By Yochanan Gordon
Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres are the culmination of the holidays of Tishrei, which the Torah refers to as the holidays of the seventh month. The fact that they occur in the seventh month is significant because Chazal designates the number seven as a number that is inherently beloved by G-d. The seventh day is Shabbos, the seventh year is Shemittah, and the Jubilee, which is the 50th year, is the culmination of seven Shemittos. Another translation of the word “sheva,” using a sin as opposed to a shin, is “sova,” which means sated. This is important because more than just being punctuated with a confluence of holidays, the seventh month is a program towards spiritual wholesomeness, which one achieves by following the regimen from Rosh Hashanah through Simchas Torah.
One of the verses in the Torah that we would immediately recall in our preparation for Rosh Hashanah is the verse: “Tiku ba’chodesh shofar ba’keseh l’yom chagenu ki chok l’Yisrael hu mishpat l’Eilokei Yaakov—Sound in the month a shofar, which is concealed towards the day of our festivities…” On the word “ba’keseh,” Chazal write that Rosh Hashanah is the holiday on which the moon is concealed. However, that which is concealed on Rosh Hashanah is ultimately revealed on Sukkos, which is alluded to by the following words in the verse: “l’yom chagenu.”
There is a lot of overlap between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos. The word “ba’keseh,” which is spelled beis, chof, samach, hei, is an anagram of the word “b’sukkah,” which conveys this very point—namely, that which is concealed on Rosh Hashanah is revealed on Sukkos, which represents the completion of everything that began in gestation on Rosh Hashanah.
On that note, the 100 blasts of the shofar, which consist of 60 tekios, 20 shevarims, and 20 teruos, is precisely the numerical equivalent of the word “schach,” which is spelled samech, chof, chof, which is numerically 60, 20, and 20. There is another idea that I saw written in the sefer Ateres Rosh of the Mitteler Rebbe on Yom Kippur that the Ketores that the kohen gadol used in his avodah of Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies is manifest in a revealed sense as the schach, which hovers over our heads during the eight days of the yom tov of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres.
The associations and interplay between these holidays and even Chanukah, which many Chassidishe sefarim identify as being the real g’mar chasimah of the Yom HaDin, which began on Rosh Hashanah, are endless, and it is inspiring and capable of enriching our yom tov experience. However, it is often difficult to take these ideas from the spiritual realm within which they were conceived and internalize them to the point of concretization in our own lives.
There is a term in the sifrei Kabbalah and Chassidus that people drawn to that discipline would recognize with regard to Rosh Hashanah and that is “binyan ha’malchus.” When I was composing the ideas for this week’s yom tov issue in my mind, I took note of the term “binyan” with regards to G-d’s sovereignty as a clue in helping reframe much of the avodah of these hallowed times on a comprehensive, digestible, and practical manner.
In general, other than the fact that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the days of judgment, which gives urgency to the avodah in which we are engaged during those days, anyone who is involved in the study of Kabbalah knows that much of what is done spiritually on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is really done daily during certain parts of the davening and other times of the day. Therefore, establishing G-d’s sovereignty over ourselves and the world that we inhabit is very much tied to the ultimate objective, which G-d intended when it arose in His infinite will to create the world in the first place, which the Midrash Tanchuma attributes to a Divine desire of building a dwelling place for Himself in the lowest realms.
Using the analogy of the construction of a home or dwelling place, it would seem that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would be the foundation of that dwelling space upon which the sukkah of the seven/eight days of Sukkos stands. The sukkah is a temporary edifice that needs to be built in that manner, but it is to be treated as a permanent dwelling place during our sojourn within it over the duration of the Sukkot holiday. We see this from the words of the Gemara on the verse: “Ba’sukkos teishvu shiv’as yamim.” The Gemara states: “Teishvu k’ein taduru”—that one should supplant their living space from their homes into the sukkah, doing within the sukkah whatever they would have done in their homes during that time. So like many things within Jewish life, there seems to be an inherent contradiction in the mitzvah of sukkah, with the actual edifice being constructed temporarily and our manner of living within it being done on a permanent level.
If we look at the mitzvos associated with the yom tov of Sukkos, we will notice something rather interesting and unique. Beyond the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah, we also have the mitzvah of the four species. Many halachic codifiers treat these two mitzvos as separate and distinct from each other. However, the Ba’al HaTanya in his Shulchan Aruch HaRav codifies that the preferred manner in fulfillment of the mitzvah of the four minim is to take them within the sukkah. In the worldview of the founder of the Chabad movement and his successors over the past 250 years, our goal during the yom tov of Sukkos is to draw down, into our lives and religious practice, certain ethereal spiritual lights that are normally beyond the reach of mankind and to bring them within our daily practice.
In the Chassidic vernacular, these two lights are termed the enveloping light of G-d, or the “ohr ha’sovev kol olmin,” and the light that pervades and is tailored to the specific limitations of the world, termed the “ohr ha’memalei kol olmin,” the light that permeates and suffuses all of existence. In codifying that it is preferable to shake the four species within the walls of the sukkah, the Alter Rebbe is teaching that the spiritual lights that were generated over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which were manifest in a more physical and concrete level over Sukkos, are ultimately meant to be incorporated within our own lives and utilized in our service of Hashem and in our interaction with people.
If I could take this one step deeper I would say that our objective over Sukkos is to establish G-d’s sovereignty firmly and deeply within our hearts and souls. The dwelling place that G-d sought with the creation of the world was meant to be within our minds and our hearts. Like the famous anecdote with the Kotzker Rebbe, when a chassid asked him: “Rebbe, where is G-d?” and he answered, “Wherever you let Him in.”
Bearing this in mind, we need to return to the idea of the temporal and permanent dwelling. While the physical mitzvos of the yom tov are of critical importance in generating these lights and introducing them into our daily living, it is easy for us to get caught up in the body of the mitzvah while completely forgetting about its soul. Whatever we are doing by making the sukkah our temporary/permanent dwelling over yom tov and by shaking the lulav and esrog, it is not meant to end when the yom tov concludes; rather, it is meant to be the beginning of a process that carries us throughout the year. I would say that this is the intention of the Chabad aphorism, “Chassidim don’t say goodbye.” Where many Jews have a tradition to bazegenzich in the sukkah prior to the eve of the last day, Chabad doesn’t say goodbye because the objective of our practice during the holiday of Sukkos is meant to stay with us the whole year.
There is a story that is actually somewhat of a tradition within our family, as it was introduced by my great-grandfather and namesake. There was a particular year when there was a tremendous scarcity of the four species, and there was a wealthy Jew who got hold of a set from overseas and offered that the townspeople could come to his home over the yom tov to fulfill the biblical mitzvah of “u’lekachtem lachem b’yom ha’rishon.” Reb Hillel Paritcher, who was a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek and was the chassidic rav in the town of Paritch, had a very difficult time sleeping the entire first night in anticipation of fulfilling the mitzvah of the four minim. At around hashkamah time, he could no longer contain himself, and he headed for the house of the wealthy Jew in order to fulfill the mitzvah within the sukkah.
He knocks on the door and the man opens it, in his pajamas, looking strangely at Reb Hillel, reminding him that there are four hours until Shacharis and that there is plenty of time to fulfill the mitzvah. Reb Hillel apologized profusely but explained that he was twisting and turning all night, and when the moment arrived that he could legally fulfill the mitzvah, he could no longer contain himself.
Four hours later, among the other townspeople, the rav of the town arrived as well in order to fulfill the mitzvah right before davening. The Jew looked at the rav and remarked that Reb Hillel, the chassidic rav, had preceded him by about four hours.
“Nu, nu,” he responded, after which he headed to the sukkah to shake the four species. The next morning, the rav decided he that will awaken at the crack of dawn and get to the home of the wealthy benefactor before Reb Hillel. At the moment of halachic daybreak, the rav headed for the home of the gvir in order to fulfill the mitzvah bright and early, before his colleague Reb Hillel.
The wealthy Jew came to the door and saw that the town’s rav was there just about the same time that Reb Hillel had come the day before. He looked at the rav and said: “Yesterday, Reb Hillel came at the crack of dawn because he could not sleep all night at the prospect of doing the mitzvah at the first feasible moment. You have come bright and early today simply because “kein asah Hillel.’”
Wishing one and all a Chag Samei’ach.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.