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Sukkot [=The Feast of Tabernacles] 5758
Do the righteous need Divine protection in the World to Come?
"You shall dwell in Sukkot [=shading shelters] for seven days ... "(Vayikra 23:42) - Rav Levi said: When someone keeps the Mitzvah of Sukkah in this world, Hashem says of him, "He kept the Mitzvah of Sukkah, so I will shade him from the scorching sun of the Day of Judgment."
Rav Yannai and Resh Lakish said: There will not be any Gehinnom (Hell) in the World to Come (i.e., in the ultimate, eternal world that follows a person's initial reward or punishment after his death -- Ran, Nedarim 8b). Rather, the sun at that time will scorch the wicked and burn them up, as it says (Malachi 3:19), "A sun will come which will burn like a furnace; all the wicked and all the evildoers will be like straw, and the sun will incinerate them...." At that time Hashem will make a Sukkah [=shading shelter] for the righteous to protect them from the sun, as it says (Tehillim 27:5), "He will conceal me in His Sukkah on the day of evil; He will hide me in the seclusion of His tent." (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor #653)
Resh Lakish tells us in the Midrash, that as a reward for observing Sukkot a person is protected from the heat of the blazing sun that will scorch the wicked in the World to Come.
From this Midrash it would seem that the righteous will be protected from the scorching sun of the future by means of a special shelter which Hashem will provide them. This, however, seems to contradict Resh Lakish's own description of the events to take place in the future as it appears in the Gemara:
Resh Lakish said: There will not be any Gehinnom in the World to Come. Rather, Hashem will take the sun out from its sheath and it will blaze intensely. The wicked will be punished through it, while the righteous will be healed through it, as it says (Malachi 3:19-20), "A sun will come which will burn like a furnace; all the wicked and all the evildoers will be like straw, and the sun will incinerate them.... But a sun of kindness will shine for those who fear Me, with healing in its rays." Moreover, the righteous will derive pleasure from the sun, as it says (ibid.), "...and you will become sated, as fattened calves entering their pen to feed." (Avodah Zarah 3b)
According to this account, the righteous will not need to be sheltered from the burning sun on the Day of Judgment. On the contrary, the warmth of that day's sun will be beneficial to them rather than harmful. How can we reconcile these two statements, both of them made by Resh Lakish? Why will the righteous both benefit from the sun, yet require shelter from it? In order to address this question, we must first focus our attention on explaining some of the basic themes expressed in these Midrashim, and attempt to understand their deeper meaning. Why is the *sun* chosen to be the agent through which Hashem will administer punishment for the wicked and reward for the righteous? What is meant by the sun's "sheath," and why is it normally encased in this sheath? What does the Sukkah that Hashem will construct for the righteous represent?
It should be noted that Aggadic statements [=words of Chazal that consist of homiletics or narratives, rather than discussions of legal issues] are generally allegorical. They are intended to represent ideas that were not meant to be revealed to the unprepared layman (Maimonides, in his introduction to the Mishna, s.v. Achar Ken). Aggadic statements are given to several different levels of understanding. By analyzing the terminology used in the above statements and comparing them to similar expressions used elsewhere by Chazal, we can perhaps scratch the surface of the deeper concepts that are alluded to in their words. (NOTE: Please realize that Aggadic themes are often difficult to convey in a few short sentences. Even if I were to understand them to their fullest, explaining them to a broad audience would not be an easy task, and I would still have to resort to metaphor or allegory occasionally. Please do not take everything that I say here literally, and give me the benefit of the doubt, realizing that nobody is perfect. May Hashem forgive me if I misrepresent His words, or cause them to be misconstrued.)
The sun represents Hashem's glory.
The Gemara (Sotah 10a) tells us that the word "Shemesh" [=protector (Rashi)] can be used as an appellation for Hashem, as it says, "Hashem is a Shemesh and a shield" (Tehillim 84:12). The common biblical usage of the word "Shemesh," however, is as the Hebrew word for "sun." Why should the sun be referred to with the same word that denotes its Creator? "The heavens proclaim the glory of God... He made a tent in [the heavens] for the sun. The sun appears like a groom coming out of his bridal canopy; it rejoices like an athlete running his course. It emerges from one edge of the sky and it goes around to the other; no one can escape its heat." (Tehillim 19:2-7)
In what way do "the heavens proclaim the glory of God"? The psalm explains that it is through the sun's great might that Hashem's power is demonstrated. This colossal nuclear furnace, radiating more energy every second than mankind has consumed in the whole of our history, is the source of all life on earth. Holding in tow the entire solar system through its gravitational pull, the sun's light, heat, and "wind" of ionized particles affect planets and other bodies billions of miles away. The sun, our only directly observable star, is the greatest public demonstration of the awesome might and glory of Hashem.
In fact, it was this very display of power that brought some ancient civilizations to worship the sun. We, however, who believe in Hashem, note that the sun itself can do nothing to change its predetermined, natural course. It persistently "emerges from one edge of the sky goes around to the other." Instead of worshipping it, we marvel at the great Power Who endows the sun with such tremendous power.
This is a key to understanding many of the words of Chazal [=the sages of the Talmud] involving the sun. Take, for example, the interpretation Rabbenu Bachye (Spain, ~1350) offers for a Gemara in Bava Batra: Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai said: There was a precious stone that hung from the neck of Avraham Avinu. Whoever was sick would come and gaze at the stone and be healed. When Avraham died, Hashem hung the stone on the sphere of the sun. (Bava Batra 16b)
Avraham's capability to "enlighten people's eyes," in a spiritual sense, is being compared here to a brilliant gem. It was said to be hanging on Avraham's neck, because speech emanates from the throat, which is in the neck (and it was through his words that Avraham was able to enlighten people). "Whoever was sick..." means that whoever had spiritual shortcomings would, after being exposed to Avraham, become "healed" of his spiritual ailment. When Avraham died, he left behind no other human being who was capable of demonstrating Hashem's unity and greatness to others. This capability now rested only with the sun, as it says, "The heavens proclaim the glory of God...." (Rabbenu Bachye, intro. to Parashat Yitro -- see also Kli Yakar, Bereishit 32:27.)
This, then, may explain why the word "Shemesh," which is used in scripture to describe Hashem, was borrowed as a name for the sun, His great emissary on this world. After all, an emissary is entitled to go by the name of his dispatcher.
This is the "sun" that both rewards and punishes, in the World to Come.
In this world, however, the "sun" -- i.e., the demonstration of Hashem's glory to man that the sun represents -- is "sheathed." After all is said and done, it is still possible to make the mistake of thinking that the sun operates of its own volition, as idolaters believe -- or that the sun acts according to natural principles that developed spontaneously and randomly, as modern day atheists believe. The "brilliance" of the sun is thus cloaked, in this world. In the World to Come, however, Hashem will take the sun out of its "sheath." As the Gemara (Berachot 17a) says, "In the world to come there will be no eating or drinking; rather the righteous will sit and delight in the radiance of Hashem's presence." Experiencing closeness to God will be in place of physical pleasure for the righteous. They will be able to perceive God in a way that is not possible in this world -- the sun will be "taken out of its sheath." This is the reward for those who have sought throughout their lives to better know Hashem and His ways. (Knowing Hashem and His ways is our goal in life... "This is the only thing that a person may be praised for: knowing and understanding My ways... said Hashem" -- Yirmiyah 9:23.) Hashem will reveal His glory to each of the righteous in the World to Come in accordance with the amount of effort they invested in knowing and understanding Him during their lives in this world.
The wicked, on the other hand, will endure disgrace at that time. It will be made abundantly clear just how much they had distanced themselves from the source of eternal life during their lives on this world. On the Day of Final Reckoning, their disgrace will be revealed to all, and any existence that they merit will only be granted to them through those very righteous whom they had so despised during their lives. The revelation of Hashem's presence in the World to Come will "burn" them, due the their distance from Him.
The reward of the righteous is granted based on an evaluation of how close they were to their Creator during their lives. It therefore stands to reason that even among the righteous, every person's experience in the World to Come will be different. Some will be closer to Hashem than others in certain aspects, while others will be closer than them in other ways. The righteous will therefore both "derive pleasure from the sun [=the revelation of the Divine Presence]" for their accomplishments, and "be burned by the sun" for their failings. Since they are righteous, however, and at least worked towards "knowing Hashem," He will make them a Sukkah to protect them from being scorched for the latter. Thus, Resh Lakish's two statements can be seen to complement each other. The righteous will both be rewarded by the sun, and yet need protection from it.
Torah is the "Sukkah" that protects us on Sukkot and on the Day of Final Judgment.
But just what is the "Sukkah" through which Hashem grants protection to the righteous? "No one can escape [the sun's] heat" (Tehillim 19:7) -- but in the future there *will* be people who will be able to escape the sun's heat. Who are these people? Rav Acha explained: People who occupy themselves with Torah study -- as the subsequent verse says, "The Torah of Hashem is perfect." (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 19, #674)
It is the Torah that a person has studied during his lifetime in order to become closer to Hashem, that forms the "Sukkah" that shelters him from the damaging heat of the "sun" in the World to Come.
Why is a Sukkah the metaphor chosen to represent the study of the Torah? We may suggest a number of reasons. First of all, like a shelter, Torah study protects a person and shields him from the evil and destructive elements of this world (Gemara Sota 21a). A house also protects a person from the elements, of course, but the Sukkah is a better metaphor for the protection provided by the Torah. A Sukkah, while providing shelter, still lets in the light of the sun (i.e., teaches one faith in his Creator) through its leafy roof. (In fact, one immersed in Torah study is said to be in the "tent" of Torah -- "Oholo shel Torah" -- see Rashi Bereishit 25:27, and HaKetav VeHakabala ad loc.)
The Sukkot we are commanded to live in during the Sukkot festival may also be hinting to us the importance, and the benefits, of Torah study. The Gemara (Sukkah 2a) tells us that the Mitzvah of dwelling in Sukkot involves "going out of our *permanent* dwellings and living in a *temporary* dwelling." The allegorical understanding of this statement may be that the "Sukkah" of Torah brings us to realize that this world is not a permanent residence, but rather a temporary dwelling place only. It is only the World to Come, when eternal rewards and punishments are granted, that is truly important.
The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to Yonah 4:5, develops this theme eloquently. The Gemara (Sukkah 11b) tells us that the roof of the Sukkah should be made of "the refuse of the wheat and wine produce" (i.e., it should be made of plant material, but not of manufactured objects or of foodstuffs). The Gaon explains that when the Torah tells us to use "the refuse of bread and wine" for our Sukkah, it can also be seen as a metaphor. The Torah (represented by the Sukkah) teaches us the lesson that we should turn our attention away from such physical pleasures as "bread and wine" (=culinary pleasures and intoxicating beverages), and concentrate instead on spiritual pursuits. As the Mishna in Avot (6:4) says, "This is the way of the Torah: eat bread and salt, drink but a small measure of water". (See also Chidah in Nachal Kedumim, Parashat Vayishlach, #11.)
As a friend of mine, Harav Avraham Ziskind of Jerusalem, pointed out, the Midrash that we started with may also be understood in this light. As the Midrash stated, keeping the Mitzvah of Sukkah earns one protection from the scorching sun of the World to Come. This may be understood to mean that if one truly appreciates the *message* of the Mitzvah of Sukkah -- that it is important to shun physical pleasure and to instead pursue spiritual perfection through Torah study -- then he will merit to sit in the protective "Sukkah" of Hashem in the World to Come.
This may also be the association of the verses in the psalm starting "L'David Hashem Ori," (which was quoted at the conclusion of our original Midrash) as Rav Ziskind further pointed out: "[My wish is] that I may sit in the house of Hashem (=the house of Torah study) all my life, that I may see the sweetness of Hashem and visit in His palace (=that is, that I may be able to enjoy the pleasure of perceiving his presence in the World to Come). For He will conceal me in His Sukkah on the day of evil; He will hide me in the seclusion of His tent. (=As a result of my studying the Torah, Hashem will conceal me in His Sukkah, protecting me from being scorched by the sun of the World to Come.)" (Tehillim 27:4-5)
May Hashem grant us a portion in the World to Come with that of the righteous, and bathe us in the light of his healing and refreshing sun!
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