Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson
We refer to Sukkos as Z'man Simchaseinu, the season of our joy. And a season of joy it is! Traditionally, Sukkos is the Festival of the Ingathering. After a hard year of work, the farmer enjoys the fruits of his labour. Sukkos also follows immediately after Yom Kippur; we are confident that Hashem accepted our teshuva and sealed us for a year of life. The Sefer Hachinuch writes1 that the arba minim (four species, lulav, esrog, haddassim and aravos), bring joy to one who holds them. Therefore, the Torah commands us to take the arba minim during Sukkos, to remind us to channel this simcha to Hashem's service and to bring ourselves closer to Him.
The main mitzva of Sukkos is to dwell in a sukka, booth, for the holiday. We eat, drink and sleep in the sukka. The Gemara states that for the seven days of Sukkos, we are to consider the sukka as our main abode and view our homes as a temporary dwelling. Since we spend most of the holiday in the sukka, the sukka should be a place of simcha where we sing zemiros and have festive meals.
The Mishna Berura, however, cautions2 that the sukka is also a very sacred place. One should therefore speak words of Torah and minimise our conversations of mundane matters when we are in the sukka. Of course one must refrain from speaking lashon hara, slander, and other types of forbidden speech. This however, is not an easy matter. We invite guests to the sukka and a festive atmosphere prevails. What can we do to keep the kedusha of the sukka in mind?
One year I thought to add a setting at the table for the Ushpizin. Besides family and friends, seven special guests come to the sukka: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David. In the presence of such luminaries, surely we would be on our best behaviour. I therefore decided to set a place for each night's special guest. My wife went along and the children even made place cards for each of the Ushpizin. One child, eager to perform the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, provided the Ushpizin with kiddush and food. However it started to get out of hand when they provided meat and fish on the same plate. The last straw was when we had a sukka full of guests, all cramped together while there was an empty place designated for Yaakov Avinu.
I thought if we cannot have a special place for our holy guests, we can at least feel their presence by focussing on their deeds. We can discuss their legacies with our guests and families. In this way, we will keep the sacred atmosphere of our sukka, and learn from them. In this vein, I present the following essays, one for each day, examining our illustrious forefathers. Hopefully it will provide food for thought to go along with our sumptuous meals 3.
Avraham Avinu - Emulating the Avos ;That Rings a Bell
Chazal teach "One is obligated to say: 'When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?'"4 We are obligated to strive for greatness and not be complacent in this endeavour. Therefore we aspire to emulate the superlative example set by the Avos. One might ask, "Why don't we try to model ourselves after the great leaders of our times or of the past generation, for example, the Chafetz Chaim?" The answer given is that it is not enough to try to emulate great people - our yearning should be to reach the level of the greatest of the great. The obvious implication here is that the Avos were indeed the greatest. But is this actually true? Certainly they were greater than the Rishonim, the Tanaim, Amaraim and even most of the Neviim. However, were they greater than even Moshe Rabbeinu?
The Torah concludes with the verse: "There will never be another Prophet who will reach Moshe's stature."5 Moshe was the greatest Navi there ever was, past and future - including the Avos. This is one of the Rambam's thirteen Principles of Faith. Moshe is also called "Servant of Hashem".6 Not only was Moshe greater than the Avos in prophecy but he was also more advanced in character development. We find that Moshe surpassed Avraham in the trait of anava, humility. The Gemara states that while Avraham regarded himself as "afar v'eifer", dirt and ashes,7, Moshe and Aharon said "v'nachnu ma?", what are we?8. Even though Avraham was extremely humble, nevertheless he considered himself to be dirt and ashes, which is still something tangible. Moshe and Aharon went further, they did not consider themselves to be anything at all.9 The Torah also testifies, "And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any man on the face of the earth".10 Why then are we not obligated to use Moshe Rabbeinu as our role-model?
In the last century and a half, there have been great advances in technology. Let us focus on two - the telephone and videoconferencing. The first allows two individuals in different locations to speak to one another. The other not only lets them speak, it actually lets them see each other in living colour. Obviously the latter invention is of greater significance. There is no comparison between a simultaneous videoconference of three individuals in separate continents, and the first telephone that probably did not work over great distances and produced only poor reception. Yet if I would ask you who invented the first telephone, you could quickly answer that it was Alexander Graham Bell. While if I asked you who first developed the technology for videoconferencing, you are unlikely to know; and chances are, you probably do not care either. Why do we know more about an obsolete instrument invented more than a century ago than technological breakthroughs of our own times? The answer is that the telephone came first. Before we had the telephone, we were just as technologically distant from talking to someone far away as we were from being able to see them - they were both just dreams. The invention of the telephone was the start. Using that technology we were able to advance and improve what Bell started, until today when we have videoconferencing. He did something no one thought possible and made it a reality and we built on it. Now every telephone and videoconference is a testimony to Bell's invention.
Herein lies the answer to our question. Even if Moshe was actually greater than Avraham, and reached higher levels, Avraham's achievements are still more significant. He challenged accepted beliefs and found Hashem in a world far removed from G-d. Believing in G-d at that time was probably just as outrageous as speaking on the telephone! Through reflection Avraham saw many different ways of serving Hashem: the 613 mitzvos and all the future rabbinical decrees. He stood up to his attackers and spread the message. No matter how great his successors would be, it could only ever be a case of building on Avraham's great legacy. Even if Moshe Rabbeinu is considered greater than Avraham, his greatness was predicated on Avraham's previous efforts.
This is the significance of the Avos. Since they were the first, they are regarded as the greatest. Therefore we strive to emulate them. And there is another lesson we can learn from them as well. They were successful despite all the challenges they faced. They realized that each test was an opportunity to attain greatness. We also need to persevere in the face of our daily challenges and utilize them to achieve greatness.
Perhaps this teaching of Chazal contains a deeper insight. Let us examine Avraham's title, Avraham Avinu, Avraham our forefather. When did he receive this title and how did he merit this name? Logic would dictate that when Yitzchak was born, Avraham could be accurately referred to as Avinu. Rabbi Chaim Valozhin zt"l has a different answer to this question. In his commentary on Pirkei Avos, he contrasts two Mishnayos which mention Avraham. The first Mishna states that there were ten generations from Noach to Avraham. While the next Mishna teaches that Hashem gave Avraham Avinu ten tests.11 Why does the first Mishna refer to him simply as Avraham, while the following Mishna refers to him as Avraham Avinu? Rabbi Chaim Valozhin states that we see from here that Avraham isn't our forefather solely as a result of being our physical ancestor, but also as a result of being our spiritual forefather.12
It says in Mishlei, a tzaddik can toil with great effort to reach his goals and his descendants will then carry on his ideals with relative ease. The tzaddik plods to make the path, and then his children simply walk through on the well-worn trail. What one attains becomes part of himself, it is in his genes which pass on to the next generation. This was Avraham Avinu's Avodah, to toil and pass the ten tests, to ingrain them in his being so that the lessons gained would become imprinted in the psyche of the following generations. Reb Chaim says that if one looks at the tests and looks at the many traits of the Jewish people, they will be very similar. This is because Avraham lived through these tests to give us these traits. Let us examine a few.
Jews of every era, no matter what their station in life and level of observance, have always been ready to give up their lives al Kiddush Hashem. From what inner source does this derive? From Avraham Avinu who jumped into the kivshan ha'aish - fiery furnace. And who was it that was ready to give up his son's life in the Akeidas Yitzchak (the binding of Yitzchak)? Jews throughout the ages have voluntarily gone up to Eretz Yisrael, abandoned their often comfortable lifestyles, risked dangerous journeys to get there and without so much as a worry as to how they will make a parnassa. Even people brought up in Western society with all its comforts and financial security pick up and go, not worried about how they will survive materially, forsaking many values with which they have been imbued since childhood. This level of commitment comes from Avraham Avinu. When Hashem said "Lech Lecha", he went immediately without any questions. Many of Avraham's children do just the same.
A fundamental belief is that whatever happens to one is for the good. >From where does this lofty trait come? Again, Avraham Avinu. After going to Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of Hashem's will, there was a famine. Avraham accepted this without complaint, without even once questioning G-d. He passed these traits on to us. Whatever greatness we can attain springs from the seeds that Avraham planted. Directly from his tireless efforts in a world where everything was set against him, we now have the potential to become whatever we desire. Every great act that any Jew does, bears Avraham's signature, and is a testimony to his great achievements.
We mentioned above that we must strive to emulate the Avos. We aim to be the greatest and since they were the first we consider them the greatest. R' Chaim Valozhin adds another dimension in our quest to follow their lead. We can say that we strive to emulate the Avos in order that our deeds should be akin to their deeds. Avraham's whole life was in preparation for building Klal Yisrael. He implanted in our innermost recesses everything we can achieve. We should also consider our lives as a time of preparation. Even before we dream of having children, our experiences and actions are penetrating our beings. They make us who we are and enable us to mould our own children. We should perform our actions with so much enthusiasm and dedication in order that they should be ingrained in our beings as well as in those of the next generation! This is our hope - that we should be Avos for our children and that our actions will be worthy to be deemed Maasei Avos, deeds of the Forefathers.
Yitzchak - The Middle Av
The Torah details Avraham Avinu's ten tests and describes his chessed amongst other episodes of his illustrious life. An even larger portion of the Torah is devoted to Yaakov, his trials and triumphs and the raising of his family, the twelve shevatim. This is so that we may learn from them and aspire to emulate their greatness, as we:mentioned earlier, "One is obligated to ask 'When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?'". By contrast, Sefer Bereishis reveals very little of the life and deeds of Yitzchak. We have all heard of the 'middle child'. He is too young to have the responsibilities of his older sibling and he lives constantly in the shadow of his accomplishments. Yet he is too old to be cute and babied like his younger sibling. Yitzchak Avinu appears to be the middle Av, constantly in the shadow of his father and outshined by his illustrious son. Even when Yitzchak is mentioned, it is usually in a passive role. Avraham is commanded to sacrifice Yitzchak, and arranges his marriage to Rivka. Yakov and Esav compete to receive their aging father's blessings. However Yitzchak is also one of the Avos. We are obligated to emulate his ways. What then is Yitzchak's legacy to the Jewish people?
Although the Torah is virtually silent concerning Yitzchak's achievements, there is one seemingly insignificant incident where we are given much detail. Yitzchak settled in Gerar and prospered there. Avimelech, the king was jealous of his success and forced him to resettle. The people of G'rar had closed up the wells that Avraham dug during his sojourn in Gerar. Before Yitzchak departed, he re-dug these wells and gave them the same names as his father had. Why does the Torah emphasize this episode more than Yitzchak's other experiences?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains: "Yitzchak re-dug them (the wells) and called them the same names as his father. He did so to honour his father. Since the Torah relates this, it appears that this was a merit for him (Yitzchak). This teaches us a valuable lesson - that one should not veer from the path of his father. For Yitzchak did not wish to alter even the names of the wells that his father named. Surely this applies to the ways of the Avos, their customs and their teachings." More than relating an incident of anti-Semitism, the Torah is emphasizing Yitzchak's strict adherence to Avraham's teachings. For a clearer understanding, let us reiterate the words of R' Chaim Volozhin zt'l. Avraham's task was to forge a path so that his children could simply walk through on the well-worn trail. If Avraham's avoda was to plod a path for his children, then it is the task of the children to follow that path. Who was the first Jewish son? - Yitzchak. Yitzchak realised that his task was to teach the Jewish nation to be proper Jewish sons and daughters.
Parshas Toldos begins: "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak". Rashi explains that although the second half of the passuk is obvious given the first half, nevertheless the Torah adds this superfluous statement to teach us that Yitzchak's very appearance was testimony to the fact that Avraham begot Yitzchak. Hashem created Yitzchak as a mirror image of his father, so none would doubt his lineage. The Midrash adds that Yitzchak's behaviour, deeds and traits testified that he was the son of Avraham. Yitzchak emulated his father's ways, and all who saw him proclaimed that he must be the son of Avraham.
This is why the Torah relates so little of Yitzchak's life. The Torah teaches us that Yitzchak adhered to Avraham's teachings. If one is interested in knowing how Yitzchak conducted himself, all they need do is look at what the Torah relates of Avraham.
For example, we know that Avraham Avinu dedicated his life to chessed. Yet, the Torah only relates one incident of his chessed. The Torah does not record every time Avraham invited guests. It is understood that this one act of chessed was not the exception, rather we infer that he made a career of performing chessed. So too, it is certain that Yitzchak emulated this special attribute of his father by also performing acts of kindness.
This was actually a new phenomenon. There were many tzaddikim before Yitzchak, however he was the first to follow in his father's ways.13 The Plishtim closed off Avraham's wells after his death, thus symbolising with his passing that his teachings were no longer relevant. Yitzchak however, clung to his father's ways, stating that we must still learn from Avraham. The Plishtim however did not regard Yitzchak as a tzaddik. He did not have an original approach. He was seen as an imitation of Avraham. Therefore they did not show him the same respect as they had shown to Avraham. They would never have told Avraham to leave. Yitzchak persevered and re-dug his father's wells. Later the Plishtim returned to him and said: "Ra'oh ra'inu" - "See, we have seen that Hashem has been with you".14 Rashi explains that the double use of the word "see" indicates that their intent was "We saw it with your father, and we have seen it with you." They were admitting that Avraham lived on through Yitzchak.
We are not implying that Yitzchak imitated his father and did not have a character of his own. On the contrary, we are told that he is identified with the attributes of gevura, strength, and din, judgement, whilst Avraham's midda was chessed. However R' Dessler zt'l explains that in deed, the Avos were identical. However, in thought, motivation and intention, they differed. This was also a display of gevura. It takes strength to contain one's natural desire to make a name for oneself and forge an original path in life. It takes good judgement to know how to stay on the path and at the same time, make it one's own path. Yitzchak did not blindly follow Avraham, rather he re-created and built on Avraham's original teachings.15 Let us learn from Yitzchak's legacy. We must emulate the Avos and follow in their footsteps. Let our deeds testify that we are the children of the Avos.
Yaakov- A Night to Remember
Yaakov Avinu transferred his entire family and possessions across the Yabbok River to protect them from Esav. Afterwards, he returned alone to retrieve some earthenware jugs that he had forgotten. The Saro shel Esav, the Angel of Esav seeing Yaakov Avinu all alone in the dark of night, realised that this was the perfect opportunity to attack him. However he met his match! In fact Yaakov had the upper hand and ulitimately, the malach (angel) had to plead with Yaakov to allow him to return to the celestial heavens.
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman zt'l hy"d writes that the Saro shel Esav is bent on destroying the Jewish people. Why then, he asks, did he wait two extra generations to attack? Yaakov was the third Av and through him the nation was completed. Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchak had Esav, however all of Yaakov's children were righteous. Would it not have been easier to attack Avraham or Yitzchak, when the Jewish people were still in their infancy?
R' Elchanan answers with a mashal. When two nations go to war, even though one side wins the battle one day, the next day their opponent can rally and defeat them. This changing of fortunes can continue for some time. The only way to ensure victory is to destroy the enemy's stockpile of weapons. Without arms, he is defenceless. Similarly, we are in a constant battle with the Yetzer Hara, evil inclination. The weapon that Hashem gave us for this struggle is limud Torah, Torah study. There is no other defence. Even if we would be engaged in prayer or other mitzvos - anything other than Torah study - the Yetzer Hara would not be concerned. Without Torah we are easy prey for him. However if we pursue our studies, then he becomes alarmed. For this is the tool that will lead to his defeat. Therefore he concentrates all his efforts upon hampering learning.
We learn this lesson from the Saro shel Esav. Avraham represented chesed, kindness while Yitzchak stood for Avoda, serving Hashem. The Yetzer hara felt unchallenged. However Yaakov symbolised limud Torah, thus he was a threat. This is why he attacked Yaakov Avinu.
In a similar vein, the Chafetz Chaim said "Dem Yetzer hora art nit, a Yid zal fasten, un veinen, un daven a gantzer tag, avi nit leren." - The Yetzer hara doesn't care if a Jew would fast, cry and pray all day long, as long as he does not learn Torah.
Yaakov's struggle with the Saro shel Esav was a spiritual battle. It was a battle over Torah. Yet this appeared clearly to be a physical struggle. Why didn't the saro shel Esav attack Yaakov spiritually, by distracting him from his studies? Also, how was Yaakov able to defeat his adversary? A mortal, no matter how powerful, is no match for an angel.
When morning came, it was apparent that Yaakov had won the struggle and indeed he held the malach captive. The angel begged, "Let me go, for morning has come." Chazal explain that he asked to be released because since his creation, he had never sang Shira (praise) to Hashem and today it was finally his turn to join the heavenly chorus.16 The Michtav Me'Eliyahu asks, was it merely coincidental that the malach's turn to sing came on the morning that Yaakov defeated him? He explains that Shira reflects sh'leimus, perfection. When a being fulfils its purpose, then it is time to recite Shira. The Satan wasn't sent to destroy Yaakov, rather he was sent to aid him. If one conquers his yetzer hara, then the yetzer hara's mission has been fulfilled. The Saro shel Esav came to impart this message to Yaakov and his descendants. The main struggle with our Yetzer hara is over limud HaTorah.
We can now understand why he fought Yaakov and how Yaakov overcame him. The malach appeared as he did to teach Yaakov that to defeat the Yetzer Hara, and to overcome those that strive to prevent us from serving Hashem, we must resemble a malach. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt"l writes 17, that the essence of a malach is only to do Hashem's will. This can be seen in their name. The word malach means a messenger. Their entire existence is to perform their designated task. We are taught that one malach cannot perform two tasks. This is because the malach's mission is his essence and a being cannot have more than one source of existence. For Yaakov to succeed he had to be completely dedicated to his mission of Torah. By fighting with mesiras nefesh, being prepared to lose one's life, one shows that he is totally committed to his mission. In this way Yaakov became the malach's equal and was able to emerge victorious from his struggle.
Let us remember the lesson of that night and not give the Yetzer hara an easy time. Let us take up arms and strengthen our limud HaTorah.
Yosef Hatzadik -Strive For Greatness
"And Yosef entered the house to do his work" (Bereishis 39:11)
Rashi, quoting one opinion in the Gemara 18, relates that the continuous advances of Potifar's wife eventually tempted Yosef to sin. However, at that moment, he saw a vision of his father and was able to resist. Yosef certainly knew that he would be liable to the death penalty for committing the cardinal sin of adultery. Yet it was only after he beheld his father's image that he was able to regain his self-control. What powerful message did this image hold?
The face of Yaakov Avinu was the jolt that reminded Yosef of the greatness to which he aspired. In an instant he realised the importance of preserving the high spiritual goals demonstrated in his father's house. He fled, leaving his coat behind. Avoiding the aveira was not enough.Yosef wanted to protect himself from even gazing at the woman.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the Midrash19 that the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) split in Yosef's merit. The whole purpose of the redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the Yam Suf was to receive the Torah and build the Beis Hamikdash in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore it was Yosef's striving for spiritual purity which caused the sea to split. And how apt it is that the Mishkan was first erected in Shilo, in the portion of Yosef's son Ephraim, and remained there for 369 years.20
We live in a generation where our lofty ideals are far removed from those of society. It is difficult to remain untainted by negative influences that surround us. Let us learn from Yosef to strive for greatness in serving Hashem, even against the odds. In this way may we too be zocheh to dedicate the Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.21
Moshe Rabbeinu - Not A Born Leader
Moshe Rabbeinu was one of the most influential personalities in our history. He redeemed the Bnei Yisrael from slavery, brought them before Har Sinai to receive the Torah and led them for forty years in the Midbar, during which time he taught them the Torah. We also know that he was the greatest navi (prophet) that there ever was and will ever be. How did Moshe become such a great leader? Let us examine what the Torah writes about him.
Moshe was brought up in Pharoah's royal palace. The Abarbanel explains that this was Divinely orchestrated so that Moshe could gain the courage and strength of a king which would enable him to speak to Pharoah with authority, and not be overwhelmed or ashamed in his presence. In the palace Moshe would also acquire the royal demeanour necessary to lead the Jewish people with confidence and dignity befitting the leader of the Am Hashem. Harav Avigdor Miller, zt"l, also adds that it was Moshe's aristocratic upbringing that gave him the strength and courage to kill the Egyptian task master.22
No one is born a Jewish leader. One must be deserving of the position. How did Moshe Rabbeinu merit to become the saviour and leader of the Jewish people at eighty years of age? In fact we know very little about Moshe's life at this time. The Torah is not a history book. It only relates to us those events that we must learn from. After Moshe grows up , the first thing the Torah says concerning him is that "he went out to his brethren and saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man hitting a Hebrew man, of his brethren".23 HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv known as the Alter of Kelm explains that the Torah is telling us that Moshe possessed the midda (trait) of nosei b'ol im chaveiro - sharing his fellow's yoke. Even though he was part of the royal family and could have ignored the Jewish slaves, he identified with them and considered them to be his brothers. Rashi explains that Moshe focussed his eyes and heart to be distressed over them. The Alter explains that the eyes refer to the intellect. He understood their suffering with his mind. But this was not enough. He also placed it in his heart, meaning that he totally empathised with them to the point that it was as though he himself was experiencing the same suffering. This is why he felt compelled to act, even risking his life to save "his brother", a fellow Jew.
Rav Simcha Zissel suggests that it was because of this midda that Moshe merited to receive the Torah and to redeem the Jewish nation. The Midrash relates that Moshe cried over their suffering and helped them with their burden. Hashem said that since Moshe had left the comfort and honour of the palace to see the suffering of Bnei Yisrael, He too would leave the Heavens and reveal Himself to Moshe at the burning bush and appoint him as their shepherd.24
Moshe displayed this midda not only on a communal scale - he saw "their suffering" - but also at the level of the individual - "he saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew man". The Torah also relates that Moshe was concerned with their spiritual well being. He went out the next day and when he saw two Hebrew men fighting, he said to the rasha (wicked one) : "Why would you hit your fellow?". Rav Miller explains that this episode reveals to us just how much love and empathy Moshe had for the Jewish people. The people had seen Moshe, a prince of the royal household, lower himself to help them, even risking his life to rescue a Jew from a cruel task master. Every Jew should have admired and respected Moshe tremendously for the kindnesses he displayed. Yet one brazen man not only took his to task, he even informed on him to Pharoah. This was to be a common test for Moshe. Despite these tests, Moshe continued to be a loving leader for the Bnei Yisrael.
Moshe Rabbeinu was and is our greatest teacher, and we must continually strive to learn the Torah that he taught us. Furthermore, we can learn from his personal example to empathise with our brothers and sisters when they are suffering. At this time our thoughts, prayers and actions should certainly be turned to our brethren under siege in Eretz Yisrael. In this merit of being nosei b'ol im chaveiro, may Hashem also reveal Himself to us and let us witness the geula - redemption, speedily in our days.
Aharon HaKohen Ananei HaKavod - Clouds of Peace-A Peace of Truth
The Torah relates that when Aharon Hakohen passed away, the King of Canaan heard. Rashi explains that they knew Aharon died because they saw that the Ananei HaKavod, clouds of Glory, which sheltered the Bnei Yisrael in Aharon's merit, no longer protected them. The King therefore, came to attack the Jewish people as they were now vulnerable to attack. Why was it in Aharon's merit that Hashem enveloped us in the Ananei Hakavod? Since we dwell in the sukka to recall these special clouds, we should reflect on Aharon's greatness and connection to the Ananei Hakavod.
After Aharon's passing, the Torah states that the entire House of Israel - meaning both men and women - wept for Aharon for thirty days whereas for Moshe it was only the sons of Yisrael who wept.25 The people had a special affinity for Aharon because he would pursue peace between adversaries and restore domestic harmony between husband and wife.
Chazal (The Sages) describe Aharon's unique method of achieving shalom (peace). He would approach one of the parties involved in a quarrel and say, "The other individual is extremely distressed over the argument and is full of remorse. He said to me, 'How could I have hurt and shamed my friend? I hope he forgives me.'" In this manner, the first individual's animosity towards the second would dissolve. Aharon would then proceed to the second fellow and repeat what he had said to the first one. The next time these two would meet, they would embrace as friends.26
In order to bring about shalom, Aharon told an untruth. This is certainly permissible. Even Hashem altered the truth for the sake of peace. We could applaud Aharon's actions using many superlatives, but "paragon of truth", is unlikely to be on the list. Yet this is exactly what the Torah does! "The teaching of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and with fairness, and turned many away from iniquity)."27 Chazal explain that this passuk refers to Aharon.28 Aharon definitely walked in peace and turned many away from sin, but to do this, his mouth and lips uttered untruths.29 How are we to understand Aharon's "teaching of truth" in his deceptive method? Furthermore, how was Aharon able to employ this method time and again with success? Surely after a few repetitions, the people would see through the ruse and even the antagonists whom Aharon approached would realise that the scenario described by him was a fabrication.
The Talmud Yerushalmi asks "How can we be expected not to take revenge and not even to bear a grudge against someone who has hurt us?" The Yerushalmi explains with a mashal (parable). While chopping meat, the knife slips from a person's hand and cuts the other hand. It would be ludicrous for the injured hand to avenge itself by cutting the first hand. The entire Jewish nation is one body. It should be unthinkable for one Jew to take revenge against his fellow Jew. It would be like taking revenge on himself.30
If we could internalise this concept of the Jewish nation as a single entity, we would be able to fully love every Jew and taking revenge would never even enter our thoughts. However, this is a difficult emotion to master. How, in a practical sense, can we absorb this lesson?
Rav Dessler zt'l writes that giving fosters love. When one gives to others, he is literally giving of himself. Part of him is now the recipient.31 Aharon exemplified this ideal. He represented the entire Jewish nation through his service in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). He also prayed constantly for the spiritual and physical well being of the people.32 Therefore Aharon felt a strong bond and connection with each and every Jew.
Whenever Aharon told a Jew involved in a dispute that his friend was sorry and distressed for hurting him, he was not lying. Aharon truly felt that his life was bound up together with the lives of all other Jews like parts of one body. The part of him that was intertwined with these two rivals was troubled and filled with guilt and sorrow for having caused a rift. In this respect, the rivals were truly sorry! Each one sensed that Aharon was talking from the heart, expressing the true feelings of a Jew. This reminded them that all Jews are one. When they would meet again, they would embrace each other. How fortunate were they to be connected to this great nation, unified through a person as special as Aharon! Thus Aharon loved truth. He uncovered their true feelings of love giving expression to the emotions that lay buried in the recesses of their hearts.
In Aharon's merit of uniting the Jewish nation, Hashem protected us with Ananei HaKavod. The Shechina (Divine presence) only dwells when there is a state of Achdus (unity), as it is written "And He became a King over Yeshurun (Bnei Yisrael) when its leaders gathered; the tribes of Yisrael were united."33
We can also understand this on a deeper level. The Ramchal 34 writes: "Besides the physical benefit of providing protection, the clouds of Glory also provided an important spiritual benefit. Just as through these clouds the Jewish people were set apart and elevated above the earth, likewise through the clouds they received the essence of illumination that dwelled solely on them. As a result they were separated from all the nations and elevated and removed from the physical world itself, towering over all the nations of the world.
"This was done to enable Bnei Yisrael to attain the exalted level which was meant for them. A by-product of this is transmitted to every Jew for all generations. There is a light of holiness transmitted by Hashem that surrounds every tzaddik (righteous person), separating and elevating him from all other individuals. This concept is renewed every Succos through the Succa."
Aharon succeeded in making shalom by bringing out the good hidden in each Jew. He uplifted everyone, thus separating them from their feelings of animosity and jealousy. In this way, relationships with one's fellow man were repaired. Aharon employed a similar method to bring Jews closer to the Torah and their Father in Heaven.
When Aharon would meet someone who was a sinner, he would greet him warmly, as if he was a good friend. The next time this individual was tempted to sin, he would think: "How can I sin after Aharon was so friendly to me? If I give in to my desires, how will I be able to face him again?" By befriending him, the sinner realized that he had a common bond with Aharon. In this way, he became elevated and removed from his evil past.35
It is befitting that in Aharon's merit we were granted the Ananei Hakavod. He toiled to reveal the good in everyone, through his actions and prayers. He elevated us and protected us from spiritual and physical harm. We were therefore deemed worthy to be enveloped by the Ananei Hakavod, further protecting us from the negative influences of the nations of the world. Basking in the light of the Shechina, we reached our potential in Avodas Hashem.
Let us strive to be Aharon's talmidim: to love and pursue peace to love people and bring them closer to the Torah.36
David Hamelech-A Royal Confession
The Gemara observes37 that Shaul erred once - he spared Agag the king of Amalek, contrary to Hashem's command to kill every Amalekite - and the kingship was taken away from his descendants. On the other hand, David sinned twice - he ordered Uriya to the battlefront where he was killed38 and he also conducted a direct census of the nation. As a result, the people suffered a terrible plague. Despite these two infractions, David's dynasty remained intact. Was this a Divine show of favouritism? To better understand how David was able to retain his crown even after sinning, whereas Shaul was not; let us go back to David's ancestor, Yehuda.
Before Yaakov Avinu's passing, he gathered all his children together. He began by chastising his three eldest sons for their past misdeeds. Yehuda was next. He was afraid that he too would be censured for his misconduct with Tamar. Therefore Yaakov gently called to him: "Yehuda, your brothers shall acknowledge you".39 The Midrash explains - just as you confessed your misdeed with Tamar, so too, your brothers will acknowledge you and accept you as their king.40
Apparently Yehuda ascended to the throne in the merit of his admission of guilt. One explanation is that in order for a monarch to rule successfully, he requires the trait of gevura, might. By confessing, Yehuda displayed great inner strength. Yehuda did not balk from the great shame and embarrassment that he would suffer as a result of his admission. He could easily have found another way to pardon Tamar from her death sentence without incriminating himself. He therefore proved himself worthy of receiving the crown.41
Yehuda's reward of the monarchy can also be explained differently. The Seichel Tov writes that Yaakov said: "You are Yehuda"- Yehuda's ability to confess originates from the time of his naming. From the time of creation, Leah was the first to express hoda'a, thanksgiving to Hashem. At Yehuda's birth she said: "this time I will thank Hashem."42When he was named, this trait of hoda'a became internalised in his being. Therefore Yehuda confessed, he expressed hoda'a for his conduct. This idea is also found in the Midrash. Leah gave hoda'a to Hashem, therefore she merited children who were ba'alei hoda'a, masters of hoda'a - Yehuda who admitted his misdeed with Tamar, and David Hamelech who said "Hodu LaHashem, give thanks to Hashem for He is good."43. There is an obvious difficulty with this Midrash. The words for confessing and offering thanks share the same root, hoda'a, but in terms of meaning they are apparently totally unrelated. Why then were Leah's praise of Hashem and her naming of Yehuda instrumental in his later confession concerning his wrongdoing?
Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt'l writes44 that it is no coincidence that the hebrew word for expressing thanks and praise is identical to the word for confessing. If the word hoda'a has a dual meaning, it reveals that these two concepts are indeed related. Rabbi Hutner explains that whenever we express gratitude, we are also making a confession. We would all like to be self sufficient, not dependent on the benevolence of others. Alas, we all need help at some stage. When we thank those who assist us, we are also admitting that we could not have managed on our own. The same principle applies when we thank Hashem. Human nature is such that we consider our accomplishments to be our own: "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth."45 When we sincerely express gratitude to Hashem, we are admitting that it is He who rules the world. We are not really in control at all.
We can now understand the Midrash. Since we find that Leah had the quality to express her gratitude to Hashem, then it must be that she also had the midda of being "modeh al ha'emes", admitting the truth. With his naming, Leah passed these traits to Yehuda. This is how Yehuda was able to admit the error of his ways.
Now we can also explain why Yehuda merited that kingship should emanate from his descendants. When a king leads his nation to victory, all his subjects praise him for his might and courage. If the ruler can then stand up and declare: "Hodu laHashem, Give thanks to Hashem, for He is good, His kindness is forever", he is making a tremendous Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's name. He has publicly proclaimed that it was not his achievement, rather it was the yad Hashem. All his subjects will learn from the King's example and they will praise Hashem for all the kindness He does for them. Ultimately this is the purpose of creation: "This people which I fashioned for Myself, that they may declare My praise."46 However in order for the king to acknowledge and declare Hashem's praises, he must first admit that everything is in Hashem's power, he is totally dependent on Hashem.
We find that David Hamelech inherited both attributes of hoda'a. The Maharsha explains the difference between David and Shaul. This was not a show of favouritism. Rather, David admitted his guilt and accepted the Divine decree. He therefore merited Hashem's assistance and he fully repented. Shaul, on the other hand, gave many excuses until he finally agreed that he was in the wrong. David Hamelech, we know was the author of Sefer Tehillim. Not only did David Hamelech prove that he should not lose the throne, on the contrary, his contriteness demonstrated his worthiness to be the progenitor of royalty. David utilised the trait of being modeh al ha'emes. He then acknowledged his total dependence on Hashem and sang Hashem's praises. Along with Sefer Tehillim, this is David's legacy to us.
Let us learn to admit our shortcomings. And let us acknowledge our dependence on Hashem. May we then merit many opportunities to sing Hashem's praises: "Hodu LaHashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo."
May we contemplate the greatness of the Ushpizin and appreciate their presence. Let us emulate their tremendous accomplishments. In this way, may we be worthy to be their guests in the sukka of the laviasan next year.
1. Mitzva 324.
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