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Adapted from Sifsei Chaim, by Rav Chaim Friedlander, zt"l.

Gemara Avoda Zora 2a:

In times to come, the Holy One, blessed be He, will put a scroll of the Torah in His lap and proclaim: "Let he who has occupied himself with the Torah come and take his reward." Thereupon all the nations will together in a disorderly crowd The Holy One, blessed be He, will then say to them: "Don't come before Me in confusion, let each nation come in with its wise men. Thereupon the Kingdom of Rome [Edom] will enter first before Him. The Holy One, blessed be He, will then say to them: "What have you occupied yourselves with?" They will reply: "O Lord of the Universe, we have established many market-places, we have erected many baths, we have accumulated much gold and silver, and all this we did only for the sake of Israel, that they might [have free time] for occupying themselves with the study of the Torah." The Holy One, blessed be He, will say in reply: "Foolish people, all that which you have done, was only to satisfy your selfish desires. You have established marketplaces to place harlots therein; baths, to party in them; [as to the distribution of] silver and gold, that is mine, as it is written: Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, said the Lord of Hosts. They will then depart crushed in spirit. Upon the departure of the Kingdom of Rome, Persia [representing the Arabs] will step forth. The Holy One, blessed be He, will ask of them: "Wherewith have you occupied yourselves?"; and they will reply "Sovereign of the Universe, we have built many bridges, we have captured many cities, we have waged many wars, and all this for the sake of Israel, that they might engage in the study of the Torah. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them: "Foolish people, you have built bridges in order to extract toll, you have subdued cities, so as to impose forced labor; as to waging war, I am the Lord of battles, as it is said: The Lord is a man of war. And so will every nation fare in turn. The Brisker Rav explains the argument between Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the Nations. We would have thought that Hashem should have answered them, "Liars, everything you did was for your own ulterior motives." Instead, they were labeled "Fools." Obviously they weren't lying. What they say is absolutely true. The Universe was created for the sake of Israel and for Torah. Everything that has happened since Creation, every discovery in the world, every advancement in civilization, has been for this purpose alone, for Yisroel and Torah. This is what the nations are really doing. They make markets and bath-houses. They think it for themselves; the reality is that in Heaven everything is being orchestrated for Israel's sake. Every new invention or discovery is for this purpose. At present, we don't understand how everything is happening for our sake, but in the future everything will become crystal clear to everyone. The world will be flooded with a new knowledge and it will become evident to all the real purpose of every advance of civilization. Even the Nations of the world will come to the realization that everything they did, for whatever reason they did it, was really to help Yisroel learn Torah. All their wars, all their building, all their advances of technology, were in reality for us. Once they come to that understanding, they will run to receive their reward. We did it, didn't we? We deserve to be rewarded for helping the Jews.

But Hakadosh Baruch Hu will answer them, fools that you are, everything you did was for yourselves. You never intended to help the Yidden learn Torah, therefore you deserve nothing. Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewards good deeds only when the deed was performed with good intentions.

The nations will then contend: "Lord of the Universe, [You never forced us] to keep the Torah. Did You suspend the mountain over us as You had done to Israel and did we decline to accept it? Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it." But the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, "You foolish people, one who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath can eat on the Sabbath, but he who has not troubled [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? Nevertheless, I have an easy command that won't cost you any money; it is called Succah; go and carry it out. Immediately every one of them will run off and go and make a Succah on the top of his roof; but the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the Summer Solstice. Then every one of them will trample down his booth and run away. (But you have just said "The Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal unfairly with His creatures? [Why give them a mitzvah and then make it impossible for them to perform?] - True! Doesn't it occasionally happen also with the Jews that the summer solstice extends till the Festival [of Succos] and they are aggravated [by the heat]. But does not Raba say: He who is suffering is thereby freed from dwelling in the Succah? - Granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Jews contemptuously trample it down?) Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, will laugh at them, as it is said, He that sits in heaven laughs. Said R. Yitzchak: "It is only on that day that there is laughter for the Holy One, blessed be He!"

Let us try to understand this gemara. In that future time, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu will want to offer the nations a second chance, He will obviously choose a mitzvah which fits the bill. Why will He choose Succah? Secondly, why does He accent that it is an easy command that won't cost any money? It seems that it was specifically these qualities which will end the debate between the Nations and Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

The Ramchal explains this very clearly. There are 2 types of mitzvos. There are mitzvos that depend fundamentally upon the performance of the mitzvah. The simple performance of the mitzvah is the will of the Creator. In such cases the intent behind the mitzvah is laudatory, but not absolutely necessary. The bottom line is the performance of the mitzvah. (See Nefesh HaChaim Chap. 5, between Shaar 3 and 4.) One who performs the dry action of the mitzvah, even though he put no intent into it whatsoever (except the realization that it is a mitzvah) has satisfied his obligation. Understanding the deeper meanings creates a hiddur mitzvah, but is not necessary to fulfill one's basic obligation.

However, there is a second type of mitzvah: using the world in order to serve the Ribono Shel Olam. We can turn our ordinary activities into mitzvos. Then the physical performance alone is insufficient to create a mitzvah. One's intentions during the performance of these actions actually creates the mitzvah. In such a case, in order to turn mundane actions into a mitzvah, he must inject the right intentions into it. It should be solely for the Sake of Heaven and not for the sake of his personal pleasure. For example, one eats in order to be healthy in order to continue serving Hashem. His intention is the mitzvah. If one eats merely for pleasure, this act is no mitzvah at all.

In the future, the Nations will claim that they acted with the noble intent of helping Israel study Torah. Their actions [according to their claim] are of the second type of mitzvah, and so they deserve reward. Hakadosh Baruch Hu answers them that this type of mitzvah depends upon ones motivation, and since they had absolutely no intention of helping Israel, they can't claim any reward. These actions weren't mitzvos, they were selfishly motivated.

The Nations will then demand a second chance. Give us a mitzvah and give us advance warning that this is a mitzvah. Then we'll do it with the proper intent. We know that Hakadosh Baruch Hu never comes with unfair claims, so He will give them the mitzvah of Succah. An easy mitzvah that doesn't cost anything.

Succah appears like the second category. It entails eating, drinking and sleeping as activities of mitzvah. However, it is really of those first types of mitzvos. Merely the dry performance gains it the status of mitzvah. You need no sublime intentions. All you have to do is eat and drink in the Succah, and you have performed a mitzvah. This was His test. Can they perform such a simple mitzvah that demands nothing of them, not even any sublime thoughts? Do they have the stamina to perform such an easy task?

Moreover, it doesn't cost anything! Just go into the forest and get some branches and you have a Succah. Why accent this detail? Why will Hakadosh Baruch Hu give the goy specifically a mitzvah that costs nothing?

There are many types of korbonos. The kodshei kalim (light sanctity) are eaten mainly by the owner. The kodshei kodoshim (severe sanctity) are eaten by the Kohanim. Besides the standard obligatory sacrifices, everyone has the option of donating a korban. He can offer a Sh'lomim or a Todah - different forms of kodshei kalim of which he can make a feast for his family and friends. A goy, however, can only bring an Olah (a burnt offering). This korban goes entirely onto the mizbe'ach and is offered in its entirety to Hashem. A goy cannot understand how to be spiritual and enjoy this world at the same time. In order to gain spirituality, one must forgo physical pleasures and devote oneself entirely to G-d (that's why monks and nuns never marry). They can't fathom getting physical pleasure while involved in a highly spiritual activity. The world is either materialistic or spiritual; you can't have both. Therefore, an offering to Heaven has to go entirely up onto the Alter. Donating to the spiritual cause is a one-way street and it costs money.

However, even though the goy's view of mitzvos is limited to giving to Heaven, it is not a complete giving. The gemara (Rosh Hashana 4a) delineates a primary difference between a goy and a Yid. "One who says this dollar should be tzedaka in order that my son should live [even though in the end his son dies] it is considered tzedaka." This only applies to a Jew, not to a goy. Rashi explains that a Yid donates leshaim Shomayim. Even though they were hoping that the zechus of the mitzvah would bring about a certain result, when something bad happens instead, he doesn't regret what he did. Rather he assumes that it was a result of his own shortcomings.

A goy, on the other hand donates with the intention of getting something in return. It's a business deal. I give You, You give me. The mitzvah is not purely motivated; it is merely a means of getting something out of Heaven. And if the reward is not fast in coming, he sours and cries foul. His motivation is selfish and not altruistic. Therefore, he will regret having ever performed the mitzvah in the first place.

So Hashem will test them with a new idea, a mitzvah that doesn't cost anything. It's free. You can give without losing anything. Not only that, but you can eat and drink in the Succah. You get something in return. It's really easy. Like nothing you've ever had. But there's a catch. Why are you sitting there? You're sitting in the Succah in order to serve Hashem. You're enjoying Olam Hazeh, but really, you're performing a mitzvah and this is Divine Service.

Hashem will test the nations with this "easy" mitzvah, that doesn't cost anything. All they have to do is sit in the succah and eat a meal. What could be easier? Then He will take out a scorching hot August sun. And what happens in such a heat wave? We are freed from our obligation to sit in the Succah. You sit in the Succah as long as you would sit in your house. If you would leave your house, you don't have to suffer in the Succah.

Then the goyim will run out of the Succah, angry, breaking it down. Why? This proves that what they were doing was not selfless, not altruistic. They were not using this world as a means of pleasing Hashem, to give Him satisfaction that His people are so devoted. Rather their sole intention is to get something out of Hashem, total selfishness. And if the mitzvah can't help them get the result they are expecting; if by suffering they lose their mitzvah of Succah, then they don't need this mitzvah; it's worthless, it's a burden. They totally regret ever sitting in such a place that gave them nothing in return.

Jews are different. Our goal in sitting in the Succah is to please Hashem. This is our way of giving Him something. And even though we get something out of it, our primary intention is to perform Hashem's service and do His will. When something happens, it gets too hot, or it rains, we don't run out of the Succah complaining that Heaven has dealt us a bum deal. Instead, we feel bad we weren't worthy of this mitzvah and daven that the hindrance should end and we can be worthy of performing the mitzvah. This is the greatness of Klal Yisroel. Every mitzvah is performed first and foremost for the sake of Heaven, and not for selfish motives.

Succah is a very special mitzvah. It has the qualities of both categories. Basically, all one has to do is sit and eat in the Succah with no special Kavanos. As long as he knows he is sitting in the Succah, that's enough. [There is, however, a hiddur mitzvah to think that one is sitting in the Succah in remembrance of the - the Clouds of Glory - ".) Additionally, the mitzvah of Succah is accomplished through normal daily routines, eating and sleeping. When one sits in his Succah having his supper, and he thinks that this very common act of life has been transformed into a special mitzvah, he is engraving on his consciousness an idea he can take with him the entire year. Everything we do can be transformed into a mitzvah merely through the proper kavanos.

The mitzvah of Succah is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the chessed of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the greatness of Klal Yisroel. It's such an easy mitzvah, and yet so holy. A kedusha descends down onto the Succah, it acutally becomes sanctified like a korban (Succah 9a). By sitting and eating and drinking in the Succah we are given the opportunity to turn our materialistic values into spiritual goldmines.

This is our job when we sit in the Succah. Don't be satisfied with externalities. Internalize the depth within the Succah, feel that Hashem's Name has descended onto the Succah, and then you will be able to turn physical values into eternal spirituality.

It's cheap. And it's easy.

Gut Yom Tov!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
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