Succot 5779

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Along with sitting in the Succah, the four species ("arbah minim" in Hebrew) are at the forefront of mitzvos performed on the holiday of Succos. We take for ourselves a palm branch ("lulav"), three myrtle branches ("hadassim"), two willow branches ("aravos"), and a citron ("esrog"). The Sefer Hachinnuch in Mitzvah 324 says that when a person sees these species, it makes him/her happy. These species are taken during the harvest season to remind us that our happiness should be to G-d and we celebrate Him with the physical world. Additionally, each of the species represents a part of our body to remind us to follow in G-d's ways. The etrog represents our heart, where our thoughts lie; we are to serve G-d with our intellect. The lulav represents our spine; we should straighten ourselves through G-d's commandments. The hadassim represent our eyes, which shouldn't steer us away from G-d. The aravos represent our mouth, which we should curb and only use for speaking good things.

However, I always felt that there was more to the four species. They represent more than just how we should conduct ourselves before G-d. I would like to suggest that these four species are us showing G-d how much we yearn for the Final Redemption. After all, some commentators mention that the Messiah will come on Succos. On Shabbos Chol Hamoed of Succos we read about the war preceding Messiah. The Temple itself is called "King David's fallen succah" as we mention in Birkas Hamazon. Following this theme, each of the Four Species symbolizes our desire for the Final Redemption that parallel events in our past.

The lulav is called "kapos tamarim" in the Torah; it is a palm branch that yields fruit. "Tamar" in Hebrew is a date, one of the seven types of produce from the land of Israel. Tamar is also the name of Yehuda's daughter-in-law. She had two children, named Peretz and Zerach. Her descendants are listed at the end of the Book of Ruth; they include King David, and eventually Moshiach. Using our "kapos tamarim", we are hinting to G-d to bring Tamar's final descendant in Moshiach.

The hadassim share a common name with one of the Bible's famous heroines: Queen Esther. In the Book of Esther, we are introduced to her under her other name, Hadassah (Esther 2:7). Her rise to power as Queen of Persia and her courageous efforts to save the Jewish people eventually led to their return to the land of Israel as well as the building of the second Temple. Just as Hadassah/Esther sparked the end of the first exile, so too we hope our own hadassim spark the Final Redemption and end to the current exile.

During the week when we complete a meal, we say Birkas Hamazon (Grace after Meals) to thank G-d for sustaining us. But before we begin, we say a paragraph of Tehillim (Psalm 137) that is known as "Al Naharos Bavel", On the rivers of Babylon. It talks about the sorrow the Jews felt in exile and how they were treated in Babylon. Verse 2 notes that they "hung their harps on the willows". Rashi quotes word for word that it's referring to "arvei nachal", the very description the Torah gives for aravos on Succos (Vayikra 23:40). By using the aravos in our lulav bundle, we are hinting to G-d of our exile and hoping that we are redeemed one day soon.

The Midrash Rabbah in Bereishis (15:7) asks the question, from what kind of fruit did Adam and Eve eat? There are four opinions given: wheat, grapes, figs, and esrog. The esrog actually fits the description that it was a "delight to look at (Bereishis 3:6)". The Midrash floats the idea regarding the fig that Adam and Eve tried to repent by using the exact same item they sinned with. I would like to suggest that we are doing the same with esrog. We are using it to make up for Man's fall and attempting to repair our relationship with G-d; we want to go back to the way it was before Man sinned. That's exactly how it will be when Moshiach arrives. The Final Redemption will undo Adam and Eve's sin and we will be back to that same level of holiness as we were before.

These four species help us show G-d how much we yearn for the final Temple. We yearn for the days that Mishnah describes as the ultimate simcha during Sukkos. We hope to one day encircle the alter with our lulavim instead of the bimah in shul. May we be zocheh to the Geulah bimheirah biyomeinu.

Rosh Hashana 5779

Monday, September 17, 2018

Certain parshios are to fall out at certain times of the year. For example, Mikeitz is always during Shabbos Chanukah; Devarim is always the shabbos before Tisha B'Av. Parshas Nitzavim always falls out the week before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? Is there some sort of message connecting back to the Yomim Nora'im found within this short parsha?
The Ramban (30:11) explains that there surely is a connection. From 30:11-14, the Torah talks about a mitzvah that is attainable and easy to implement. However, it isn't clear which mitzvah is being described. The Ramban explains that these four verses are working off of the previous paragraph that details the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance). The Torah is teaching us that doing teshuvah is easy and accessible; it's not a foreign concept that no one can reach. This is surely appropriate as we enter the Yomim Nora'im and prepare ourselves with Selichos, davening, and asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged.
However, despite what the Ramban says, there are still two questions that arise. Firstly, is teshuvah really that simple? Even though it's described as a four-step process by the Rambam, each of those steps aren't the easiest things in the world. Secondly, if the message is about teshuvah, why didn't Chazal then set up the calendar for Nitzavim to fall out on Shabbos Shuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik in "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified" discusses how Rosh Hashanah isn't really about teshuvah. The day is about re-anointing G-d as our King and praising Him. There are even customs to not mention any kind of confession of sin, a step in the teshuvah process, from the prayers on Rosh Hashanah; for example, some leave out a few of the lines from Avinu Malkeinu because it states that "we have sinned." But, says the Rav, there is a small aspect of teshuvah within the Day of Judgment. Rosh Hashanah represents "Hirhur Teshuvah", the mere thought or consideration of repenting. We see from Chazal that even the minute thought of thinking of doing teshuvah holds water and is crucial. The Gemara in Kiddushin (49b) gives a case of when a man betroths a woman on condition that he is a tzaddik (righteous person) that the betrothal is binding even if it's known that he's a rasha (wicked person); this is because he may have had a "hirhur teshuvah" at that very moment. That split second is powerful enough to make his betrothal binding. We see from here that hirhur teshuvah does wonders despite its minuscule moment and effort.
Using the Rav's idea, I would like to suggest that the Ramban may be referring to this idea of hirhur teshuvah. Out of the whole process of Teshuvah, that first spark of consideration is quick and easy; anyone can have that thought and it can motivate a person to continue the process despite the challenging steps that follow. This may be why Nitzavim is before Rosh Hashanah and not during the Ten Days of Repentance; its message of hirhur teshuvah *only* works for Rosh Hashanah. It is a good way to kick off the Ten Days of Repentance as we move towards Yom Kippur. May we all build upon the momentum of hirhur teshuvah and complete the process not only with Yom Kippur, but through the rest of our lives.
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