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SIMCHAT TORAH/PARSHAT B'RAYSHIT
B'rayshit (Genesis) 1:1- 6:8
Haftorah Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
This past Monday (the first day of Sukkot) Rabbi Loketch gave a talk on the meaning behind the Sukkot festival that was so inspiring to me that I wish to pass it on to you as well. A "Vort" from last year will also complete our e-mailing this week which will take us through to Simchat Torah and Parshat B'rayshit.
Why are we obligated to "dwell" in Sukkot (booths)? The answer is simple, in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:43 it says: "for in Sukkot-booths did I settle the Children of Israel."
In other words, during the forty years that the B'nai Yisrael (Children of Israel) lived in various deserts, Hashem protected them from the elements by providing them with shelter.
And what kind of shelter did He provide? On this matter there is a difference of opinion. One school of thought believes it to be actual Sukkot (booths or huts) and another opinion believes it to be the 7 Ananei HaKavod (7 Clouds of Honor) that enclosed and protected them from the elements and from dangerous animals (4 clouds surrounded them on all 4 sides, one was above them, and one was below them, and either a pillar cloud by day or a pillar fire by night).
We also know that during the years in the desert, 3 major miracles occurred
that sustained the B'nai Yisrael even during their harshest travels:
Given the above information, the festival of Sukkot should encompass all three miracles, why do we only commemorate the Clouds of Honor? Also, there is a Halachik principle that anyone who experiences a miracle is also obligated in the observance of rituals and commandments that relate to that miracle. If so - why are women who received protection from the Clouds of Honor exempt from dwelling in a Sukkah? And finally, why is the festival of Sukkot celebrated in the fall, it should be celebrated in the spring, with Passover, which also commemorates the exodus from Egypt?
To understand the answer we must go back to the beginnings of our nation when Abraham provided for strangers and nomads. After entering into a covenant with King Avimelech, the Torah states:
"He (Avraham) planted an ‘Eshel' in Be'ersheva, and there he proclaimed the name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe."
Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitchaki, 1040-1105, France - a most
foremost commentator on Torah - both Written and Oral) quotes a Gemara from
Sota (10a) that explains that the "Eshel" (spelled Aleph, Shin, Lamed) that
Avraham planted was not only an orchard but that it is an abbreviation for
the three things that Avraham provided to wayfarers.
These 3 components of hospitality are what Avraham used to spread the knowledge of Hashem in the world. He not only took care of peoples basic comforts of eating and drinking, but he also bestowed each guest with dignity and honor by personally escorting them a ways as they departed his company. The Torah teaches us that by escorting them Avraham and Sara bestowed honor upon them and that was equal if not greater than the food and beverage that they gave.
So too, when we are obligated to remember and appreciate the miracles of Hashem that made our travels in harsh deserts comfortable, it was not the food/Manna or the water/well that we use to simulate that experience. Rather, it is the Sukkah that symbolizes the escort through harsh deserts that Hashem gave to us that encompasses both protection, refreshment AND honor.
The Ga'on (genius) of Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797) gives us an amazing insight into the Clouds of Honor. He reminds us that when Moshe did not return from his 40 day and 40 night encounter upon Mt. Sinai, Aharon tried to delay the men's eminent rebellion by requesting the gold of their wives and daughters, knowing that the women would refuse. Not wishing to be deterred, the men seized their wives and daughters gold and created the Golden Calf. Thus men for all generations must atone for this flaw by performing certain Mitzvot (commandments) that remind us of Hashem's presence. Women who did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf were exempt from those Mitzvot and rituals.
He also reminds us that the Clouds of Honor encircled the B'nai Yisrael from the time that they left Egypt until they committed the terrible sin of the Golden Calf. Then, in their dishonor, the Clouds of Honor could no longer offer their protection to the B'nai Yisrael. However, when Moshe returned from Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) he informed the B'nai Yisrael that part of their atonement was to donate their gold and other fine objects to the building and the maintenance of the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Vilna Go'an teaches us that four days later on the 15th of Tishrei the Clouds of Honor reappeared and again provided protection and honor to our nation.
This explains our original three questions:
1. Why do we only commemorate the festival the Clouds of Honor? Because the act of escorting one's guests is the greatest kindness that a host can show his guests. In the case of the B'nai Yisrael, more than just providing us with refreshment, Hashem made His presence known to us during our sojourn in the deserts. In the wilderness God enveloped and escorted Israel in His Clouds of Honor. The clouds were a sign that Israel had risen to the spiritual level that made them worthy of God's Honor.
2. Why are women who received protection from the Clouds of Honor exempt from dwelling in a Sukkah? Because they did not cause their original disappearance.
3. Why is the festival of Sukkot celebrated in the fall? Because that is when the Clouds of Honor returned to us.
In the spirit of this holiday when we are commanded to be joyous, I hope and pray that you share in the same joy that I experienced when I learned this "Vort."
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach,
Next Shabbat Jews all over the world will begin their cycle of scriptural readings. Each year on the last day of the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), also known as Simchat Torah (literally, "rejoicing of the Torah") we complete the weekly readings of the Five Books of Moses with Devarim (Deuteronomy) 33:1-34:12. Torah is the Hebrew reference for scripture that means "the instruction". With Devarim completed, the Torah reading on this first Shabbat of the new cycle begins with B'rayshit 1:1-6:8, the biblical account of creation and the first ten generations of mankind.
Of course it does seem sound to begin a new year with a brand new page, and starting from "in the beginning" is a novel idea. The real meaning behind the custom of ending and immediately beginning anew is the idea that Torah has no end.
The study of Torah is deep and built upon layers and layers of hidden meanings, nuances, and glimpses into spiritual and human nature. A true student of scripture cannot claim to be all knowing or to have completed a course of study on the bible, for that knowledge can only uncover more information. And so the cycle continues, over and over in a continuous chain of study, ever widening, all encompassing.
Our modern "goal motivated" world, in contrast, views life as a series of stages from which we graduate and advance to the next stage. Pre-school through graduate studies is the intellectual road to success. Our career oriented educational system often discards general information or knowledge attained during earlier education for more crucial and up to date advances in order to progress in our selected fields.
Torah, on the other hand, encompasses many different sides of the educational process. The Torah contains stories, commandments, lessons and G-d's very special message to mankind. Torah utilizes the general knowledge that one has already acquired and enriches it with a spiritual focus that has inspired mankind from our first reading of scripture.
For instance, the modern world of science has difficulty with creation and the biblical account of the universe's origin. According to the Jewish calculation, the universe is only 5758 years old. How can a modern person therefore, conceive of a universe that appears to be billions of years old and at the same time have faith in the Bible?
If we could visualize Adam at the moment of his creation, most of us would see him as a mature adult, walking upright, with no need to go through the stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence. We visualize the trees in the garden as mature fruit bearing trees, not just saplings. Can't this picture of physical perfection continue below the earth as well as above? Couldn't the perfect G-d create a universe that contains fossil fuels and organic traces that appear to have taken millions of years to evolve?
In Hebrew, each distinct name of G-d has its own special significance. The first time G-d is mentioned in the Torah, the name "Elokim" is used - "In the beginning 'Elokim' created the heavens and the earth" (B'rayshit 1:1). Elokim denotes law, judgment, regulation. In the beginning Elokim - the G-d of Law - created..." When G-d created the world He did so by establishing a unique world formatted to follow certain laws i.e., gravity, thermodynamics, entropy, etc. With this understanding the student of Torah and the scientist can easily reconcile their differences when both appreciate the perspective that each brings to the table. To the student of the Bible, the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg is irrelevant, of course the chicken came first.
Our Jewish heritage teaches that Torah has both a written and an oral level of transmission that cannot be separated. Questions such as; why did it take so long for Noah to build the Ark (120 years); or, how old was Isaac when Abraham, his father, almost sacrificed him (37 years old); or, where did the hundreds of thousands of Israelites get water during their forty year sojourn in the desert (from the well of Miriam), all have transmitted answers. The harmony between our oral and our written traditions not only answer these and countless other questions, but add spice and depth to the already fascinating view of our world from Hashem's perspective.
Let us take up the issue of Hashem's commandments. How does one enforce "an eye for an eye," (Shemot [Exodus] 21:24)? Jewish tradition instructs us that a literal "eye for an eye" is unenforceable. Rarely will one person's eye be completely blinded by a negligent workman. In most cases a person will become 20%, 50% or 70% blind in the damaged eye. How could any court enforce the equal measure of "an eye for an eye" in this type of case? The only possible answer is financial compensation - the value of that particular eye upon the livelihood of that particular individual. >From the perspective of religious and spiritual jurisprudence, the answer to these questions are basic to the proper fulfillment of Hashem's command.
And so on Simchat Torah we begin the cycle of learning again. Forever searching for the insight, for the explanation of the word, or the episode or just the nuance. Each year on the festival of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice with the Torah, we complete one more circuit of study and immediately begin another.
On Simchat Torah we rejoice at the privilege of, and the delight in gaining new insights and new evelations. On Shabbat B'rayshit we actualize that joy by blending old knowledge with new perspectives.
Chag Samayach V'Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network