What a unique nation we are, so different from all the other nations of the world. When others face a serious indictment in court, where their lives are on the line, they are very much afraid. They cannot eat, nor are they concerned about their clothing or appearance. But Yidden on their Yom Hadin get dressed in their fineries and serve tasty meals. Yes, they are afraid, but nevertheless happy and confident that their Judge, Hakadosh Boruch Hu, will grant them a favorable judgment. And how do they celebrate Rosh Hashanah? Quite different than the rest of the world.
Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev would go around on Rosh Hashanah searching, looking to see if he could find just one Yid who was drunk. And when he couldn’t, he turned his eyes heavenward and said, “Ribono Shel Olam, look at Your nation. Look at how they celebrate and look at the new year’s day of the nations of the world, when the streets are lined with inebriated people. Our seudos feature foods that are simanim for a good year laced with our tefillos – much different than the others.”
Yes, we are a special nation. On Yom Kippur, we fast and deprive ourselves of various pleasures. And yet, Chazal say that Yom Kippur was the happiest day of the year (Taanis 26b), for it was the day of forgiveness, the cleansing of our souls.
We are commanded, “You shall dwell in sukkos for a seven-day period; 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 from the land of Mitzrayim…” (Vayikra 23:42-44). One would think that if the sukkah is associated with Yetzias Mitzrayim, we should dwell in it when we left Mitzrayim in the month of Nissan. Why, then, do we do it in Tishrei?
The Tur (Orach Chaim 625) explains: “Because Nissan is in the days of summer. And it is the way of people to erect huts outside for shade. It wouldn’t be recognizable that we are doing it to fulfill the command of our Creator. He therefore commanded us to erect them in the seventh month, when it begins to rain. Then it is the way of all men to leave their huts and dwell in their homes. But we leave the house to sit in the sukkah. With this, we demonstrate to all that this is a commandment of the King…”
One senses the nuance that with the sukkah, we display that we are different than everyone else. We dance to a different tune. While the nations of the world follow the laws of nature, we follow the dictates of Hashem. The deeper message here is that we are not governed by the laws of nature, but rather by the command of Hashem. We are a people that defies teva.
“For from its origins, I see it rocklike, and from its hills do I see it” (Bamidbar 23:9). Our ancestor, Avrohom Ha’ivri, stood up for the honor of Hashem, one single individual, opposite the entire world, which worshiped idols. And unlike the rest of the nations, who when offered the Torah refused, we proudly declared, “Naaseh venishma.” This is why we are cherished by Hashem, and on this Yom Tov, the King has brought us to His chamber (Shir Hashirim 1:4) as we sit together in the sukkah.
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The year was 1940 and the city of Warsaw, Poland was being pulverized by the constant bombardment of German warplanes. On Erev Sukkos of that year, Poland signed an unconditional surrender to the Germans and the bombing stopped. Much of the city lay in ruins. The shell-shocked citizens of Poland’s capital crept out of their bomb shelters, welcoming the cease-fire, when an amazing scene took place.
Hundreds and thousands of Yidden who had just emerged from the cellars and ruined buildings that filled every corner of the city hurried immediately to get a hold of uprooted doors, window frames, and any scraps of building material found amidst the ruins. They began to work hard on erecting sukkos for the upcoming Yom Tov. While they were doing this, groups of Nazis approached, destroying every sukkah in sight and chasing the Yidden away.
However, these holy people were not deterred in the slightest. Immediately afterward, the sukkos were rebuilt with the nimble hands of Yidden who so cherished mitzvos. Then again, the evil Germans, with the help of young Polish thugs, destroyed them again. The scene repeated itself again, and by sunset, the indomitable spirit of the Jews overcame the strength of their oppressors. The arrival of Yom Tov was greeted with hundreds of sukkos. Although not decorated and beautiful, they were fully kosher. This was testimony to the strong love that Yidden have for mitzvos under the direst circumstances.
But there were many more displays of mesirus nefesh and simcha of mitzvos amongst the Jews in Warsaw in those days of fear. The Brisker Rov, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, shared a room with another Yid at the home where he was staying. The Rov noticed that his neighbor was sitting on the ground looking depressed, so he started a conversation with him, trying to cheer him up.
“Reb Yid,” he said, “try to clear your heart from any sad thoughts. Remember that it is Yom Tov. And even though the Jewish kehillah is bemoaning the devastation and lives that were lost, still, the pain of the rabbim is half of the nechomah. It is incumbent upon us to give each other strength and to rise above our personal suffering…”
“That is not why I am sad,” answered the Yid. “What troubles me is the thought that I don’t have the four minim to fulfill the mitzvah and there are none to be found in the entire area.”
When the Rov heard this, he told the man joyfully, “I’m happy to inform you that I have an esrog right here that you will be able to use.”
The moment the man heard this, his face lit up with simcha. He immediately got up off the ground and had a look of satisfaction on his face. But it didn’t end there.
It was still dark outside when the Rov woke up the next morning. He heard the rumblings of a large crowd of people outside. He opened his door to investigate, and he was surprised to see a long line beginning at his door. He turned to his roommate and asked him if he knew what this was all about. The Yid answered that in all of Warsaw, there were hundreds of thousands of Yidden, but only four people who had the four minim. “When I heard that the Rov has an esrog, I told others about it, and the news quickly spread throughout the city. These people have been waiting on line throughout the night, despite the curfew imposed by the Germans.”
When daylight arrived, suddenly, one could hear the sounds of sirens coming from army trucks filled with German soldiers. They arrived on the scene and pounced on the people in the crowd, screaming at them for violating the curfew. They beat them mercilessly with the butts of their rifles, and the crowd dispersed. Lying on the ground were people who were bleeding. Others were crying out in pain. When the soldiers finished their job, they were back on their trucks and they left the premises. A few minutes later, the people returned to wait on line to fulfill the mitzvah. The evil villains returned throughout the day, again and again, but they were unable to stifle the strong desire of Yidden to be mekayeim the mitzvah.
When the Rov related this years later, he said with emotion, “Then you were able to see what Yidden are!” (Horav M’Brisk, by Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller).
What was the turning point in World War II that caused the defeat of Germany? Historians will probably say that it was D-Day, the Allied invasion at Normandy. Some might point to the Battle of the Bulge. Others will attribute it to massive German losses in Russia. But one can make a case for the mitzvah of sukkah. Yes, a supernatural force brought about by the mesirus nefesh of holy Yidden to fulfill this mitzvah during the most trying times.
We know that, like with every mitzvah, one should have the kavanah that by dwelling in the sukkah, he is fulfilling the command of Hashem. In addition, he must remember Yetzias Mitzrayim and the Ananei Hakavod that guided and protected us in the midbar. The Zera Shimshon says that to fulfill the mitzvah in its entirety, one should also have in mind that with the mitzvah of sukkah, one weakens the forces of evil and impurity and brings about their downfall.
In the times of the Bais Hamikdosh on Sukkos, we brought 70 bulls as sacrifices, the number corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. On the first day of Yom Tov, the number of bulls was 13, and every day it decreased by one. This is symbolic of the fact that the power of the nations who oppose us serving Hashem will get progressively weaker over time, until they, too, will serve Him. We also read the haftaros on Sukkos describing the war of Gog U’Magog that will lead to the final geulah.
It would seem that the fact that we leave the comforts of our homes to dwell in temporary huts, where we experience a convocation with the Shechinah, has the effect of raising the level of kedusha in this world, which weakens the forces of evil. If so, it isn’t a stretch to say that the courage and devotion of Yidden to fulfill this mitzvah, while totally disregarding the beatings of their tormentors, brought about the ignominious defeat of the Nazis ym”sh.
We live in a world today where the forces of evil are rampant. The tumah, the perversion, the lawlessness, and the dishonesty seem so overwhelming, and as Chazal predicted long ago, in the days of ikvisa deMeshicha, chutzpah will be plentiful and there will be no shame.
In addition, we are surrounded by adversaries who wish to destroy us. The situation with Iran is getting more precarious by the day, with a weak American government ready to cater to all its whims. If anyone ever believed in the Zionist dream, it should be obvious that it has long ago faded by the doing of their own hands. Attempting to be a nation like all other nations, they have constantly strengthened the hands of terrorist groups like the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah. With world opinion against them and their hands tied by America, their options are limited.
The civil unrest in the State of Israel is very troubling as well. When well-known politicians call for anarchy and it affects the country’s armed forces, that is a serious threat to security. The vitriol against chareidim increases with the passing of time.
Back in chutz la’aretz, the New York Times, out of pure hatred for religious Jews, has made it their mission to publish articles full of untruths against us. This has brought about an increase in anti-Semitic crimes. It seems like there is no end to these problems.
But as we said before, the sukkah has a special power. If we have in mind that by dwelling in the sukkah we can vanquish the forces of evil, we can merit Hashem’s answering our tefillos: “Spread upon us the shelter of Your peace.” And then the world will be permeated by a spirit of purity and virtue.
Chag someiach to all!