Succos-The Source of Happiness1
By Rabbi Nosson Spiegel
Every Jewish Festival has its own particular and unique practices and customs, and these practices and customs clearly emanate from the central theme of the Festival. We all understand the connection between Pesach and the Mitvos of eating Matzo and Maror, drinking four cups of wine, and reciting the Hagodda. On Shavuos, the Festival of receiving the Torah, many people stay up late studying the Torah. On Rosh Hashono, the day on which we coronate The King, we blow the Shofar similar to the trumpets sounded when a king is ushered into his new position. It is clear to us that the fasting and repentance of Yom Kippur is rooted in the fact that the day is one of atonement. The unique customs of each festival is a direct result of the essence of the festival.
There is one exception to the aforementioned pattern and that is the Festival of Succos. The central theme of Succos is happiness and rejoicing. On Succos there are three unique Mitzvos that we are obligated to fulfil. Firstly is the Mitzvo of moving out of our houses and spending time in the Succa- most significantly, eating and sleeping in the Succa. Secondly is the Mitzva of the Arba Minim- the Four Species. We fulfil this Mitzva by taking one Lulav (a new shoot from a palm tree), an Esrog (a fruit from a particular citrus tree), three Hadassim (branches of a Myrtle tree), and two Arovos (branches from a willow tree), binding them all together and shaking them. The third unique Mitzva of Succos can only be performed in the Beis Hamikdosh (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). It is the special ceremony of pouring water on the Mizbeach (the holy alter that was located in the Temple).
To maintain the principle of a firm link between Succos and its unique practices is not conjecture. The verse says "and you should take these Four Species on Succos and you should rejoice before G-d". This seems to imply that the result of taking the Arba Minim is a state of happiness. Chazal tell us that with the third Mitzva mentioned above, they achieved such a high level of happiness that they attained Ruach HaKodesh (a state of divine inspiration). What on earth do these three special (and yet all distinct and diverse) Mitzvos have to do with each other, and collectively with the central theme of Succos, namely happiness?
In truth, these Mitzvos and the central theme have nothing to do with the earth or matters of the material at all. Quite to the contrary, their message and their goal are to divorce us from earthly matters. Succos, inexorably bound together with its Mitzvos, proclaim piercingly that true happiness can only be achieved by someone who is not controlled at all by the materialism of the world in which we live. Only someone who can break loose from the shackles and chains of this world can achieve true unadulterated happiness. Of course this does not mean to say that we cannot partake of and enjoy this beautiful world. The opposite is true. He who does not enjoy this world shows a lack of appreciation to the One who benevolently bestowed this marvellous gift upon us. We should, however, come to appreciate how to utilize this gift, and we must develop an acute awareness of the attitude required when interacting with this world, and synthesize this attitude into our personality.
The correct attitude as to how one must approach this world can be best understood by listening to the words of the Rebbe of Kovrin. "What a world of sweetness and light it is for those who have not sunk into it, and what a bitter and black world it is to those who are completely submerged in it". When Chazal tell us that a person does not leave this world with even half of that which he desires, they refer to someone who is totally engrossed in this world. Such a person never attains satisfaction and can never achieve true happiness (no matter how high an angle his lips elevate when he 'smiles' and no matter how often he does so). The Ba'alei Mussar illustrate this point with the following parable. There was once a King who became gravely ill. The doctors, after trying all manner of treatment, finally came to the conclusion that the only remedy was to find a person who had absolutely no worries or stress at all. If the King would wear the coat of such a man, he would recover. The search for such a person began in earnest. All of the royal resources were directed towards finding a person with absolutely no anxiety. Search parties spread out throughout the Kingdom. Time went by and this elusive character could not be found. Just as the King was nearing his end, one of the search parties struck success. They had found him! They immediately informed this anxiety-free fellow of the gravity and urgency of the matter, and demanded that he give them his coat. They promised him that he would be richly rewarded. The man, however, looked apologetically at the royal representatives and explained to them that he doesn't own a coat, and that if he did, he would already have what to worry about!
The message of Succos is clear. He who can shake off his attachment to this world, is the one who will achieve a state of true happiness and bliss. A Jew must see to it that he is in control of his desires, not his desires in control of him. It may be the desire for riches, fame, honour, power, control or food to name but a few. We must not allow ourselves to be motivated by the yearning for the hollow materialism of this world. A wise person once told me that we are often unaware of the fact that we are controlled by our desires. We can only realise this once we try and assert our authority over them. Then comes the rude awakening.
Each of the Mitzvos of Succos come to teach us and to reinforce this lesson. They are a direct result of the central theme of Succos.
Our homes are the places from which we gain a feeling of permanence and security and control. On Succos, Hashem tells us to relinquish the comforts and conveniences of our home, and to venture out to a temporary dwelling that is open to the elements. We leave the security and warmth of our cocoons, and by doing so, we remind ourselves that the materialism of the world in which we live is not so important. In this way we loosen the grip that this world has on us, and we in fact gain mastery over it.
Each of the Four Species represents four different parts of our bodies. The leaves of the Hadassim resemble the eyes. The Esrog is held in the left hand, corresponding to the position of the heart, and resembling it in shape. Chazal tell us that the eyes and heart are major factors in pursuing ones desires. The eyes see and the heart desires. The long Lulav represents the spine, which is that organ that connects the upper and lower parts of the body. The heart desires and the body acts in hot pursuit of this. The long, thin shape of the leaves of the Arovos has the form of lips. This is what we use to talk and eat. It also is a tool through which one can be completely immersed in the materialism of this world. What do we do with these Four Species? We bind them together and shake them. It is as if to express our wish to shake off from ourselves the control that these Four Species (more specifically, what they represent) exercise over. Let us liberate ourselves from our subservience to our desires, for only by means of this can we attain true happiness.
The mystics explain that water is that physical object that represents desire and yearning. This is because water is the object that has the ability to cause the growth of vegetation and all types of delicacies. Water is the means by which we can enjoy all the beauty and pleasures of this glorious world. Chazal tell us that all the different objects in the Beis Hamikdosh represented ideas and lessons. The Mizbeach represented the Table of Hashem. By pouring water onto the Mizbeyach, we convey to ourselves and others the necessity to transfer all of our desires and give them to Hashem. We articulate our innermost yearning to purge ourselves of our subservience to this world. This is the only way to achieve true happiness, and a state of true happiness is a necessary prerequisite to attain 'divine inspiration'.
By infusing themselves with the significance of this water pouring ceremony in the times of the Beis Hamikdosh, Bnei Yisroel were able to achieve this high level of 'divine inspiration'. This is also the source for the unparalleled elation that was experienced during the Simchos Beis HaShoevo.
To achieve such a state of authentic happiness is no effortless task. In fact, this is why Hashem strategically positioned Succos to follow Rosh HaShono and Yom Kippur. Only after we have gone through a period in which we have become cleansed and purified, inspired and elevated, can we hope to achieve the lofty goals that the 'Time of Joy' demands.
We are all to some extent wrapped up in the straight-jacket of this materialistic world. It seems that superhuman effort is required to extricate us from the viscous quicksand in which we are bogged down. But Hashem throws us a lifeboat in the form of Succos, which infuses our consciousness with the necessity to shake loose from the shackles of materialism, and by so doing, rise above this world into a state of authentic happiness. Our fervent prayer is that all Jews around the world utilize Succos properly and fully, so that we may all come to live in a world full of sweetness and light.
1.This piece is based on the writings of the Slonimer Rebbe æö"ì-the Nesivos Sholom.
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