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Once, on the festival of Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism) told his disciples:
"On Simchat Torah people generally oversleep a bit because of the late festival meal and the dancing of the night before. But the angels do not have this sort of schedule, so naturally, they 'wake' up on Simchat Torah at the same time as usual. The angels want to begin chanting their songs of praise to G-d, but they are not permitted to do so until the Jews begin their prayers. So off they go to tidy up the Garden of Eden-Paradise.
"Now, in the Garden of Eden, the angels find articles they have never before encountered. What could these things be? The Garden is strewn with soles of shoes! The angels are mystified. They are accustomed to finding prayer books, Shabbat candles, coins for charity, tefilin, and mezuzot in the Garden, but shoe soles?
Off the angels go to question the angel Michael*. The angel Michael explains to them that this is his doing-these soles and slippers are the result of Jews dancing with the Torah. Lovingly, the angel begins collecting the soles. "These are from Kaminka and these from Mezeritch," and so on, he enumerates.
Then the angel Michael proudly insists that he is superior to the angel who binds crowns for the Creator from the prayers of the Jewish people. "The torn soles of Simchat Torah make a finer crown," he declares.
Many of us aren't gifted with a "good" head. Not everyone has a kind and caring heart. But most everyone has feet with which to dance and hands with which to clap.
And we all have voices with which to sing-though some of us are more in tune than others.
The festival of Sukkot is referred to as the "Season of Our Rejoicing." In addition to participating in the mitzvot (commandments) of eating in a sukka, and shaking the lulav and etrog, we have been given the additional mitzva to rejoice and be happy.
During Sukkot itself, in commemoration of a special service that used to take place in the Holy Temple, celebrations take place in Jewish communities all over the world. At these celebrations, known as Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva, Jews celebrate in a manner in which all Jews are truly equal, by rejoicing!
The dancing and festivities of Sukkot and Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva culminate in the whirling and twirling and uninhibited exuberance of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice equally with the Torah, not with heads and hearts, nor with our wallets, but with feet and shoes and with the soles that are later collected in the Garden of Eden and woven into a most luminous and fine crown for the Creator.
Celebrate with your family, with friends and with your feet during the upcoming "Season of Our Rejoicing." Get out there and exercise your soles and your soul simultaneously!
*) The angel Michael is the angel of loving-kindness. He is responsible for bestowing upon the Jewish people blessings of children, health, and wealth.
At the end of the Torah portion of Haazinu, G-d commanded Moses to go up onto Mount Nebo, telling Moses that he would pass away there. "G-d spoke to Moses in the essence of this day, saying: 'Ascend the mountain...' "
Rashi explains that the Jewish people attempted to try to stop Moses from ascending the mountain where he was going to die, but G-d did not allow them to.
Why would the Jewish people think that they had any power to do anything to stop Moses from dying, when life and death is in G-d's hands?
Moses had taught the Jewish people the laws of the First Fruits, that when we settle the land of Israel, we are obligated to give our first fruits to G-d. At the core of this mitzva is the obligation to show thanks for the good G-d does for us - and by extension to a person who does something for us -- especially while we are benefiting from it.
The Jewish people were enjoying and benefiting from Moses's leadership and from the miracles that were done in his merit. They reasoned that if there was a way to show their gratefulness by somehow annulling the decree, they would be obligated to do so.
They found the basis in G-d's teaching, first, that the command to go up onto the mountain was commanded to Moses alone, not to them. And, because G-d made Moses's dying contingent on him going up the mountain; the Jewish people understood that this was allowing the possibility that they could block Moses up from going up the mountain at the prescribed time, and thereby avert the decree.
On a deeper level, they reasoned that, even though the passing of Moses had already been decreed, it is a decree over the entire community. The rule is that the Teshuva of the whole community can overturn such a heavenly decree, even if it has already been signed and sealed. On three prior occasions, they had seen Moses' prayer overturn a Divine decree. So they understood that they too had something of this power deep inside them.
Each of us has a part of Moses inside of us, in the depths of our souls. One might think, "If G-d wants my Torah study and mitzvahs, why did He make the Moses inside me hidden? All I seem to feel, are the desires of my animal soul.
The answer is, that G-d did it for our benefit. Because to bring out the essence, can only be done through effort and toil. And when you reveal and redeem the Moses inside of you, you begin to see that what you thought were hardships, were actually what made it possible for your personal redemption. Your personal redemption, will then lead to the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Rabbi Yehuda Clapman is a sofer (scribe) who lives with his family in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He told the following story:
It was 1970. I had moved to Crown Heights.
Before Sukkot, Reb Elye Gross asked me if I had already bought an etrog. This would be my first year buying an etrog from Calabria, Italy that Chabad Chasidim are careful to purchase.
When I replied that I had not yet purchased my etrog, Reb Elye suggested that I go to a certain individual to buy an etrog from him. He explained that this person needed the sales.
I obliged and I went to this person's home where he sold the etrogim. I was going to search for a nice etrog.
(As part of the mitzva of the "Four Kinds" which includes the lulav and etrog that we make a blessing over on Sukkot, it says specifically regarding the etrog that it should be a beautiful fruit. People spend much time, effort and money to assure that the etrog is as perfect and beautiful as possible in fulfillment of the command to "enhance" the mitzva.)
I looked around for a while. The etrogim looked to me more like Batampte pickles than beautiful etrogim! I couldn't find any etrog that pleased my fancy. But, being that I was the only "shopper" in this person's private home it was uncomfortable for me to leave.
A few moments later, Reb Elye walked in. He picked up an etrog, asked how much it cost, paid the person and turned to leave. I was able to leave with him with a mumbled goodbye.
After we left, I asked Reb Elye, "What nice etrog were you able to find here? I'm here for a good while and I couldn't find anything reasonable."
Reb Elye answered me, "For me, a mehuderdike (beautiful) etrog is to give a Jew income for the holiday in a respectable way!"
In fact, Reb Elye explained to me, he hadn't even taken one of the "nicer" etrogim he had seen. He thought that perhaps others would come to buy and if he took one of the nicer ones they would leave empty-handed.
I was very impressed by this entire encounter, to say the least.
On the Sukkot holiday, I met Reb Elye in shul. In my curiosity I checked to see what etrog was he really using. I was thinking that for sure he bought himself another beauty of an etrog elsewhere (as he was capable of doing), and that this other etrog that I saw him buy, he bought just to support that merchant for the holiday.
When I saw the etrog that he was using I was astonished. He actually used the etrog that I had seen him buy.
I was so touched by what I witnessed, that I decided that I must write to the Rebbe this beautiful story of pure Ahavat Yisrael - love of one's fellow Jew.
Somewhat hesitantly I went to the Rebbe's office. I told the Rebbe's secretary the story and asked if it would be appropriate to write the story out and give it to the Rebbe.
The secretary was clearly not pleased with my question. He responded a little sharply, "Every day the Rebbe gets letters full of negativity, sadness and problem. And here you have a beautiful story of pure Ahavat Yisrael which would give the Rebbe so much pleasure, and you are hesitating to write?"
I got the message! I went to a person I knew in Crown Heights who had beautiful handwriting. He was also a masterful writer and poet. I told him the story. He retold the story with poetry and charm. He used special paper and he wrote it with gorgeous lettering and in a beautiful style. When he finished, I went to the Rebbe's office and hand the letter for the Rebbe to the secretary.
The next day I got a call from the Rebbe's secretary. He said, "I have no answer for you from the Rebbe, but I will describe to you what happened with your letter.
"I put your letter on top of the pile of letters I brought into the Rebbe. I wanted your letter to be the first letter the Rebbe saw, so the Rebbe could read it first. Sure enough the Rebbe took your letter immediately and started reading. I stayed at the door and watched as the Rebbe read.
"The Rebbe started reading, and I noticed that he was not reading it quickly as he would do many times, but rather I saw that he was concentrating and reading your letter word by word and line by line. As the Rebbe progressed in reading your letter line by line, I saw the Rebbe's smile grow bigger and bigger!
"Your letter caused the Rebbe much nachas (pleasure and joy)!"
Let's all celebrate a beautiful Sukkot holiday of unity in these first days of the new year!
Gut Yomtov! L'Chaim v'Livrocho (cheers and blessings).
Rabbi Yehuda Clapman has been a sofer for over 50 years. He first knew he wanted to be a scribe when he was five years old after his father explained to him all the intricacies involved in the writing of a new Torah.
As in previous years, if you're in Manhattan, visit one of the Lubavitch Youth Organization's public sukkas during the intermediate days of the holiday. They will be open: September 16 & 17 - 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, Friday, September 18 - 10:00 am - 4:00. Sunday, Sept. 20 - 10:00 am - 1:00 PM. The Sukkas are: The United Nations Sukka, located in Ralph Bunch Park, near the Isaiah Wall across from the United Nations on First Avenue and 42nd Street; Sukka at Foley Square, near Worth Street; across the Federal Court House. The Wall Street Sukka located on the cobblestones in Bowling Green Park, in lower Manhattan. The Garment Center Sukka in Herald Square across from Macy's. For more information call (718) 778-6000. To find out about public sukkot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Two Weeks in One
This current issue of L'Chaim is for the entire Sukkot holiday. Issue 1594 is for 26 Tishrei/October 25 for the Torah portion of Bereshit.
18th of Elul, 5738 (1977)
Excerpts from a freely translated letter
...It has often been pointed out that man's mission in life includes also "elevating" the environment in which he lives, in accordance with the Divine intent in the entire Creation and in all its particulars, by infusing holiness and G-dliness into all the aspects of the physical world within his reach - in the so-called "Four Kingdoms" - domeim, tzome'ach, chai and medaber (inorganic matter, vegetable, animal, and man).
Significantly, this finds expression in the special mitzvoth (commandments) which are connected with the beginning of the year, by way of introduction to the entire year - in the festivals of the month of Tishrei:
The mitzvah of the sukkah, the Jew's house of dwelling during the seven days of Sukkoth, where the walls of the sukkah represent the "inorganic kingdom";
The mitzvah of the "four kinds" - esrog, lulav, myrtle and willow - which come from the "vegetable kingdom";
The mitzvah of shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar being a horn of an animal;
And all of these things (by virtue of being Divine commandments, mitzvoth) are elevated through the medaber, the "speaking" (human) being - the person carrying out the said (and all other) mitzvoth, whereby he elevates also himself and mankind - Both in the realm of doing as well as that of not doing - the latter is represented in the mitzvah of the fast on the Holy Day, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
Thus, through infusing holiness into all four kingdoms of the physical world and making them into "vessels" (and instruments) of G-dliness in carrying out G-d's command - a Jew elevates them to their true perfection.
It also follows that just as in regard to his personal perfection, which is expected to rise in harmony with his rising state, so also in regard to the four kingdoms he is expected (and given the ability) to raise, from time to time, the state of perfection to which he elevates them (as explained above) - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in the manner of doing the mitzvoth (where there can be grades of performance, such as acceptable post facto; good to begin with; according to unanimous opinion; with enhancement, etc.) and their inner content.
G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity...
Taking into account the assurance that G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity, it is certain that, notwithstanding the fact that only a few days remain until the conclusion of the year, everyone, man or woman, can achieve utmost perfection in all the aforesaid endeavors, according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory - "by one 'turn,' in one instant," since the person so resolved receives aid from G-d, the absolute Ein Sof (Infinite), for Whom there are no limitations.
May G-d grant that the efforts to achieve utmost perfection in the outgoing year and the good resolutions to achieve perfection in all the abovementioned matters each day of the coming year, should bring down upon everyone G-d's blessings in all needs, material and spiritual, also in complete measure - "Out of His full, open, holy, and ample Hand."
And - very soon indeed - the complete blessing given to all the Jewish people and to each individual, "And (G-d's) Sukkah - the Holy Temple - will be in Shalem" - the city complete with goodness and holiness, Jerusalem, at the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Moshiach.
KETURA means "incense." Abraham married Ketura after Sara passed away (Genesis 25:1). Most commentators agree that Ketura was the name given to Hagar - who Abraham had married at Sara's behest and the mother of Ishmael - when she returned to Abraham.
KATRIEL means "G-d is my crown." In the Ashkenazic pronunciation it is Kasriel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week, starting on Sunday evening, we are celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. It is special in many ways, teeming with mitzvot and customs with far-reaching spiritual implications.
We were commanded by G-d to celebrate Sukkot as a reminder of the sukkot - booths - in which we dwelled while in the Sinai desert. According to some opinions, the sukka commemorates the actual booths and temporary dwellings the Jews lived in. However, other opinions consider these sukkot as a reminder of the Clouds of Glory with which G-d surrounded and protected us during the sojourn in the desert. Obviously, the sukka itself is a major aspect of the holiday.
It is not surprising, then, that our upcoming holiday is known almost exclusively by the name Sukkot.
There are other mitzvot that we perform every day or most days of the festival, though, such as blessing the lulav and etrog, and saying the special "Hoshana" prayers. Why, one might ask, is the festival known specifically for the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka?
The answer lies in the unique nature of the mitzva of sukka. Every other mitzva a person performs involves a particular limb or part of the body: tefillin, for instance, are wrapped around the head and arm; Shabbat candles are lit using the hand; Prayers are said with the mouth.
The sukka, however, is different. It surrounds and encompasses the entire person from head to toe. It envelops the person who sits within its temporary walls with the holiness of the mitzva.
May the Jewish people merit to witness what we read in the "Grace After Meals" on Sukkot, "May the Merciful One Restore for us the fallen Sukka of David" and may we celebrate all together this year in Jerusalem with Moshiach.
Exalted Guests - the Ushpizin
When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the Sukka for the sake of G-d's Name, they achieve the merit there of welcoming the Divine Presence and all the seven faithful shepherds descend from the Garden of Eden, and come to the Sukka as their guests.
Waving the Four Kinds
One waves the Four Kinds [palm, citron, willow and myrtle] to and fro to Him who owns the four directions; up and down to Him who owns heaven and earth. That is to say: the four kinds are an allusion to G-d's having created all of existence, and that there is naught besides Him.
(Tractate Suka 37)
A Torah Which is Always New
We begin the Torah anew on Simchat Torah to show that "the Torah is beloved to us like a new object and not like an old command which a person does not submit to. It is like a new one toward which everyone runs.
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
One of the miracles which occurred when the Jews made their required pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the three major holidays - Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot - was that although when they stood shoulder to shoulder inside the Temple it was so overcrowded one could barely move, when they prostrated themselves on the ground before G-d there was plenty of room for everyone. The revelation of G-dliness was not only apparent when they bowed down, however. The Jews' standing together in complete unity and harmony was unparalleled anywhere else, yet when it came time for each individual to prostrate himself and serve G-d in his own unique way, there was plenty of room for each person's individuality.
On Simchat Torah, all the advocating angels rush to the defense of the Jewish people and berate the Satan. "How can you accuse such a wonderful nation of any wrongdoing!" they cry. "Just look at them - men, women and children, going to their synagogues to rejoice with the holy Torah!" Hour after hour the angels describe the joyful dancing and the love even the smallest Jewish children show for the Torah as they kiss the scrolls with their tiny mouths, until the Satan slinks away in shame...
(Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)
One of the most joyful celebrations in Israel was the Drawing of the Water during Sukkot. The Sages noted that "Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy." They have left us wonderful descriptions of the scenes that inspire us with longing to witness it once again.
How was the ceremony conducted? A golden container was filled with water drawn from the pools at Siloam in Jerusalem. When the water carriers reached the Water Gate, they blew three notes on the shofar.
On the right side of the ramp leading to the altar, there were two silver bowls, each with a hole shaped like a narrow spout, one wider than the other. One bowl stood to the east and the other to the west. The shapes of the bowls allowed them to be emptied simultaneously. (The wider spouted bowl held wine, which flows more slowly than water.)
As the evenings of the festival approached, the people made their way down to the Court of the Women. There were golden candlesticks, 50 cubits high, with four gold bowls atop them. Four ladders led to the top of each candlestick, and four young kohanim mounted the ladders, holding in their hands large jars of oil which they poured into the golden bowls. Wicks to light the oil were made from worn-out clothing of the kohanim, and when the candlesticks were lit, the light glowed through out the entire city of Jerusalem.
The greatest Sages and tzadikim would participate joyfully in the celebration, performing the most extraordinary feats. Some of them would bear burning torches in their hands while singing Psalms and other praises of G-d. The Levites would play many various musical instruments, including harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets as they stood on the fifteen steps which led down from the Court of Women in the Holy Temple.
Two kohanim were stationed at the Upper Gate of the Temple, holding trumpets in their hands. As the roosters crowed the first light of dawn, they blasted their trumpets, and as they ascended the steps, they blew two additional rounds of tekiah's. They continued walking until they reached the gate which led to the east, whereupon they turned to face the west and uttered the words: "We belong to G-d and our eyes are turned to G-d."
The Sages relate that when the great Sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rejoiced at the water festival, he would juggle with eight lighted torches, tossing them into the air, catching one and then throwing another, so that they never touched each other. He would also prostrate himself on the ground, bend down, doing a head-stand, kiss the ground and draw himself up again, a feat which no one else could do.
The Talmud relates many of these displays of prowess which the Sages performed at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva. They record that Reb Levi used to juggle in the presence of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi with eight knives. Shmuel would do the same with eight glasses of wine, without spilling any of their contents. Rabbi Abaye would juggle before Rabbi Rabba with eight (or some say, four) eggs.
It is written in the name of Rabbi ben Chanania, "When we used to rejoice at the place of the Water-Drawing, our eyes saw no sleep. How was this? The first hour was occupied with the daily morning sacrifice; from there we proceeded to prayers; from the prayers to the additional sacrifice; then to the House of Study; then eating and drinking the festive meal; then the afternoon prayer; then the daily evening sacrifice; and after that the rejoicing at the place of the Water-Drawing all night!"
The celebration of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva continued throughout the entire night, lighting up the city so brilliantly that there was no courtyard in Jerusalem which didn't reflect the light of the great candlesticks which illumined the Festival of the Water-Drawing.
Shemini Atzeret is the day in which all the service of the previous days of Sukkot is "gathered in," internalized, and the potential for "birth" is granted. Shemini Atzeret shares a connection with the Era of the Redemption. It is the eighth day and the number eight (shemoneh) is associated with shemaina (shumon) which refers to the essence of all things. This is implied by the name Shemini Atzeret which means "the gathering of the eighth day." Chassidic thought explains that this name implies the spiritual influences of the month of Tishrei are all gathered in on this day.
(The Rebbe, the Seventh Night of Sukkot,1991)