Saturday, Jul 20, 2024

Servitude of Love

Sukkos is a Yom Tov of complete joy. We expend so much effort in finding proper Dalet Minim and in building and decorating our sukkos. When the sun goes down on the fourteenth day of Tishrei, happiness descends upon the Jewish people wherever they are. There are few things that can dampen the enthusiasm that takes over young and old alike. The first would be something affecting the kashrus of your much sought-after esrog.
However, even more disheartening than the loss of a pitum is the experience of sitting down in a beautifully decorated sukkah, paper-chains of blue and yellow and green crisscrossing its expanse, beautiful pictures decorating the walls, the table laid out with a crisp white tablecloth and the finest dishes, everyone dressed in their Yom Tov finest, the refraction of the lights and candles reflecting off the glowing faces of everyone seated around the table; and then the sky opens up above your s’chach drenching everyone with pouring rain.


Rain on Sukkos is distressing for a deeper reason than ruined soup and sukkah decorations. There is a Divine message inherent in the driving downpour. The Mishnah in Sukkah (28) famously tells us that rain on Sukkos is compared to a servant who comes to pour a drink for his master, and instead of accepting the cup, the master throws the drink back in the servant’s face.


How dispiriting it is to have an act of devotion and deference rejected in such fashion.

Why does the Mishnah bring out its point of the bad omen of rain on Sukkos through an allegory describing a slave and his master? The Mishnah could have made the same point utilizing an allegorical tale involving a son serving his father, rather than a slave and his master.


A person’s children are his children no matter what happens. Nothing can change that. If a son is disobedient, he still remains a son. If a son doesn’t serve his parents properly, he is still their son. They may be upset with him, and they will try to educate him to improve his ways and manners, but they cannot divorce him from being their son.


Servants and slaves, however, exist purely to serve their masters. The concept of avdus is one of complete and utter servitude. Their very existence is dependent upon their masters’ mercy. Should the eved not serve his master properly, he won’t remain an eved much longer.


When a master rejects his servant’s help, the master isn’t merely rebuffing or insulting him. The master is rejecting his very essence. The master, in a statement of total invalidation, is declaring that he has no need for the servant.


Our relationship with Hashem is one of duality. We are both children and avodim. On Rosh Hashanah, following the shofar blasts of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros, we recite a brief tefillah. We proclaim that we are bonim and avodim. We ask Hashem that if He perceives us as children, he should have mercy on us the way a father has mercy on his children. If He is dealing with us as avodim, we ask that we find favor in His eyes so that we will emerge triumphant upon being judged.


If that is the case, why, when it comes to Sukkos, is our relationship with Hashem depicted as one of avodim, and not as bonim, children?


Perhaps we can understand this by examining the biblical explanation for the mitzvah of sukkah.


Hashem commands us to sit in the sukkah, stating, “Lemaan yeidu doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzi’i osom mei’eretz Mitzrayim – So that your future generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos when I took them out of Mitzrayim.”


The mitzvah of sukkah is to remind us that Hashem redeemed us from slavery in Mitzrayim. When we sit in the sukkah, we proclaim that Hashem plucked us out of that awful situation and fashioned us to be his avodim. As Chazal say, “Avodei heim, velo avodim la’avodim.” We are avdei Hashem, not avodim to people who are themselves avodim.


Because we are His avodim, He freed us from the Mitzri physical servitude, split the Yam Suf for us, and put us on safe, dry land, where he built sukkos for us and spread his canopy of peace over us. The supreme joy of Sukkos is a celebration of our rewarding avdus of Hashem.


Therefore, since the Yom Tov of Sukkos is a celebration of our becoming exclusively avdei Hashem, when it rains on us in our sukkos, it is as if there is a Heavenly proclamation that our service is not appreciated. The avodah of Sukkos is avdus. It is a celebration of avdus. When there is a taanoh on us, it is a taanoh on our bechinah of avdus. Therefore, the Mishnah uses the moshol of an eved and his master to portray the calamity of Sukkos rain.


This might be the rationale behind the din of mitzta’er, which is unique in the performance of mitzvos. One who is pained by sitting in the sukkah is freed of his obligation to sit there. Our approach to this mitzvah is that of avodim. A servant doesn’t have the luxury of feeling inconvenienced. If a servant is unhappy and pained by what he has to do, he has failed in his role and is not properly cognizant of his function. A servant does as he is commanded. His job is to perform for his master and be there at his beck and call. If he cannot do that, he is a failure.


An eved Hashem who feels that he is inconvenienced by the mitzvos has lost focus. A person who is pained to fulfill the will of Hashem has failed in his avodah. Hashem says to him, “I don’t need you here. You may leave.”


Now we can understand as well why one who sits in the sukkah as rain is falling is termed a hedyot by Chazal. An eved whose services are not wanted must atone for his wrong doing and find favor again in the eyes of his master before returning to his service. As long as his master is displeased with him, he must stay away. Rain on Sukkos is a message to us that we must work harder to find favor in the eyes of Hashem. One who ignores that message is a hedyot. The proper response is sadness at being turned out and engaging in teshuvah in order to be welcomed back in the tzeila d’miheimnusa.


Rain on Sukkos, as well, forces us to reexamine our identity, as our very role as avdei Hashem is threatened.


On Rosh Hashanah, we called upon our status as avodim. Each time we blewtheshofar, we asked Hakadosh Boruch Hu to have mercy on us, whether as sons or as servants. We are indeed both. We possess the fierce love and devotion of a son, coupled with the loyalty and dependability of an eved.


The avodah of the Yomim Noraim is to work on ourselves to be more subservient to the will of Hashem and be mamlich Him over us. With much longing, we say, “Veyomar kol asher neshomah be’apo, Hashem Elokei Yisroel Melech.” For ten days, we proclaim that Hashem is the “Melech Hakadosh.” We recite pesukim of Malchiyos and pray that“veyekablu ohl malchuscha aleihem.”


The point of all these tefillos and others similar to them is for us to recognize our duty as avodim to Hashem. We approach Sukkos confident in having surmounted that challenge and perfected our avdus. Therefore, when it rains, it is a sign that our avdus leaves much to be desired and we have not yet perfected ourselves as required.


Yetzias Mitzrayim was a march to a new reality. Once we tasted the bitter taste of servitude to the Mitzriyim, we were led out toward Har Sinai, where we were charged with the mandate of avdus Hashem.


Rosh Hashanah tells us of Hashem’s greatness, and once we internalize that, we realize how lowly we are.Yom Kippur brings us to true humility and shiflus. Broken and contrite, we are then ready for Sukkos, humble servants eager to serve their Master.


The excitement we feel about sitting in the sukkah is exhilaration about facing our destiny. In its embrace, we celebrate avdus.


Rav Shmuel Yosef Fishbane, rov of White Lake, NY, has a rich collection of stories about the people he has met over decades of reaching out to Yidden. He tells a story from the sad period in this country whenTorah Jews found themselves jobless each Monday due to their refusal to work on Shabbos.


There was one person who would receive his notice of dismissal every week after having failed to show up for work on Shabbos. Each week, this Yid would take the piece of paper terminating his employment and place it in a box he kept under his bed. It was a curious minhag, which perplexed his family. The papers added up, and before long, he had a large collection of “pink slips.”


When Sukkos came, the man put up a small sukkah. Then he went to his room and pulled out the box. He proceeded to his sukkah and hung up the little papers all over its walls, testimony to his resolve and commitment to his avdus.


“These,” the man told his family, “are my sukkah decorations.”


Avodim like this man are filled with simcha, growth and a proper understanding of roles, despite the challenges life throws their way.


Perhaps we can understand the Mishnah and its moshol on a deeper level. Following the confrontation that took place between Yaakov Avinu and Eisov over the brachos of their father Yitzchok, Yaakov emerged victorious, but he had to run away to escape Eisov’s wrath. Upon his return, he was confronted by the malach of Eisov.


The malach wished to leave, but Yaakov wouldn’t let him go. As the posuk (Bereishis 32:27) says, “Lo ashaleichacha ki im beirachtoniI will not send you off until you bless me.” Rashi explains the word beirachtoni to mean, “Eisov says I stole the brachos from him. Admit to me that the brachos of my father Yitzchok are rightfully mine.”


The malach answered Yaakov’s demand, saying, “From now on, your name will not be Yaakov. It will be Yisroel.”


How did the malach answer Yaakov’s demand?


Perhaps we can explain this based upon the statement of the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 510) that both Yitzchok Avinu and Avrohom Avinu were named Yisroel. We can understand that the malach of Eisov was telling Yaakov that he was the one who was entitled to carry on the name of the avos, just as his father and grandfather had done. The malach was admitting that Yaakov was the one who would bear their legacy and transmit it to future generations, and through him, the nation of Klal Yisroel would be formed. Thus, it was natural that the brachos would belong to Yaakov as well.


Many Rosh Hashanah machzorim feature a fascinating piece of the Zohar prior to the tekios. While we generally assume that the incident with Yaakov and Eisov receiving the brachos from Yitzchok took place just once during their lifetimes, the Zohar states that it is an eternal battle that takes place annually on Rosh Hashanah.


Yitzchok, in the middas hadin, asks Eisov to bring him matamim. Rivkah warns her beloved son Yaakov. After preparing himself with tefillos and shofar, Yaakovapproaches his father. Yaakov and Rivkah influence Yitzchok, who blesses Yaakov and reverts to middas horachamim. Joyfully, Yaakov leaves. Eisov then arrives with implements of Olam Hazeh to beat back Yaakov, but it is for naught. Yaakov davens, repents and fasts, and, finally, emerges victorious. Hashem wants to celebrate with His children. Yaakov builds a sukkah and is saved from the mekatreig. Hashem is then happy with His children.


The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:2) writes of a similar idea and states that the Jews and the nations of the world argue their case in front of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. We don’t know who won until the Jews go out on Sukkos with their lulavim and esrogim. Then we are assured that the Jews have won and have once again overcome those who seek their destruction.


The Netziv, in his peirush Hamek Dovor (Vayikra 16:29), explains that in the debate regarding the survival of the Jewish people, essentially, according to teva, the Jews should lose. It is only because Hashem watches over us in the merit of our Torah, avodah and gemillus chassodim that we survive and are granted a new year. However, if you would add up the numbers and figure it all out with pen and paper according to the laws of nature and human understanding, there would be no way that the Jews would be able to defeat all those who seek their destruction.


With this, perhaps we can understand why the Mishnah compares Am Yisroel to an eved in the moshol depicting rain falling on the night of Sukkos. We have just endured the annual battle between Yaakov and Eisov, between the Bnei Yisroel and the umos ha’olam, between teva and Torah, avodah andgemillus chassodim. Klal Yisroel wins because it is lema’ala miderech hateva. It is not beholden to teva and the laws of nature.


Thus, when rain falls and prevents Am Yisroel from observing the mitzvah of sukkah, it is an omen that the teva may be dominant over Torah during the coming year and, therefore, it is indicative of calamity.


Yaakov was given the name Yisroel and the mantle of the avos to memorialize that he builds a sukkah where he celebrates his victory and brochah. But if rain prevents us from entering our sukkos, we fear that it is a message from Heaven that we are not worthy of being the Chosen Nation and bearers of that royal heritage, and, by consequence, treated specially because we are bonim laMakom. Thus, the Mishnah compares us to avodim, not bonim.  


This year, clouds of fear surround us domestically, in Europe, and, most prominently, in Eretz Yisroel. The enemies of the Jews fought very hard this past Rosh Hashanah, as they do every year, for the right to destroy us. We believe that the koach of our Torah, avodah and gemillus chassodim, coupled with our teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, were ma’avir the ro’a hagezeirah, and we were chosen once again by Hashem.


The Bais Yisroel of Ger commented on the chasdei Hashem of the timing of the Yom Kippur War.


“This was a dangerous war,” the Rebbe said, “which, al pi teva, Israel should have lost. So Hakadosh Boruch Hu, in His great mercy, arranged for it to break out on the day when our zechuyos are strong and when our nation’s merits shine brightly. Thus, much of the damage was averted. Had it broken out any other day, the results would have been much worse, Rachmona litzlon.”


While according to the laws of teva we are too small to fight back and defend ourselves, affect elections, bomb bunkers and change world opinion, we know that Hakadosh Boruch Hu stands by us. Thus, as our grandfather Yaakov did, we build sukkos to celebrate our victory together with Hashem.


We pray that we will be seen as worthy heirs to the name Yisroel and treated as Hashem’s children and not as slaves, who are only around as long as their services are desired.


We pray that we will be treated as children, and even if we err and stray, we will always be welcomed back and never abandoned. We pray that this time, our zechuyos will be strong enough to drive away the enemy before he even has a chance to make a move. And, finally, we pray that we merit to sit b’sukkas oro shel livyoson very soon.


Rav Berel Soloveitchik would sit in his sukkah on Rechov Menachem in Yerushalayim and tell of the harrowing experiences of the Sukkos he spent with his father, the Brisker Rov, in Warsaw in 1940.


The Poles had lost town after town to the German Nazis, but decided to make a last stand in their capital city, Warsaw. Determined to beat the hapless Poles into submission, the Germans engaged in brutal daily aerial bombardments of the city. Death was a common occurrence. Streets were filled with all sorts of debris from the toppled buildings. There was smoke and fire everywhere. Hunger and deprivation were daily portions served up with good doses of fear and worry about what the next day would bring.


Part of the building where the Brisker Rov was staying was destroyed in a bombing right before Sukkos. The rov noticed that a man who was sharing the place with them was despondent. He attempted to console the person, speaking softly and offering words of hope about their dire situation. The man looked at him and said, “Rebbe, that is not why I am sad.” It wasn’t their precarious physical situation that had him down. “It’s Erev Sukkos and I don’t have Dalet Minim to make a brochah on.”


The rov told him not to worry. He had received a message that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had an esrog for him on the other side of town. A Gerrer bochur volunteered to make the long, dangerous trek to retrieve it. The rov reassured the man that he would be able to be mekayeim the mitzvah.


The first morning of Sukkos, the Brisker Rov was awoken early. It was still dark and there was noise outside. It sounded like people were gathering outside his window. He feared that something was very wrong, but he soon found out otherwise.


In the entire Warsaw, there were only four sets of Dalet Minim. The person the rov had encountered had told people that Dalet Minim would be available by the Brisker Rov. Word spread like wildfire, and tayereh Yidden, who were suffering from all types of depravation and who feared for their lives, braved the curfew and woke early to be able to make a brochah on the Dalet Minim. A long line was forming.


The entire day, avdei Hashem streamed to that shattered building and stood on line for the zechus to be mekayeim the treasured mitzvah.


“Despite all that was going on and all they had been through,” the rov would recount years later in Yerushalayim, “there was a line of Yidden waiting to shake my Dalet Minim, like from here (his apartment on Rechov Press) to the Zichron Moshe shul. And then,” finished the rov emphatically, “we saw what Yidden really are!”


Four beautiful minim, together reflecting the splendor of a nation. Pri eitz hadar, for the am hadar, avodim and bonim of the Melech Malchei Hamelochim cognizant of their roles and overjoyed to fulfill them no matter what goes on around them, in Warsaw in 1940, and wherever we are today.


May we all merit a bright and sunny Sukkos, full of avdus, simcha and kedushah.


Ah gutten Yom Tov.




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