enter the Succah
Four days later when we enter the Succah we are instructed to reflect on G'd's lovingkindness at the time when He took us out of Egypt. Not only did G'd take us out of Egypt. Throughout the sojourn in the wilderness, He protected us with the Clouds of Glory and provided us with succos (huts) in which to dwell (see Talmud Succos 11b). As the Torah says (Vayikra 23:42-43): "You shall dwell in succos for seven days … so that your generations shall know that I made the children of Israel dwell in succos when I took them out of the land of Egypt." The Jewish people did not really deserve to be redeemed from Egypt. They had served idols, together with the rest of the Egyptian population. Nevertheless, when they poured out their heart in prayer to G'd, G'd listened to them and sent Moses to redeem them. Moses was surprised that G'd was ready to redeem them and asked "in what merit do they deserve to be saved from the hand of the Egyptians." G'd answered that he was right, the Jewish people did not have sufficient merits at the time. But G'd explained that He would redeem them in their future merits, as He said: "They deserve to be saved because they are going to accept the Torah and its commandments and will be ready to serve Me" (see Rashi Shemos 3:12). Just as G'd accepted the prayers and the teshuvah of the Jewish people at the time of the exodus from Egypt, we feel confident after Yom Kippur that G'd has accepted our prayers and teshuvah and thus feel ready for Succos, the Time of Our Gladness.
After seven days of celebration, we reach the Festival known as Shemini Atzeres. On this day the Jews in Israel celebrate Simchas Torah to honour the completion of the yearly cycle of the Five Books of Moses. In the Diaspora, where we keep Shemini Atzeres two days, Simchas Torah is celebrated on the second day. There can be no more suitable day for this celebration than at the end of the Time of Our Gladness. For as mentioned above, we utilize the joy that follows after repenting for our past misconduct as a conduit to accept upon ourselves the Torah and its commandments. After fulfilling the commandments of dwelling in succos and taking the four species for seven days, now we celebrate with the entire Torah and its commandments.
We do not just celebrate that we have completed the yearly cycle of the Torah reading. For the purpose of our celebration is not that we finally have finished a burden that we had to take care of. To the contrary, at the same time that we celebrate our accomplishment we are excited to start afresh. We immediately start to read the first portion of the Torah going right back to the origin of the world and the six days of creation. This gives us additional reason to rejoice. When Adam was created on the sixth day of creation G'd told him "look at this beautiful world that I have created for you. Make sure you use it correctly. Do not spoil it" (see Midrash Koheles 7:13). But already on that first day Adam sinned and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Midrash relates how on that night when the sun set and darkness descended over the earth, Adam thought that this was a punishment for his sin. He despaired as he thought that this was the end for him and the whole world. But as the morning dawned, and the sun rose again, he realized that despite his sin of yesterday, he had a future and G'd would give him a chance to repair the damage.
As we finish the reading of the Torah, we are well aware that we may not have fulfilled all the commandments the way we should. Nevertheless, we start again as we feel secure that G'd also gives us another chance to repair any damage done in the past and to do better in the new cycle. The damage caused by Adam and Eve's sin was in the very foundation of mankind's existence. This damage has never been fully repaired. Every time we fulfill a commandment of the Torah we help to repair this damage. However, the full repair will only happen with the coming of Mashiach when the whole world will accept G'd and peace will return to earth, as at the time of Creation.
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