Passover: A Holiday of Generations, by Rabbi Jonathan Sigal

passover children seder1

Imagine viewing the most dramatic event in History. Something truly Epic and then just because you are there to witness it you become incorporated and part and parcel of the story itself. Perhaps even the central hero of the story. Well Surprise, you actually are!  Let me explain. The Hagadah brings the argument between R Eliezer Ben Ezariah and the Sages of how to understand the Verse “you shall remember (mention) the leaving of Egypt “all” the Days of your life. They are arguing about the meaning of the word “all” does it mean the “whole” or “every” If it means “Whole” then we need mention our leaving Egypt every morning and evening. If it means “every” then we mention it once a day but every day even in the future times of Mashiach. 

The Rabbis opinion is that the Mitzvah of mentioning the exodus from Egypt will apply even after the redemption of Israel from the four exiles into the messianic era. Their words: “all” comes to include (Lehavi literally to bring) the days of the Messiah” 

The Sefas Emes explains that chazal are actually hinting to a deeper Idea in their words here. They teaching us that by mentioning the exodus or telling over the story like we do every year in great detail at the Seder we are actually bringing the Meshiach!  By telling the story to our children and “viewing ourselves as if we went out of Egypt” we are actually complete the exodus! So by carefully observing the story we become the heroes of the story. This is actually the deeper meaning of the verse 

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כִּֽי־אֲנִ֞י הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ וְאֶת־לֵ֣ב עֲבָדָ֔יו לְמַ֗עַן שִׁתִ֛י אֹתֹתַ֥י אֵ֖לֶּה בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ׃ 

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, in order that I may display My signs among them, 

וּלְמַ֡עַן תְּסַפֵּר֩ בְּאָזְנֵ֨י בִנְךָ֜ וּבֶן־בִּנְךָ֗ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִתְעַלַּ֙לְתִּי֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וְאֶת־אֹתֹתַ֖י אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֣מְתִּי בָ֑ם וִֽידַעְתֶּ֖ם כִּי־אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ 

and that you may recount the story in the ears of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the LORD.”

In other words, Hashem tells Moses he is taking the Jewish people out of Egypt on condition and for the sake that they will tell the story over to their children. Relive it with them. That is extremely significant, because it means we were taken out then with all those epic signs and wonders only on condition and in the merit that we will complete the exodus by telling it over, by seeing ourselves as leaving and reliving the story with our children generation after generation. We are confirming history retroactively when we do so and if we fail to do so we are bringing ourselves back under the subjugation of Egypt. Challilah. This is the true meaning of the word Hagadah literally to tell but also from the language Gud Assik (a halachic term) means to pull and continue.

The process of exodus only started with our leaving Egypt but it was not completed. We must continue the process day by day year after year. Only on condition so were we redeemed then. Perhaps this is why we end the Seder with a song called Chad Gadyah. Also the same root word Gad. It is a song that alludes to our long history but it is saying it is all one big “Gad” pulling, one continued story that eventually will bring Mashiach quickly in our day!

Amen!

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sigal Grew up in Atlanta, GA and attended Yeshiva Highschool there. He later attended Yeshiva Ohr Sameach (Rabbi Ahron Feldman Shalita), Yeshivas Ofikim (Rabbi Chaim Kamil zt“l) , Yeshivas Heichal Hatorah (Rav Tzvi Kushlevski Shalita) Learned in various Kollelim he followed his Rabbi Yaakov Schatz Shalit”a to Amsterdam who served as Rosh Kollel there. Rabbi Sigal Served Two years as Rosh Kollel after his Rebbe returned to Israel. He currently studies Jewish law in the Amsterdam Kollel, does communal work teaching Torah, doing kiruv work, working for the Shachita, assisting the Jewish Burial Society. Rabbi Sigal can be contacted at sigaljj@hotmail.com

From Mt. Moriah to Mt. Sinai, by Rabbi Noach Goldstein

mount sinai torah

The story of Akedat Yitzchak is so intertwined with Rosh Hashana that it is impossible to seriously contemplate the day without thinking of Akedat Yitzchak. To briefly survey some of the connections: They have the same major themes,[1] one view in Chazal is that Akedat Yitzchak took place on Rosh Hashana(see Bereishit Rabbati 22:14), and most graphically, the Rambam rules at the very beginning of הלכות שופר that the שופר must come from the horn of a ram (see Raavad and Lechem Mishna ad loc.). However, I think there is another way in which the legacy of Akedat Yitzchak contributes to our עבודת ה’ that is not as readily noticed, but that we should certainly have in mind during this time.

In a short article in the Megadim journal,[2] R. Dr. Yonatan Grossman points out that there is a plethora of parallels between Akedat Yitzchak and שמות פרק כ”ד, where Hashem makes a covenant with Bnei Yisrael at Mount Sinai. A sample:[3]

  • They share the basic setting of התגלות השכינה on a holy mountain, where a מזבח is built, קרבנות are offered, and Hashem establishes a ברית.
  • The overriding importance of total obedience to ציווי ה’—Avraham’s willingness to offer Yitzchak and Bnei Yisrael’s repeated declaration of נעשה ונשמע—is foundational to both passages.
  • The root ע-ל-ה, which is obviously deeply significant, appears over and over again in both places (eight times at הר המוריה, nine times at Mount Sinai).
  • In each passage one group is left behind while two people continue to ascend the mountain (The שתי נערים Avraham and Yitzchak; the זקנים vs. Moshe and Yehoshua);
  • Both places share a number of key words and phrases.[4]

This theme is also highlighted in a number of midrashim, for example Bereishit Rabbah (56:1) quoted by Rashi (22:4) that Avraham was able to identify הר המוריה because a cloud covered the mountaintop, just like at mount Siani, and the midrashim cited by the Chizkuni (22:19) that Yitzchak did not return with Avraham from Akedat Yitzchak because he either entered גן עדן or left to study Torah, both of which parallel Moshe after ascending Mount Sinai.

The natural question this raises is what message does the Chumash want to get across by drawing such strong connections between the covenant at Mount Sinai and the ברית at הר המוריה. As is often the case, close connections also help highlight significant discrepancies. In our context, two jump out: 1) Avraham names the place of the Akedat Yitzchak, “ה’ יראה”—Hashem will see—but at Mount Sinai we are told about the זקנים, “ויראו את אלקי ישראל”—they saw Hashem; 2) The only קרבן that Avraham brings is an עולה, but at Mount Sinai we are told about the “נערי בני ישראל” (another עקידה connection) that “ויעלו עלת ויזבחו זבחי שלמים”—they offer שלמים in addition to the עולות.

The idea seems to be that the covenant at Mount Sinai takes the foundation of Akedat Yitzchak and builds on it. The core of the עקידה is יראת ה’ and unquestioned obedience—”עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלקים אתה”—and that remains the foundation of our relationship with Hashem—”כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע”. However, once כלל ישראל has Akedat Yitzchak and its pure expression of יראת ה’ firmly established in our spiritual legacy, we can progress to the next step in our relationship with Hashem, the יראה mixed with אהבה in a way that does not dilute the יראה, but fully complements it. The entire legacy of the Akedat Yitzchak is present at Mount Sinai, only now we are able to offer שלמים together with our עולות, and the זקנים can כביכול “see” Hashem and not only be seen by Him.

Avraham is uniquely described in Tanach as both “ירא אלקים” and as “אברהם אהבי” (Yeshayahu 41:8). As we hopefully try our fullest to heed the call of דרשו ה’ בהמצאו and capitalize on the opportunities the coming days of offer to restore and deepen our relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, Avraham is the ideal person to have at the front of our consciousness. On the one hand the dedication and awe shown at Akedat Yitzchak are the ultimate religious aspiration. On the other hand, as the covenant at Mount Sinai shows, it also reveals that there are many more steps on the journey.

 

Noach Goldstein is a fellow in the Wexner Kollel Elyon and Assistant Rabbi at the Jewish Center of Manhattan.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife Alexis and sons Yehoshua and Azi.

[1] The list of shared themes includes but is not limited to; יראת שמים, קבלת עול מלכות, מדת הרחמים, התגלות, זכירת הברית, etc.

[2] Megadim vol. 25, “”וירא את המקום מרחק” – עקדת יצחק כסיפור רקע לברית האגנות ולסיפורים נוספים”.

[3] Some of these examples are not from R. Dr. Grossman.

[4] Examples from שמות כ”ד include: “וישכם בבקר” (cf. Bereishit 22:3); “ויבן מזבח” (cf. 22:9), “לא שלח ידו” (cf. 22:12), שבו לנו בזה עד אשר נשוב אליכם (cf. 22:5), and “אש אכלת” (cf. 22:6).

Rosh Hashana: Joy and Judgment , by Sheldon Kupferman

Jacobs dream

 Painting by Reuven Rubin

When we announce our opening maariv in the amida on the beginning of the Rosh HaShana holiday, we recite a verse from Psalms:

 

תקעו בחודש שופר בכסה ליום חגינו, כי חוק לישראל הוא משפט לאלוקי יעקב”

 

 “Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival. For it is a statute for Israel, the judgment of the God of Jacob.

 

 

 

 Because Rosh HaShana is the first day of the month of Tishrey, it always begins with a new moon, unlike all the other holidays which are closer to or on the 15th day of the month when the moon is full.

 What is the significance, if any, for making this holiday at such a time. The image of Keseh, hidden or covered, is it just because of the date or is there any significance?

 

 Rosh HaShana is referred to as HaYom Harat Olam. Art Scroll translates this phrase as the Birthday of the world. However, this is a mistake. Haras comes from the word harayon, which means pregnancy.

 As such, the proper translation would be:

 “Today is the conception day of the world”!!

 As such, we are not celebrating the day that the world came into reality.

 We are celebrating the day that God decided that there should be a world with beings other than Himself. It is the day that God decided to make room in His reality for a being that is other, subject to time and space. He decided to make room in his reality for a being that had free will and choice. He decided to make room for a relationship with others.

 The midrash asks why did the Torah begin with the letter bet. The midrash points out that the word bracha begins with s bet and aleph the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is the first letter of the word Arrur which means to curse.

 What the midrash is trying to relate is that God decided that the source of blessing can only happen when one gives to another. Existence of one God alone is infinite, but without room for others there is no relationship to grow. In the world of time and space a world of self of 1 can only lead to self-absorption and curse. A world of 2 beings, each giving to the other is the basic source of blessing. As this was the moment of the conception of creation, before it actually occurred, before it came into existence, this is the world of Keseh , of the hidden before time and space.

 On Rosh HaShana we return to our conception. We return and Remind ourselves (Yom HaZikaron) of the perfect conception of ourselves and ask God and us to judge where we are in this relationship. This is the Yom HaDin. Straight raw objective judgment.

 When God actually brought the world into existence, he let go of the perfect model and made even more room for mercy and patience. As realistic humanity is flawed.

 

 The mortal response to coming face to face with this Yom HaDin is twofold:

 A: IMITATE DEO, imitate the Creator. Give to those who don’t have. Be godly. Create a relationship where you are the giver. Go away from self and make room for others.

 

 The second response would generally be dread and fear. Yet the prophet Nehemiah demands from those who returned to Zion with him, Eat, drink enjoy the best that life can offer. Rejoice. When you give to others on this day of judgment, do it with Joy of celebration of standing with the Creator.

 Even if you are afraid of your grand potential, know that one can grow that potential by giving to others in joy.

 

 The Sfat Emmet cites a tradition that the forefather Jakob experienced his prophetic dream of being in the presence of the ladder that went up to heaven on the day of Rosh Hashana. In that dream, Jakob is an observer as he watches the angels ascending and descending, all while God watches from up high.

 

 The Sfat Emmet takes Jakob to task. Jakob wakes up from his dream in dread and fear. Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh. Yet the Sfat Emmet, chastised Jakob for just watching. Get over it he demands. The fear may be real, but he had a major missed opportunity. Jakob was only an observer. He should have gone up the ladder himself, to meet his true essence and true potential all while celebrating his union with God. The course of Jewish history and all of humanity would have forever been changed for the better. What makes someone a hero is not that they are not afraid. One becomes a hero because they act on their fear and despite their fear.

 This is the itzumo Shel Yom for Rosh Hashanah. May we all make this judgment experience an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. May we do it with joy and celebration and always seize life and the experiences that God has waiting for us with fear and with the joy of the opportunity. May we all be blessed to be sources of blessing in our search and request for a happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous year.

 

Based on Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s first Ma’amar on Rosh Hashanah, in his magnum opus Pachad Yitzchak.

 

 

Rosh Hashanah: Confidence Counts, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

nechemia temple

It was a small group of sweaty, sunburnt, and exhausted men. They had been a small group who traveled back from today’s Iraq, back to their ancestral homeland after seventy years of exile intending to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. After disappointment after disappointment, struggle after struggle, the humble building was complete. Those who remembered the glory of Solomon’s first Temple broke down in tears, recognizing the disparity between the glory of the old building and the newbuilt Beit Hamikdash. This all took place on Rosh Hashana. 

The verse shares with us a heart-wrenching account (Nechemiah chapter 8):

“Now all the people gathered as one man to the square that was before the Water Gate, and they said to Ezra the scholar to bring the scroll of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.”

That “first day of the seventh month,” is the date of Rosh Hashana. There they are, the small remnant of Jews, standing in the street below temple mount, listening to the Torah—many of them for the first time. They listen with pierced ears to the words of the Torah, as they take in the words they will newly commit to as they return to the land of Israel. 

“And he read in it before the square that was before the Water Gate from the [first] light until midday in the presence of the men and the women and those who understood, and the ears of all the people were [attentive] to the Scroll of the Law.

And Ezra the scholar stood on a wooden tower that they had made for the purpose… And Ezra opened the scroll before the eyes of the entire people, for he was above all the people, and when he opened it, all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with the uplifting of their hands, and they bent their heads and prostrated themselves to the Lord on their faces to the ground. And they read in the scroll, in the Law of God, distinctly, and gave sense, and they explained the reading to them.”

Seldom in Jewish history do we find such a readiness to obey God’s words and to embrace the Torah. It is reminiscent of the time the Jews stood at Sinai and said “Naaseh Ve’ Nishma”, we will do as God says, and we will hear all that He has to say. Recognizing the gap between their practice and what is required, the disparity between the lives they are leading, and the lives they ought to be leading, the newcomers to Jerusalem begin to weep. It is the perfect example of Teshuva Me’ ahava, repentance motivated by love. There is no element of fear, no explicit rebuking, just a recognition of the need to do better. 

Then Nehemiah-he is Hattirshatha-and Ezra the priest, the scholar, and the Levites who caused the people to understand, said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; neither mourn nor weep,” for all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law.”

And he said to them, “Go, eat fat foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord, and do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush, for the day is holy, and do not be sad.”

Then all the people went to eat and to drink and to send portions and to rejoice greatly, for they understood the words that they informed them of.

 

Symbolically, that Rosh Hashana embodies so much of what we feel to this very day. Have we even come close to doing what we thought we are capable of? Are we near the goals, hopes, and aspirations we hold so dear? Did we even try? We stand there preparing for Rosh Hashanah as sheer shock that this past year, the month of Elul, the week of Slichot, and erev Rosh Hashanah having gone by so fast. We are at the Day of Judgment with nothing. “Kedalim U’Kerashim,” we say in the Slichot. Like impoverished and wretched people we come to you. We are shocked by the dissonance, the distance between what we know is right and what we have done. 

Suddenly, the reality of God’s commandment and common practice hits us: “Go, eat fatty foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord, and do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Why? What merit is there in rejoicing at a time of judgment?

The Jerusalem Talmud(Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1:3) addressing this issue explains:” Rabbi Simon stated: it is written (Deuteronomy 4:8) “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is at all times that we call upon Him?” Rabbi Hama said at Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hoshaia, who is a nation like this nation? The norm of the world is, a man who knows that he is going to be judged wears black garments, and wraps himself with black, and grows his beard, for he does not know how his verdict will be decided. However, those [the people of Israel] are not like that. Rather, they wear white clothing, wrap themselves with white, groom their beards, eat and drink, and rejoice, for they know that God does miracles for them.”

On Rosh Hashanah, we mark our closeness with God. Inherent to that closeness is the faith we will be exonerated. The reason for the confidence? Sin represents distance from God. Virtue, on the other hand, represents closeness to God. The act of showing faith in God that we will get a good verdict Rosh Hashanah, in and of itself atones for our sins. We show where it is that we want to be. We eat, drink, and celebrate because for us distance from God is not an option. 

Like the broken and downtrodden Jews rebuilding the Second Temple, we recognize the gap between where we are and where we should be. The ancient commandment echoes today—as in those times—reminding us that confidence and faith are the only way forward. Sometimes reality is like Sir Winston Churchill put it” “Success Is Going from Failure to Failure Without Losing Your Enthusiasm.” Recognizing God as the King of the Universe and the entire Universe as His domain is in and of itself a reason to rejoice; a terrific step forward to a happy and successful year. 

Shana Tov, and Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year to all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Doesn’t Yom Kippur Predate Rosh Hashanah? by Rabbi Jonathan Sigal

shofar siddur

Concerning the Yomim Noraim there is a strong and obvious question hidden in plain sight, as follows: Would it not make a lot more sense to make Yom Kippur our day of Atonement before Rosh Hashana the Day of Judgement and not afterward as we do? This way we could amend all of our wrongdoings with Viduy and teshuva combined with the Cleansing power of that special day and then come into Rosh Hashana all clean and fixed and then Merit a decisively good Judgement for life?

 

Now of course it is the Torah that has divinely decreed this order and the days are also intrinsically linked to historical events: specifically Rosh Hashana was the day of creation of Man (and so he is re-evaluated and Judged in terms of is he living up to the very purpose to that he was created for) and Yom Kippur was the day Moses came down from Sinai with the Second Tablets that was proof positive that the Jewish Nation was forgiven for the Sin of Making the Golden Calf hence was established as a day of Atonement for generations. However, the question still remains why was it Divinely orchestrated that Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement follow Rosh Hashana the Day of Judgement and not vice versa? The Key to understanding the solution to this dilemma is to analyze the manner that we pray and serve Hashem on the Day of Rosh Hashana.

 

We do not repent at all or show any signs of sorrow for our past misdeeds, nor do we ask for any personal needs (even though we do hint to them with the Simonim, our food signs like the apple in the honey etc.). Everything we do on Rosh Hashana, the blowing of the Shofar and the theme of our prayers is to stress and prove one point, That Hashem is our King and we are subjects in his Kingdom. The experience of Rosh Hashana allows us not only intellectually understand that Hashem is our King but to internalize and feel this truth in every fiber of our being. Actually, that is the power of the Shofar it Symbolizes the cry of the Soul and as we hear that cry it resonates with our collective and individual souls and reminds of us our true mission in this world as subjects in Hashems Kingdom, this is how it actually wakens us up and inaugurates Hashem as our King. It is that “Kol Demma daka” that very thin voice barely perceived because during the rest of the year when we confused with Business as usual, we can barely hear it because it drowned out by the noise of the mundane world, but on Rosh Hashana we able to focus on it and hear its message. We can delete everything in our lives that is not related to that voices message clearly understand that anything that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of Hashem is not really of importance to our life’s mission. During the rest of the year we have allowed ourselves to be Subject to the Evil Inclination and his Kingdom. On Rosh Hashana, we take note of how far we have wandered and liberate ourselves and establish ourselves in the Kingdom of Hashem. (This is why Joseph was liberated from the prison for interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh on Rosh Hashana).

 

Once someone asked a Master of Sculptures how he does it? He said it is very easy I take a block of Granit and if I want to Sculpture an Elephant, for example, I just cut away everything that is not Elephant!) So too the Shofar blow and prayers of Rosh Hashana help us chisel away from our lives anything in our lives that is not in/under Hashem’s Kingdoms domain. With this we can answer our original question. All year round as we have lived under the influence of the evil inclination, we have built up a building of Nonsense and Sin. This must be dismantled. There are two basic ways to raze a building: either to knock it at its foundation and the building will fall or to take it apart brick by brick. On Rosh Hashana we are destroying the building at its foundations which are the cause of our mistakes and sins is because fundamentally we had wandered out of Hashem’s Kingdom and allowed our Evil Inclination to rule us. As a result, our Judgement was clouded and we made wrong decisions and failed. On Yom Kippur, we take our building apart brick by brick and analyze every nook and cranny piece by piece and see how we can improve every detail of our being.

 

It is impossible to analyze every aspect of our being correct if our Judgement is clouded. If we exist in the Kingdom of the Evil inclination and our conditioned by his influence how can we truly honestly analyze and fine-tune every aspect of our being? That would not be possible unless we first move out of the Kingdom of Evil and enter the Kingdome of Hashem. Only after we have reconnected with clarity to our true mission in life as subjects to Hashems World and his mission can we honestly reconstruct ourselves on Yom Kippur.

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sigal Grew up in Atlanta, GA and attended Yeshiva Highschool there. He later attended Yeshiva Ohr Sameach (Rabbi Ahron Feldman Shalita), Yeshivas Ofikim (Rabbi Chaim Kamil zt“l) , Yeshivas Heichal Hatorah (Rav Tzvi Kushlevski Shalita) Learned in various Kollelim he followed his Rabbi Yaakov Schatz Shalit”a to Amsterdam who served as Rosh Kollel there. Rabbi Sigal Served Two years as Rosh Kollel after his Rebbe returned to Israel. He currently studies Jewish law in the Amsterdam Kollel, does communal work teaching Torah, doing kiruv work, working for the Shachita, assisting the Jewish Burial Society. Rabbi Sigal can be contacted at sigaljj@hotmail.com

Sukkot and the Mysterious Simchas Yom Tov, By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

KAJ sukkos

 

The Ma’aravis piyyut for the second night of Sukkos commences:

ישמחו בחגיהם ידידים ונעימים

חסות בצל סכה שבעת ימים

יתענגו בה במיני מטעמים

אהובים מצותיה מקימים

לילות וימים

Dear and pleasant ones will rejoice in their festivals

Protected in the shade of the sukkah for seven days

They shall delight in it with various types of delicacies  

The beloved ones fulfill its mitzvot

Day and night

 

Similar to all piyyutim, which were authored by great sages primarily during the era of the Rishonim, deep messages are embedded in the fabric of this Ma’aravit hymn. Let’s take a close look.

 

Firstly, it is mystifying that the piyyut begins with what would appear to be the theme of Simchas Yom Tov, by elaborating on this theme through depicting the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah, Dwelling in the Sukkah. The mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov, as presented in Devarim 16:14, pertains to the bringing of festive korbonot on the Shalosh Regalim and enjoying Yom Tov in various ways (Rambam Sefer Ha-Mitzvot: Aseh 54, Hil. Chagiah 1:1, Hil. Yom Tov 6:17-18); Simchas Yom Tov is unrelated to the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah (!). Why does the piyyut seem to connect the mitzvot of Simchas Yom Tov and Yeshivah B’Sukkah?

 

Secondly, continuing with the Simchas Yom Tov theme, the piyyut speaks of delighting with delicacies in the sukkah. Partaking of delicious food in the sukkah would not appear to be an element in the formula of Simchas Yom Tov, for the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov does not pertain per se to eating in the sukkah; Simchas Yom Tov is a mitzvah on all Yomim Tovim, that just happens to be fulfilled on Sukkot when one eats in the sukkah (or indoors, if one is exempt from eating in the sukkah). However, the piyyut implies that some special or unique form of Simchas Yom Tov is obtained by enjoying food in the sukkah. How can this be?

 

Rav Yitzchak Zev (“Velvele”) Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Brisker Rav, noted that there exists a fundamental difference between the simchah of Yom Tov and of Purim. On Purim, we engage in “Mishteh” – Feasting – replicating the festivities experienced by the Jews in the Persian Empire upon being saved from death. The raw act of Mishteh, as manifest through Seudat Purim and drinking during that seudah, constitute the mitzvah. In contrast, with Simchas Yom Tov, the physical pleasures are not themselves the essence of the mitzvah; rather, these pleasures engender a spirit of simchah, bringing one to joyously connect with Hashem. Simchas Yom Tov is the simchah of rejoicing in Hashem, and it is merely fueled and elicited by tangible delectation, which serve as backdrops to joyously experiencing the Shechinah. Rav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik zt”l of RIETS explained the distinction between the simchah of Purim and of Yom Tov in a somewhat similar manner, expounding that Simchas Yom Tov is a Simchah She-ba’Lev (Simchah in the Heart) and is a function of being Lifnei Hashem (Before God) on Yom Tov – a state that is precipitated by the Kedushat Ha-Yom, the Sanctity of the Day. On Yom Tov, each Jew is in the close proximity of the Shechinah, as it were, which inspires joy. (V. Reshimot Shiurim: Sukkah p. 218-219.)

 

In our liturgy, the sukkah and the Beit Ha-Mikdash are often compared. In fact, the Ma’aravis under discussion here continues, immediately before the berachah of “Ga’al Yisrael”:

 

בנה סכתך והקם הנפולה

יסודותיה לשתת ולבנותה על תלה…

Build Your Sukkah and raise up the fallen one

Establish its foundations and erect it on its mount…

 

What is the connection between the sukkah and the Beit Ha-Mikdash?

 

Life in the Midbar, where our ancestors wandered and trekked toward Eretz Yisrael three-and-a-half millennia ago, was a 40-year spiritual high, in which Hashem’s Presence was palpably felt, as He supernaturally tended to our every need and graced us with His closeness. Although the Midbar experience was relatively short-lived, its essence was captured and maintained in the confines of the Beis Ha-Mikdash, which served as the perpetual repository of intense Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of God’s Presence) and live miracles on display, preserving and sustaining these central aspects of life in the Midbar. Similarly, the sukkah, which hearkens back and corresponds to our being sheltered (supernaturally or physically – Sukkah 11b) throughout the Midbar experience, is not a trifling, token memento of life there, but rather captures and replicates it, as we commemorate 40 years of living in the veil of the Shechinah. The sukkah in its own way reenacts life in the Midbar, expressing and reproducing the sensation of being safeguarded in Hashem’s Shadow. This is the significance of the Kabbalistic and liturgical references to the sukkah’s “Tzeil” (“Shade” or “Shadow”), connoting the sukkah’s role as providing a glimpse of life in the Shadow of the Divine, and it explains why the sukkah is repeatedly compared in our tefillot with the Beit Ha-Mikdash.

 

This concept gives rise to a remarkable idea regarding the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov. Although Simchas Yom Tov is to be fulfilled as prescribed in the sources cited above (and of course in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch – Orach Chaim s. 529), there is an additional aspect of simchah to be experienced in the sukkah, where one is likewise before the Shechinah, insofar as the sukkah reflects spiritual life in the Midbar. Just like Simchas Yom Tov is manifest by the joy of being in the Presence of Hashem – and that is why the special mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim in the Beit Ha-Mikdash is denoted by the command of “and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days” (Vayikra 23:40; v. Rambam: Hil. Sukkah 7:13) – so too is there great simchah by dwelling in the sukkah, where we are within the veil of Hashem and the locus of His Shadow. The elation aroused by this experience is a specialized form of Simchas Yom Tov, which our piyyut most understandably addresses as such. We can now appreciate the otherwise mysterious logic of the Ma’aravis and its connecting Mitzvas Yeshivah B’Sukkah with simchah.

 

For me and probably for everyone, the onset of Sukkot, and in particular the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah, are a spiritual rhapsody. I am convinced that the distinct and exceptionally uplifting sensation of being in the sukkah is not mere nostalgia or sentimentality, but is rather the result of an encounter with the Shechinah, as we are privileged to spend a week in the Tzeil of Hashem and to delight in His closeness.

 

 

ENDNOTE ON RECITAL OF MA’ARAVIS:

 

Based on the position of the Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav s. 162), the minhag of most yeshivot is not to recite the Ma’aravis liturgy. Nonetheless, despite his personal minhag of omitting these piyyutim, Rav Soloveitchik instructed his minyan at the Maimonides School in Brookline, MA to recite them, as the Rav felt that since they are printed as part of the standard Yom Tov tefillah, omitting them would send the wrong message to his congregants, who were well aware of the non-Orthodox movements cavalierly excising various sections of the davening. In order to demonstrate to his congregants that we are not at the leisure of making such changes at whim, and that the siddur cannot be cherry-picked but is instead an authoritative and fixed text, the Rav made sure that the Ma’aravis hymns were recited at his minyan.

 

The piyyutim, which were authored by preeminent gedolei Yisrael of the Medieval Ages and earlier and are cited by Rishonim to support important halachic and homiletic interpretations, are loaded with erudite Torah concepts and are rife with profound insights and intense inspiration. The Rav and other great talmidei chachamim were known to carefully study the piyyutim and derive sublime lessons therefrom.

 

I must point out the majestic rendition of the Ma’aravis liturgy at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ) of Washington Heights, where the chazzan slowly chants most of the Ma’aravis selections out loud, with an extremely beautiful and stirring musical nusach in the minor key. One is gripped by the solemn and emotive magnificence of the occasion. If one has the privilege to be in Washington Heights on Yom Tov, experiencing these tefillos at KAJ is an absolute must.

 

 

 

Rabbi Gordimer is a musmach of RIETS and serves as a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher. He is a frequent contributor to various Torah publications and Orthodox media outlets, and he serves as Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values. Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Jewish Action Editorial Committee, the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar.

On Judging and Being Judged, by Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz

court judging

The Rabbis teach that he who judges others favorably should himself be judged favorably by God (Shabbos 127b).  Perhaps this opportunity should compel us to consider the ways that we judge others in anticipation of “Judgement Day”.  

The judgement of other people is an inherently divine activity that we are loathe to engage in as humans.  The Torah describes the judges in Beis Din as “elohim” many times (for example Shmos 22:7-8) because we are to see judgement as something emanating from God through the mouths of the judges (see Ramban on Shmos 21:6).  Sefer Devarim (1:17) sums it up and says “the judgement is for Elokim” (God). Similarly, Pirkei Avos (2:4) warns us never to judge another person unless we are in their exact position, which is, implicitly, never. And if, for whatever reason, we are to ever to judge another person, we are to judge favorably (Avos 1:6).

Despite this, it seems that there are times when we must judge others, and not always favorably.  Pirkei Avos (1:7) teaches us to distance ourselves from an “evil” neighbor and warns judges to assume the worst in all of the litigants (1:8) and witnesses (1:9).  The midrash elaborates on this theme in Kala Rabasi (9) through an anecdote:

All people should always be considered in your eyes as thieves, yet you should honor all people as if they were Rabbi Gamliel.

There was a story about Rabbi Joshua who invited a man into his house, he gave him a meal, and a place to sleep on the upper floor of the house. Rabbi Joshua took the ladder away.  What did the man do? He got up in the middle of the night, took all of the (owner’s) items, and packed them up, and as he tried to leave, he fell and broke his neck. In the morning Rabbi Joshua said “empty one! Is this what people like you do? The man responded: “I didn’t know you took away the ladder”. R. Joshua said: “didn’t you see we were being careful around you?”

This midrash points to this dichotomy but how are we to reconcile these two contradictory outlooks?  The continuation of this midrash poses this question and suggests that it depends on the person in question.  If it is a righteous person who is known to us, we are to judge favorably. If not, we are to be more suspicious. Rabenu Yona suggests a similar approach in his commentary to Pirkei Avos (1:6).  I would like to suggest another approach based on the halachos of Lashon Hara.

The Chafetz Chaim (introduction, ase 3) says that one who believes lashon hara has committed the sin of not judging others favorably, among other sins.  Nevertheless, he cites (klal 6 seif 10-11) the exception that we should suspect that it is true in order to protect ourselves. How is this reconciled? He suggests a sort of “palginan neemanus” that would instruct us to believe lashon hara in respect to creating protection for ourselves, but at the same time, in our hearts we should think about it as completely false.  Therefore, we should treat the person with the same absolute respect and honor as before; there should be no change in our interactions with the person or in our thoughts of the person. Nevertheless, we should protect ourselves from the possibility that the lashon hara is true. Thus, we are to respect every single person like Raban Gamliel, the nasi but to take precautions lest they are the worst.

Pirkei Avos instructs us to distance ourselves from evil neighbors in case we anticipate a negative influence, but we are not to diminish our respect for those neighbors.  We are to be suspicious of the integrity of the witnesses and litigants in court in case our judgement will be tainted, but we are to see all litigants as righteous when the case is completed.  This dichotomy is profoundly difficult to balance, just as the Achronim struggle with the possibility of palginan neemanus which parces testimony and attempts to believe it only in one respect and not in another.  However, if we are charged to accomplish in the case of lashon hara, then perhaps we are required to do the same for all instances of judgement. Rashi (Shabbos 127b) tells us that if we will judge others more positively, peace will be promulgated in our communities.  As we have seen, this can be profoundly complex and challenging to accomplish, but perhaps a less judgmental environment may truly elevate our communities and potentially ensure a better judgement for us all this year.

 

 

Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz is the rabbi of congregation Shaare Tefillah and is Chair of the Talmud Department and Director of Judaic Studies at the Ramaz Upper School. He has published a number of volumes of educational resources and halachik essays here: https://oupress.org/product-category/halacha-aggadah-sifrei-kodesh/