חג בפני עצמו

Shavua Tov. We end our holiday season with הושענא רבא, שמיני עצרת, and שמחת תורה. The seventh day of Succot is הושענא רבה. It is the final day to ask for forgiveness and achieve atonement. In the Beit Hamikdash, the custom was to circle the מזבח seven times with Lulav and Etrog. This was followed by the taking of the willow and beating it several times.

The willow was the one specie that had no smell and no taste. It symbolized the sin. Therefore, it is the one that is smashed.

In Israel, we combine שמיני עצרת and שמחת תורה into one day. At night and in the morning, we do הקפות and celebrate completing the Torah. We also say Yizkor and the prayer for rain, תפילת גשם. This last holiday of שמיני עצרת is a חג בפני עצמו, a separate holiday. Hashem did not want to part with His children and asked them to stay another day. This is why we say שהחיינו on שמיני עצרת. Chag Sameach!

Kohelet on Succot

This Shabbat is שבת חול המועד. We read the book of Kohelet, written by Shlomo Hamelech. It seems to be a reflection by Shlomo of the vanities of life in the physical world.

It is read on Succot because of an important statement made by Chazal. אין אדם מורד בהקדוש ברוך הוא אלא מתוך שביעה, that an individual only rebels against Hashem when he is filled up. If things are going well for someone, and he has plenty of money and comfort, he tends to forget that these are all gifts from Hashem.

Kohelet is read at the most prosperous time of year. Most Jews were farmers and they sold their summer crops at this time. A perspective was needed to remind people not to get carried away with themselves.

Shlomo Hamelech sums up this mundane imperfect world with the final Pasuk: סוף דבר הכל נשמע. את האלוקים ירא ואת מצוותיו תשמור. כי זה כל האדם. In the end, when all is heard, one needs to only fear Hashem and keep the commandments, for that is all that really matters to man.

Joy that comes from material gain is fleeting. The spiritual joy in observing the Torah, is lasting and permanent. The contentment achieved from spiritual pursuits, far surpasses the physical. This is the message of Kohelet. Shabbat Shalom

Remember the Temple

There is an interesting story told on 60b of בבא בתרא. After the destruction of the second Temple, there were many religious Jews known as פרושים, who were devastated that there was no Beit Hamikdash.

They had a discussion with the great Tanna Rabbi Yehoshua. They told him that they could no longer eat meat or drink wine because it reminded them of the sacrifices and the libations of wine on the altar.

Rabbi Yehoshua responded by telling the Perushim that they should also refrain from drinking water because of the שמחת בית השואבה of Succot. And they should stop eating fruit because of the Bilkurim brought on Shavuot.

The Tanna went on to explain: to mourn too much, is not practical, and not to mourn at all, would be wrong. He, therefore, instituted at that time several ideas to constantly be aware of the loss of the Temple.

At that time, people refrained from plastering an area of one אמה by one אמה, to remember the חורבן. Some left out a special fish delicacy from their meals as a similar remembrance. The custom of placing ashes on the groom’s forehead, and breaking a glass at a wedding, was זכר לחורבן. The Gemara goes on to say that the women began leaving out one of their favorite make-up, as a remembrance of the Temple.

Even when we celebrate the joy of חג הסוכות, we must be aware that this joy is not complete until our Third Temple is rebuilt. “Whoever mourns for its destruction, will merit to see its rebuilding.”

שמחת בית השואבה

The ceremony known as שמחת בית השואבה has several aspects to it. Tradition has it that in the Beit Hamikdash there were typically wine libations on the various sacrifices. During Succot, water was poured on the קרבנות as well. The water was brought from the שילוח, Silwan, in עיר דוד, the City of David, with great celebration. This was one form of שמחת בית השואבה.

Another part of שמחת בית השואבה was the name given to the week long celebrations in the Temple. Dancing took place until the wee hours of the morning. The Talmud describes how people barely slept the whole week of Succot. Acrobatic young Kohanim climbed four high poles to light up the city.

The Talmud further states that one who has not seen שמחת בית השואבה, has not seen a happy occasion in his lifetime. Therefore, in commemoration of the Temple events, we attempt to duplicate this joy with singing and dancing during the nights of Succot.

The Mitzvot of Succot

Moadim Lesimcha. The holiday of Succot is rich in Mitzvot. Aside from the obvious Torah commandments to dwell in a Succa, and to take the ארבעה מינים, four species for seven days, there are other Mitzvot as well.

The concept of שמחת בית השואבה, water libations, falls under the category of הלכה למשה מסיני, a law given orally to Moshe, and not written in the Torah. This was primarily a Temple service but is still observed today in a commemorative fashion. This is done with singing and rejoicing.

The taking of ערבות, willows, on the seventh day, הושענא רבה, has its origins from the prophets. It is separate from the ארבעה מינים.

And the main Mitzva of the week is Simcha, rejoicing. The Torah clearly tells us ושמחת בחגך, that we are to feel happiness on our holiday, referring to Succot. It is obvious that we will be filled with elation when we are surrounded by so many beautiful Mitzvot.

More Shade Than Sun

There is a Halacha regarding the building of a Succa. There must be more צל, shade than חמה, sun, in order for it to be a kosher Succa.

Rav Shlomo Mann, זצ״ל, gave an explanation as to why this is the case. The צל represents Divine protection. It demonstrates our realization that we cannot succeed in anything that we do without our being shielded by Hashem’s loving kindness.

The חמה, the sun, on the other hand, represents טבע, or nature. It refers to those who assume that they are in control of their own destiny. They attribute all that transpires in the world to the natural order of things. With this view, comes a degree of arrogance in making such heretical assumptions.

Therefore, our Succa must reflect this idea. More shade than sun shows our complete submission to Hashem and an acceptance of our own vulnerability. We cannot survive without His protection.

The Land Atones

In today’s Parsha, we have the Pasuk, וכפר אדמתו עמו, that the land shall be an atonement with him. There are two primary explanations to these words, based on the Midrash ספרי.

The first interpretation is that if one is buried in Eretz Yisrael, his sins are forgiven. This opinion is challenged by the Zohar that says that it is a very serious error to assume that one should seek a shortcut by being buried here without living in Israel. One needs to live here to deserve to be buried here.

The other opinion of the Sifrei is that one’s sins are forgiven when he moves to Israel. Just as the wedding day is a new beginning when all sins are forgiven, so is Aliya. This is what is meant by ,”The Land is an atonement with him.” Simply relocating and establishing our lives in this holy land, gives us a clean slate and fresh start.

Definitely not a coincidence that this Pasuk is read after Yom Kippur. Perhaps people should take this to heart if they really want to see their sins forgiven!

האזינו

Parshat האזינו is always read before the holiday of Succot. It is a good transition between Yom Kippur and the coming holiday. האזינו is also referred to as the שירה, as it is written in the form of a song.

It is a promise of the future גאולה. It was meant to give comfort and a reminder of all the blessings that would be seen in the future.

Idol worship will be totally eradicated, and the nations of the world will come to acknowledge the G-d of Israel. The שירה reflects all that we were praying for on Yom Kippur. Hashem will one day rule the world.

We are commanded to call out to Hashem and give glory to Him. From the words, הבו גודל לאלוקינו, the Talmud in ברכות says that this is the source for זימון, Benching with a quorum of three.

It’s as if the leader tells his two eating partners, “Now that we have completed our meal, let us give glory to G-d.”

We should leave Yom Kippur invigorated with a deeper love of Hashem, and enter Succot with confidence that great things are ahead. This is the message of שירת האזינו.

Viduy

According to the Rambam, the main essence of Teshuva is וידוי, confession. The ability to verbally admit one’s own shortcomings, is critical towards true repentance.

Yom Kippur has a total of ten וידוי’s throughout the day. We say the first confession already at Mincha before the fast even begins. We are to be focused during our prayers on how we can improve and correct our negative character traits.

The Rambam comments on this as well. He says that changing bad habits is sometimes more difficult than trying to repent for actual transgressions.

Everything is related. When we speak of Viduy, it represents our courage to openly acknowledge that we are not perfect and there are things about ourselves that we can improve on.

We should use Yom Kippur as a serious day of soul searching that should end with the resolve that this coming year, we will work on ourselves in sincerely coming closer to Hashem by becoming better people.

גמר חתימה טובה

Temple Service

The Temple service, known as the Avodah, was an extremely moving experience. The central figure of this service, was the Kohein Gadol.

The High Priest was very active throughout the day. He personally slaughtered fifteen animals used for the various sacrifices. He entered the Holy of Holies four times, he changed his clothes and immersed in the Mikva five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times.

But the most awesome moments of the day were when the כהן גדול uttered the שם המפורש, the ineffable name of G-d ten times. Those who were fortunate enough to hear this holy recitation, spontaneously fell on their faces to show respect as they felt Hashem’s Presence so near to them.

As we say in our Machzor, “Happy are they who witnessed such sanctity.” For us, as we read about this, it should create a longing for the Third Temple. May it be speedily rebuilt in our times.

Moshe’s Yahrtzeit

Parshat וילך began with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the people that he was 120 years old that day. He knew that this was going to be the last day of his life, despite the fact that he had not lost any of his strength.

What was implied by Moshe’s words was that he would pass away on his birthday. Although the Torah only gave the actual date of death by Aharon, (first of Av) we have enough information from the text to let us know Moshe’s date of leaving this world.

We know that there was a mourning period of thirty days following Moshe’s passing. We are also told that the Jewish people entered Israel on the tenth of Nissan, three days after the thirty day mourning period for Moshe. This means that Moshe died thirty three days before the tenth of Nissan, clarifying that his date of birth and death, was the seventh of Adar.

Tu B’av and Yom Kippur

Shavua Tov. The last Mishna in מסכת תענית says in the name רבן שמעון בן גמליאל that there were never such happy days in Israel as טו באב and Yom Kippur.

Tu B’Av was a day designated for Shidduchim, and Yom Kippur was the day of forgiveness to Hashem. Rav Shlomo Mann זצ”ל explained this most surprising statement. Tu B’Av was the time when one found their soulmate. According to the ארי ז״ל, one fulfills ואהבת לרעך כמוך, loving your neighbor as yourself, when one loves his spouse as himself. Therefore, the fifteenth of Av represents the ultimate in closeness between בין אדם לחבירו, between man and man.

Yom Kippur represents the ultimate bond, connection, and love, between man and G-d, בין אדם למקום. When we are elevated with sincere prayer and feel Hashem close to us, we are brought to a feeling of contentment and tranquility.

Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel could easily have been referring to these two special days in the Jewish calendar, when we achieve love of man and love of G-d at the highest level.

Pursue Torah

Rabbeinu Bechaye in his introduction to פרשת וילך makes an analogy. Just as bread and wine are the principle foods needed for man’s physical sustenance, חכמה, wisdom, and Torah are the principle spiritual foods needed for the soul.

The word “וילך” has the word “הולך”, to go, in it. Sometimes one must travel great distances to be able to find Torah.

In order to find Torah, one must remove jealousy from his heart. He must not use Torah to gain power or authority. He must work hard to the point of weariness, to acquire it. All of the Mitzvot provide nourishment for the soul.

This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuva. It is customary to hear words of Torah from the great scholars of each community on this Shabbat. Some people travel great distances on this special Shabbat to find inspiration and spiritual elevation before Yom Kippur.

This is a most appropriate beginning to the new year, when its first Shabbat is spent seeking Torah. May we merit finding and realizing the beauty and strength we get from Torah, as it nourishes our souls.

Fast of Gedalia

Shana Tova. The third day of Tishrei is known as צום גדליה, the Fast of Gedalia. It is also referred to as the Fast of the Seventh Month, as Tishrei is the seventh month after Nissan.

There are opinions that the assassination of Gedalia Ben Achikam took place on Rosh Hashanah but the fast is observed on the third of Tishrei.

This incident is mentioned both in the Book of Kings as well as Chronicles, דברי הימים. Gedalia was a governor after the destruction of the First Temple, with permission from Nebuchadnezzar. Many Jews who fled, returned to the Land of Yehudah to tend their vineyards, and had a brief respite.The king of Ammon did not wish to see a revival of Jewish life. He hired a Jew, Yishmael Ben Netanya, to kill Gedalia in the town of Mitzpa.

Gedalia was warned of the plot but didn’t believe it was possible for a Jew to kill another Jew. Because this was the last hope of the rebuilding of the Temple, a fast was ordained on this date.

As always, fast days were meant for contemplation and repentance. This is most appropriate during the Ten Days of Teshuva.

Choose Teshuva

Shavua Tov. We read this morning about a special Mitzva, referring to Teshuva. The Torah says כי המצוה הזאת לא רחוקה היא, that this Mitzva, referring to תשובה, is not far away. It is not in the heavens, in that one might think it is something unattainable.

On the contrary, קרובה היא אליך, it is very near to you. All one has to do is show the desire of coming closer to Hashem. Chazal say, הבא להיטהר מסייעין אותו, that if one wishes to purify himself, he will receive help from Hashem.

It is no coincidence that this Parsha always comes before Rosh Hashanah. It ends with the various choices that man has in this world, and urges us to ובחרת בחיים, choose life.

This Rosh Hashanah should fill us with the resolve to return to Hashem and make the right choices of purity and holiness.

Rebuke and Love

This Shabbat we read פרשת נצבים. Rabbeinu Bechaye, in his introduction to this Parsha, spoke of the importance of being able to receive תוכחה, rebuke.

Aside from mentioning that loving תוכחה is a sign of good Midot, character, there is an incredible statement made by Rabbeinu Bechaye.

He writes that a true relationship of love between two individuals, must include תוכחה. It is simply not a relationship of love, if this relationship is one where one cannot rebuke the other.

If someone truly loves another individual, he will not be able to remain silent if he sees that individual in a bad way. Because of his love, he will rebuke to help that person get back on track.

This is not a subject commonly discussed. But it is very true and must be taken seriously. If there is love between two individuals, there must be rebuke. Without it, it is not really love. Shabbat Shalom

No Free Will

The Rambam clarifies a very important point regarding free will and Teshuva. On the one hand, we are taught that man makes choices and he is responsible for those choices.

If he chooses to repent for his sins, there appears to always be place for forgiveness. If this is not the case, then it would look as though there really isn’t complete free will.

The Rambam clarifies this by saying that in most cases, this is true. That is, if one sincerely shows true remorse and regret for his actions, he will be forgiven.

However, there are instances where one’s actions are considered to be so grievous, that Hashem will take away this sinner’s free will. The primary example is Pharoah. After the first five plagues, his heart was hardened, and he was no longer able to repent even if he wanted to do.

Hashem did this in order to punish him for his sins.

There are other instances where Hashem makes it difficult for people to do Teshuva because of their bad behavior. But only a truly evil person like Pharoah has his free will taken from him, where he no longer is able to repent, even if he wants to.

Missed Opportunity

The Rambam in הלכות תשובה, makes the following observation: Even though תשובה, repentance, and calling out to Hashem, is always desirable, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they are even more desirable, and they will be accepted immediately. This is learned from Isaiah who said, דרשו ה׳ בהמצאו, “Seek G-d when He is to be found.”

In our daily Shmone Esrei said thrice daily, we ask Hashem to return us to His Torah. We also ask for forgiveness in each שמונה עשרה, but such requests have special significance this time of year.

The Ari ז״ל, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, wrote that this special week of עשרת ימי תשובה, has special potential to elevate us spiritual heights, otherwise thought to be unattainable.

Because the Rambam uses the words, “especially desirable”, (יפה יותר), we are encouraged to utilize this special opportunity by waking early to say סליחות, give צדקה, and take extra care to act in an exemplary fashion. We should be feeling a sense of gratitude that we are given this chance. Let’s get going and seek out Hashem when He is especially close to us.

Mount Gerizim-Mount Eival

Parshat כי תבוא describes the covenant made at הר גריזים and הר עיבל. All of the Jewish were gathered between the two mountains.

Half of the tribes were on Mount Gerizim, and the other half on Mount Eival. The Leviim were at the base of the two mountains. They faced הר גריזים when they recited all of the blessings. They faced הר עיבל when the curses were mentioned. The people answered אמן after each blessing and curse. It must have been quite an impressive scene to have been there and see how all of the Jewish people accepted the word of G-d.

The specific curses that were heard, referred to transgressions done in secret. The public was reminded that Hashem found it particularly offensive to act one way in public and another in private. This was the basis for impressive covenant made at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.

וידוי מעשרות

Another amazing ceremony mentioned in the Parsha is וידוי מעשרות, the confession of the Tithes. This was done in the fourth and seventh year of the Shmitta cycle on the last day of Pesach.

This ceremony could only be done after all of the Tithes were given. And since the מעשר עני, the Tithe for the poor, was only given in the third and sixth year, the declaration was made the following year.

We can only imagine what it must have been like to stand before Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash and be able to say the following:לא עברתי ממצותך ולא שכחתי, “I have not transgressed Your Mitzvot and I have not forgotten.”

Each Jew declares that he was meticulous in observing every aspect of the numerous תרומה and מעשר laws without forgetting even the smallest detail.

When reading this Parsha, I wonder if we would be capable of declaring that we, too, have been careful with all of Hashem’s Mitzvot. I guess this is something we need to strive for during this season of Selichot and Teshuva.