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Of all of the holidays, Sukkos, specifically, is referred to as “Zeman Simchaseinu - the time of our rejoicing.” Many reasons are given for this. Personally, I feel a special simchah today, baruch Hashem, as I begin the third cycle of sending words of Torah through the e-mail. I am encouraged by the many replies I get from those who tell me how much benefit they get from reading them, and many have sent me names and e-mail addresses of others to add to the list. I am also very grateful to the Shema Yisrael Network who place my weekly pieces in their Parshas Hashavua section at http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/index.htm. I pray that I will have the privilege to teach Hashem’s Torah to many, for many years to come.
The Commentators ask how can there be a mitzvah to love Hashem? Love is an emotion. Either I do or I don’t. And if I don’t feel that particular emotion, what can I possibly do about it? It’s not like putting on Tefillin, and the like, that the Torah can command me to just do it, even if I don’t really feel like it. Love is something which I have no control over. So how can the Torah command me to love the Almighty?
The answer, they explain, is that Man’s intellect controls his emotions, and by activating one’s mental power he can influence his feelings properly. For example, if you were to tell me how much you despise someone, but I were to surprise you by revealing to you that that very fellow is actually your best friend, you would probably not believe me. But if I would then tell you that he always talks good about you, to whomever he speaks, and he is your secret admirer, always trying to help you behind the scenes and protect you from harm, and he is the “secret benefactor” who paid your exorbitant grocery bill last week; you would immediately feel an overwhelming love for the same guy you detested until just a few moments ago. Why is that? Because your understanding brain aroused the proper emotion for him. Indeed, the wise King Shlomo said, “As in water, face answers face, so does the heart of man to man” (Mishlei 27:19). This means that just as one sees his own reflection in the waters, so does his heart reflect the feelings that are in the other person’s heart towards him. Therefore, if he meets someone who loves him, he, too, will feel affection for the other.
Therefore, the mitzvah of loving Hashem is fulfilled by contemplating upon the many gifts which the Almighty has bestowed upon us. This concentration will arouse the love we are commanded to have for Him; and this is the way to do it. In fact, the Chovos Halevavaos (Duties of the Heart) dedicated an entire section of his fantastic book listing the bountiful favors Hashem does for us from before we are born until after we die. It seems to me that the Sages did the same for us.
The mitzvah of loving Hashem appears in the Krias Shema (the recital of Shema Yisrael) which we read during the morning and the evening prayers. Right before each of them, we were instructed to read a paragraph which expresses Hashem’s incredible love for us. Perhaps it was placed there to help prepare us for the commandment to love Him, by describing how much He favors us. But here, it does not list the many benefits Hashem provided for us. Rather, the Rabbis chose the greatest one of all of them for us to ponder over and arouse our affection towards our Creator: the giving of the Torah to His beloved children. This priceless artifact, which the Angels wanted for themselves, was given solely to the Jewish People, as it says, “He has not dealt so with any other nation; and as for his ordinances, they have not known them; Hallelujah” (Tehillim 147:20). This should arouse within us a tremendous feeling of love for our Merciful Father, Who is so very good to us.
And if we think about it now, we will be very happy during the time of our rejoicing, and we will enjoy every moment in the sukkah with our family and friends. Perhaps this is why Sukkos leads into another great holiday, Simchas Torah. After feeling the spectacular joy of being gifted with the Torah all week long, our emotions can no longer be contained and they overflow in an expression of singing and dancing with the Torah, the greatest creation, the thing that made us a Nation, unique among all other ones.
But it is not merely the expression of simchah which is demanded of us; this joy should bring us to practical service; to learn Torah, at least a little bit, every single day of our lives, in whatever situation we find ourselves.
May Hashem grant us a very happy New Year, replete with joy in all of His blessings, and, most of all, the blessing of Torah which will protect us and bring us bliss in this world and the world-to-come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network