Sukkot 5771 – Gilayon #669


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Sukkot

And you shall take for

yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a

branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice

before the Lord your God for a seven day period. (Vayikra 23:40)

 

My son, I already

wrote to you several times about the preceding matter, that a person is

affected by his habitual behavior, and his ideas and all his thoughts are led

by his deeds, be they good or evil. And so the Omnipresent wanted to favor His

chosen people Israel

and gave them many commandments so that their souls would constantly be

positively influenced by them. One of the commandments we were given in order

to focus our thoughts on His service in purity is that of tefillin, for

it is placed near those parts of the human body which are known to house the

mind; these are the heart and the brain. By constantly performing this act, all

of one's thoughts are directed towards the good, and one will remember and be

careful constantly, all day long, to guide one's actions honestly and justly.

Similarly, the commandment of the lulav and the three other species have this

rationale: the festival days are days of great joy for Israel, for it is the

season when the crops and the fruits of the trees are harvested and brought

home, and then people are very joyful, and therefore it is called Hag

Ha'asif – the harvest festival – and God commanded His people to make a

festival before Him in that season, to grant them merit when the joy is

principally in His honor. And since joy attracts the material [aspect of life]

and draws the fear of God out of it in that season, God commanded us to take

things in our hands to remind us that all our joy is for His sake. He wanted

this reminder to be something that brings joy, just as the season is a season

of joy, (for all His utterances are just) and it is known that these four species

naturally bring joy to those who see them. These four species also resemble the

dearest parts of man's body. The etrog is like the heart, which is the

seat of the intellect; it tells us that one should worship God with one's

intellect. The lulav is like the spine, which is the main part of man,

to tell us that one should straighten one's body to His service, may He be

blessed. The hadas is like the eyes, to tell us that one should not go

astray after one's eyes on the day of one's joy. The arava is like lips,

with which every person completes all his deeds with speech, to tell us that

one should restrain one's mouth and direct one's words, and fear the Lord even

during the season of joy.

(Sefer HaHinukh 224)

 

From a Real

Place and an Imaginary Place

Moshe Meir

The

Torah instructs us to dwell in a sukka on the festival which takes place on the

fifteenth day of the seventh month. What is a sukka? The Torah does not say.

Apparently, it was a term known to speakers of the language: a sukka is the

structure which people call a "sukka." Everyone knows what a sukka

is, and therefore everyone knows what kind of structure they must dwell in

during the festival.

When

the term "sukka" reached the Sages linguistic laboratory, it

underwent analysis and reconstruction:

A

sukka taller than twenty cubits is invalid; R. Yehuda accepts it. And one that

does not reach a height of [at least] ten handbreadths, or does not have [at

least] three walls, or which lets in more sunlight than it gives shade, is

invalid. (Sukka 1;1)

As

usual, the Mishnah uses cases to formulate a definition. The student must

derive the concepts from the cases. Why is a sukka taller than twenty cubits

invalid? The Talmud presents a series of explanations. According to the plain

meaning of the Mishnah, a tall sukka constitutes a permanent rather than a

temporary dwelling, and the sukka must be a temporary structure.

Why

is a sukka less than ten handbreadths tall invalid? Why is it invalid if it has

less than three walls? Why is it invalid if it lets in more sunlight than

shade? One gets the impression that in all of these cases the structure is so

impermanent that it does not even count as a structure. That is to say, the

analysis of the concept "sukka" leads the Sages to decide that it is

composed of two opposing concepts: "home" [bayit] and

"impermanent" [ara'i]. Some laws derive from the concept

"home" and the necessary conditions for its application; others

derive from the concept "impermanent" and from the necessary

conditions of its application.

This

is only the beginning of the intellectual drama surrounding the term

"sukka." Now the Mishnah – and in its wake, the Talmud – sets sail

for abstract and fascinating regions of thought. Partially built walls are

completed by the powers of the imagination in accordance with the dictum,

"the partitions are deemed to be continued upward" [gud asik

mehitzata]. This refers to the continuation of the walls in thought and

imagination, making them – in the abstract rather than the real – complete.

Parts of walls become whole walls through the principle of lavud

["compact"]. Through the power of the imagination, four boards become

a wall, and walls grow upwards, taking over areas of invalid skhakh,

transforming them into valid walls and leaving the valid areas to serve as

valid skhakh. Thus develops the mixture of "home" and

"impermanent" – the final balanced product of this process combines

the real with complementary imagination.

What

is going on here? What is the point of this bizarre trek through changing

shapes and forms, creating abstract sukkot that rise beyond the tangible and

flawed structures?

The

sukka is an enclosed space. Space, area, place – these are all different names

for a single basic phenomenon characterizing existence. The philosopher Kant

taught us that space is a category, that is to say, it does not belong to that

which exists but rather to our mind which organizes the existents. Our

experiential "eyeglasses" cannot perceive existents without space.

"Everything has its place."

The

word Hamakom ["the Place"] is used to refer to God in

religious language but it is also a fundamental element in the picture

presented by the Jewish sources. In contrast with other myths, the Torah does

not grant us the privilege of being native to our place. Abram was born outside

the place to which he went. We will always feel like strangers in our land

because our roots are not here but rather there. And he saw the place from

afar is said of him when he set forth to the foundational Akeda, and

we too always see our place from afar. We go to it, reach it, but never

completely. There is always a place beyond to which we must continue to travel.

The

Sages sensitively felt that the sukka offers an opportunity to deal with the

concept of space. They turn the building of the sukka into the shaping of

space. They felt that this space involves a bizarre combination of opposites –

"home" and "impermanent" – and they built their world of

combinations around it. This world builds a space that is only partially

tangible and which is completed by creative rational imagination.

What

attitude towards life is expressed here? Is it narrowly related to the notion

of sukka, or does it have wider application? Perhaps here they felt something

about place more generally? Perhaps they felt that the place we seek for

ourselves will always be composed of some tangible reality plus creative

complementary imagination? Perhaps this is the continuation of the sources

which established that our place is the both tangible place to which we are

going as well as an imaginary place to which we are always going but which we

will never reach.

The

question of place is critical for the fate of the Jewish People. Zionism tipped

the course of history, returning the people to the land from which it was

exiled. Religious Zionism joined it, sure that this return is a voice calling

out to us from our Jewish sources. The journey did not end with this return,

rather it began with it. Since Zionism's earliest days we continue to be held

in the grip of the question of place and are unsure how to answer it. More than

sixty years have passed since the founding of our state, and we have yet to

draw our place's borders. The disagreement between left and right concerns the

question of place. Both sides – discounting a minority – recognize the gap

between the place delineated for us by the sources – "the promised

borders" – and the actual place that we can possess. Our place is like a

sukka; it is partially real and partially completed through imagination and the

sources. The Sages opened up a way for us to understand that the place we are

building for ourselves will always be formed of these two elements – reality

and creative imagination.

Perhaps

it is not accidental that tradition created the phrase sukkat shalom.

The place which brings tranquility to us – and perhaps to our neighbors as well

– will always be a place composed of reality and of dreams. We will continue to

argue about the relative proportions of those elements, but perhaps we will

reach agreement concerning the basic recipe, the recipe of peace.

 

The seventy Bulls

of the Festival for the Seventy Nations of the World

Just as this dove atones for sins, so does Israel atone for the nations, for

all those seventy bulls which are sacrificed on the festival are on behalf of

the seventy nations, so that the world not be bereft of them, as is

written, They answer my love with accusation but I am all prayer (Psalms 109).

(Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1).

 

Seventy bulls. The bulls of the festival total 70, except for that of

the eighth [day], given on behalf of the seventy nations, to atone for them so

that rain will fall throughout the world, for on Sukkoth the world is

judged for water.

(Rashi, Sukka 35b)

 

R. Yehoshua of Sikhnin said in the name of R. Levi: Great is shalom,

for all blessings conclude with peace. In the Kriyat Shema: "Who

spreads the sukkah of shalom…," in the [Amidah] prayer:

"Who creates shalom…," in the priestly benediction:

"And give you shalom." This is true for benedictions, from

where do we know that this is true regarding sacrifices? The Torah teaches: This

is the Instruction concerning the offering-up… and concerning the

slaughter-offering of shalom. Thus we have sources for this world, from

where do learn about the next world? The Torah teaches, I will extend to her

shalom like a stream. Our Sages taught: Great is peace, for when the

Anointed King will arrive, he will begin with peace, as is written, How

welcome on the mountain are the footsteps of the herald announcing shalom.

(Yalkut Shimoni,

Bamidbar 6:711)

 

Clouds of Glory Point to Human Dependence on God and Encourage

Humility

For a

seven day period you shall live in sukkot – in parallel to the clouds of glory.

Every resident

among the Israelites shall live in sukkot – the stranger does not have to be told this because

he has no other home, but the residents and those settled in Israel must

dwell in sukkot, even if they own houses and large

palaces. This festival is set for the time that grain and grapes are harvested

lest their hearts become haughty over their houses that are full of all good

things, and they say our hands produced all of this wealth. Dwelling in the sukka will bring them to praise and thank He who gave them

hereditary lands and houses full of all good things.

(Hizkuni Vayikra 23:42)

 

Kohellet and Sukkot 

It appears to me that a connection between the custom of reading

Kohellet on Sukkoth is to be found in the words of R. Yonatan in Yalkut

Kohellet: "R. Yonatan said, first the Song of Songs was composed,

followed by Proverbs, and then Kohellet. R. Yonatan derived this from

the way of the world: when young he sings songs; when mature, he recites

parables; when old, he speaks of vanities…"

(Yalkut Shimoni,

Kohellet, 1:965)

 

The three pilgrimage festivals signify this cycle in the seasons of the

year: In spring-which parallels youth-on Pesach we read the Song of Songs (the

time of singing has come); in the season of harvest and the ripening of

first fruits, we read the Scroll of Ruth, which makes mention of the wheat

harvest; and in the [produce] gathering, we read Kohellet, which makes

reference to man's last days, ending with The sum of the matter.

(Mordecai Zer-Kavod, from

his preface to his commentary on Kohellet in "Daat Mikra")

 

Good for the Just – Justice is the Good 

For the same fate is in store for all: for the righteous and for the

wicked, for the good and the pure, and for the impure, for him who sacrifices, and

for him who does not… and for him who swears and for him who shuns oaths" (Kohellet 8:2) – "It will not be

well with the wicked and-like a shadow-he will not live long, because he does

not revere God.

(Kohellet 8:13)

 

The Righteous-Wicked issue is repeated in Kohellet. The author declares

that one fate lies in store for both, who are in equal degree exposed to life's

changes and nature's scourges. But along with this we read; For I am aware

that it will be well with those who revere God since they revere Him; and it

will not be well with the wicked.

The obvious question is, "good" in what sense?

Regarding the wicked it does not say that that he will be punished;

punishment is not mentioned at all, for Kohellet has already declared that

there is One fate for the righteous and for the wicked. He is talking

about denial of good from the wicked. This again teaches us that the

good which is the portion of those who revere God, will be denied the wicked

who will remain with his foolishness/wickedness.

(Y. Leibowitz: Sihot al

Haggei Yisrael Umo'adav, pg. 206)

 

What is Good for Man?

The antithesis between

the constantly repeated question – what is good for man? (and

nothing is discovered which actually is good for man) – and the final verse,

which does not say what is good for man but rather what is the totality

of man – that is to say, what is the significance of human existence in a

world in which nothing is good for man? – this antithesis proves that the final

verse is not an addendum tacked on by a God-fearing Jew who had been shocked by

the skepticism and heresy found in the author's words. It is rather quite the

opposite: that verse expresses the author's own main intention. Kohelet does

not say fear God and observe His commandments, for that is good for man.

Rather, he says in a demonstrative and blatant fashion: for that is the totality

of man. Here faith and the service of God are seen as independent

values, not as means for the gain of benefit.

(From Prof. Yeshayahu

Leibowitz z"l's He'arot le'Parashiyot Ha'Shavu'a pg. 137.)

 

What is occurring occurred long since, and what is to occur

occurred long since; and God seek the pursued.

(Kohelet 3:15)

 

In connection with that which is written, and God seeks the pursued

Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Yosef: In the future, God will

exact the blood of the pursued from their pursuers:

A righteous man pursues a righteous man – and God seeks the pursued,

A wicked man pursues a wicked man, or a wicked man pursues a righteous

man – and God seeks the pursued.

You are found implying: Even if a righteous man pursues a wicked man,

in any case: and God seeks the pursued.

Know that it is such, for Abel was pursued by Cain, and therefore the

Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid

no heed (Bereishit 4:4-5). Noah was

pursued by [the people of] his generation, and it is written that Noah found

favor with the Lord (4:8). Abraham

was pursued by Nimrod, and it is written, You are the Lord God who chose

Abram, who brought him out of Ur

of the Chaldeans (Nehemiah 9:7).

Isaac was pursued by the Philistines, and it is written, and they said,

"We have plainly seen that the Lord has been with you, and we thought: Let

there be a sworn treaty between our two parties, between you and us (Bereishit 26:28). Jacob was pursued by Esau,

and it is written, for the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel,

as His treasured possession (Psalms 135:4).

Joseph was pursued by his brother, and it is written, the Lord was with Joseph,

and he was a successful man; and he stayed in the house of his Egyptian master

(Bereishit 39:2). Moses was pursued by

Pharaoh, and it is written, had not Moses His chosen one confronted Him in

the breach to avert His destructive wrath (Psalms

106:23). Israel

is pursued by idolaters, and it is written, the Lord chose you to be His

treasured people (Devarim 14:2).

Rabbi Yehudah ben Simon says in the name of Rabbi Nehorai: The ox is chased by

the lion, the lamb by the wolf, the goat by the leopard – God said: Bring only

the pursued before Me as offerings – the ox, or the lamb, or the goat.

 (Tanhuma Emor, 9)

 

 

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