Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021

Living in Hashem's Sukkah

In the abyss of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where countless Yidden were mercilessly beaten, starved and slaughtered, the holy Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, somehow managed to maintain a regular schedule of his avodas Hashem. Despite hunger and weakness, his learning and legendary tefillos continued without abatement. While the meager food provided by the camp's kitchen was not kosher, he insisted that the Yidden eat it because of pikuach nefesh. Yet, the Rebbe himself would often fast and eat vegetables cooked by his rebbetzin in a kosher pot. She was moser nefesh to provide him with food, but, understandably, this was sometimes impossible.

One can well imagine that under such dire circumstances, a loaf of bread was priceless, for one could live off of it for a few days. A noble woman named Mrs. Blau was able to acquire two whole freshly-baked loaves of bread prepared according to the highest standards of kashrus. She kept one loaf for her family and wanted very much to bring the other loaf to the Rebbe, so that his sustenance for the next few days would be assured. Such a gift was considered a most valuable treasure.

Mrs. Blau was most surprised, however, to watch the tzaddik break off a small piece of the loaf for himself and return the rest, asking her to share it with the other needy Yidden. Upon being asked how he could relinquish such a valuable commodity when it could last him for days, he answered, “I do not want to worry today about my needs for tomorrow. Boruch Hashem yom yom. Hashem takes care of our sustenance from day to day.”

 

In his eyes, saving the extra food for himself just to be secure for the next few days would have constituted a lack of bitachon. This is a standard of reliance on Hashem that very few are zocheh to, yet the Rebbe maintained his level of bitachon even in the most difficult times.

 

– – – – –

 

The Brisker Rov, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, did not have a professional fundraiser for his kollel. Furthermore, his high standards for “kosher money” limited the sources for support. Nevertheless, every Rosh Chodesh, the Rov somehow managed to acquire the necessary funds to disperse stipends to the kollel members on Rosh Chodesh.

 

One Erev Rosh Chodesh, however, it seemed like the Rov wouldn’t be able to procure the proper amount and that he would have to borrow the money. Someone suggested to him that it would be prudent to seek out a benefactor who would be willing to donate a quarter of a million lira as a keren for the kollel. The interest alone could cover the monthly costs, thus removing the burden and worries from the Rov.

 

To this, the Rov answered, “I would never agree to accept such a large sum. Do you think that for money I am willing to sell my bitachon?” The Rov was willing to forego the security of having the money readily available every month, the comfort of a financial load off his shoulders, in order to rely on Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

 

The Rov was wont to say that there are two levels of baalei bitachon. There is one who trusts in Hashem that when the proper time arrives, the Ribono Shel Olam will take care of his needs. However, until he acquires what he wants, he feels needy and unfulfilled. There is, however, a higher form of bitachon, not merely as a means to acquire one’s needs, but as a connection to Hashem in and of itself. Although this person has not yet received what he wants, he still feels elevated through his reliance on Hashem and a sense of serenity that the Ribono Shel Olam is looking out for him.

 

This is what Dovid Hamelech is referring to when he says, “And delight in Hashem for he will grant you the desires of your heart” (Tehillim 37:4). Even before you have received your heart’s desires, there is reason to delight in Hashem. Your bond with Hashem because you rely on Him can already provide you with fulfillment even before you have attained what you need.  

 

– – – – –

 

It wasn’t often that one saw the Ponovezher mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, smiling. While he possessed a special inner simcha, his face usually displayed a seriousness and fear of Hashem. Thus, when a talmid once entered his room and saw him smiling, it was an indication to him that the mashgiach was experiencing some special simcha. When he inquired about this, Rav Chatzkel answered: “When I was mashgiach in Mir in Europe, our poverty was great. Rarely did the yeshiva pay and we had a very strong feeling that our survival was totally dependent on Hashem. Here, in the Ponovezher Yeshiva, things were different. I received a check regularly and I didn’t have that feeling that I was living off of Hashem anymore. But over the last eight months, the yeshiva was having difficulties paying and I haven’t received a check. Now, boruch Hashem, I am besimcha that I am totally dependent on Hashem.”

 

What lofty words!

 

How inspiring are the vignettes about these spiritual giants. But merely conveying a machshavah and relating a story about bitachon is relatively easy. I think to myself, “How do I measure up to these standards when the chips are down?” I’m embarrassed to say: not very well. Can I even say that I fulfill the lower level of bitachon that the Brisker Rov speaks about? I’m afraid not.

 

When the mailbox quickly fills with bills, quicker than our earnings come in, am I not anxious as to how we will meet these obligations? Is my initial reaction to daven to Hashem to send us the means to pay the bills or do I first start making cheshbonos? This check will be arriving soon, and then another, and if all fails, I can always take an advance on my camp salary. This is bitachon?! Sure, I believe that Hashem sends us every penny of parnassah and that this is predetermined on Rosh Hashanah. But does this belief in Hashem give me the peace of mind that I can totally rely on Him and not worry? I am not happy with the answer.

 

Talking bitachon is easy. Living bitachon is a totally different matter. This is one of the great lessons of Sukkos. “You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days: every native in Yisroel shall dwell in sukkos. So that your generations will know that I caused the Bnei Yisroel to dwell in sukkos when I took them out from the land of Mitzrayim, I am Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 23:42-43).

 

Numerous times, the Torah tells us to “remember” that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. Yet, regarding Sukkos, it’s not sufficient to “remember.” Rather, we must “know” that in the midbar we dwelled in sukkos. This is a stronger term than merely remembering, for remembering implies conjuring up images from our past. While we are commanded to do this twice daily, it is only a remembrance. Knowledge implies that Sukkos must be part and parcel of our thoughts regularly. Why?      

 

It is the nature of man to want to be in control of his life and not have to rely on others. This nature gives one the impetus to advance in all aspects of his life. The young yeshiva bochur aspires for greatness, at which point he will be able to stand on his own two feet in learning, eventually being mechadeish chiddushim and delivering his own shiurim. The junior accountant longs for the day when he will be the head of his own firm and others will be working under him. The budding entrepreneur dreams of the future, when he will be the CEO of a large corporation. Most people want to be able to support their families and not live at the mercy of others.     

 

This innate human desire is what makes the world go round. It is the fiber with which communities are built. But it has its pitfalls. Wanting to be in control makes us forget that the Ribono Shel Olam controls our lives and that our efforts are merely hishtadlus. That first and foremost we must rely on Hashem. This is where the yediah of Sukkos comes in.

 

When we first left Mitzrayim as a fledgling nation, we had no place to call our own. We had no soil to toil and no crops to harvest. We were open to the elements, helpless and at the mercy of Hashem. This is why four-fifths of the Bnei Yisroel chose to stay in Mitzrayim. They were willing to forego their freedom and bonding with Hashem to hold on to their secure surroundings, their comfort zone. Unfortunately, they died during the plague of choshech, as they were not willing to see the light.

 

But oh how fortunate were the Yidden who left Mitzrayim. “Thus said Hashem: I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the wilderness into an unseen land” (Yirmiyah 2:2). This total reliance on Hashem without the ability to sustain themselves brought them tremendous dividends. Not only were they recipients of Hashem’s chassodim, which provided them with all their needs, but they merited to receive the Torah at Har Sinai and became known as the “Dor Deah,” the generation most connected to Hashem.

 

Reaching a level of pure, wholesome bitachon is a lifelong endeavor in which one must constantly internalize our dependence on Hashem. But we can especially capitalize on this period of the Yomim Noraim and Sukkos to acquire this middah. It is for this reason that throughout these days, we recite the song of Dovid, L’Dovid Hashem Ori Veyishi, for it expresses Dovid Hamelech’s total reliance on Hashem: “Hashem is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear, Hashem is the strength of my life whom shall I dread” (Tehillim 27:1).

 

The Medrash tells us that “ori, my light,” refers to Rosh Hashanah, and “yishi, my salvation,” refers to Yom Kippur. The Vilna Gaon points out that the words “ki yitzpineini besukko, for He will hide me in His shelter,” refers to Sukkos. What is the significance of these remozim?

 

Throughout the year, while we are occupied with our various responsibilities, we tend to forget that it is not our talents and knowhow that bring our success, but rather it is all from Hakadosh Boruch Hu. We continue living in this darkness until Rosh Hashanah approaches. Then we remember that on the Yom Hadin, we stand in judgment before Hashem, Who decides our fate. Ori – this lights up the path to teshuvah, with us totally subjugating ourselves to Hashem on Yom Kippur. This bonding with Hashem is yishi, my salvation.

 

Now we are ready to enclose ourselves with the four walls of the sukkah. Until now, we viewed the natural world, our business associates, our employers and our suppliers as the source of our parnassah. Now we are isolated from them and we sit alone under the s’chach, together with the Shechinah. Like the Yidden in the midbar, we abandon the road we are accustomed to travel on during the year via our own efforts and take a new route. “Leave your established dwelling place and enter the temporary one, the one you’re not accustomed to” (Sukkah 2a). This is the path of total dependence on Hashem. For He will hold me in His shelter.       

 

Currently, our people face difficult times. From the outside, our enemies threaten to destroy us. From within, the secular and leftist camps attempt to undermine chareidi Jewry. The mitzvah of bris milah is under attack. We can only survive through our bitachon, as the words of Dovid Hamelech ring so true: “Place your hope in Hashem, strengthen yourself and He will instill courage in your heart, and place your hope in Hashem” (Tehillim 27:14)

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