Monday, October 31, 2016

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Sukkos Drasha - Dig Deeper

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the first days of Sukkos. See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Sukkos 5777
Dig Deeper

Let us study a little chassidus together. The Yomim Tovim are the source for everything good in our lives. Pesach, for example, is “the holiday of our liberation.” Any redemption experienced by the Jewish people in general, or an individual Jew in particular, throughout history, comes from the holiness of Pesach. And Shavuos, the “the holiday of the giving of our Torah,” is the source for any ability we have to learn or observe the Torah throughout all of history. And Sukkos is “the holiday of our joy.” In what way is Sukkos the source and root of all Jew a Jew ever experiences?

We can understand this on a superficial level and on a deeper level. On a superficial level, Sukkos is also called “the holiday of the ingathering.” This means that in an agricultural society, the crops are harvested at the beginning of the summer and are then gathered into the granaries and storehouses around the time of Sukkos. Because our cupboards are full and we have everything we need, it is naturally a time of joy, gratitude, and expansiveness. On a surface level, this is why we feel joy at Sukkos time. But is this a source for all joy? There are a number of problems with such a suggestion.

First, there is nothing unique to the Jewish people in rejoicing in the ingathering of the crops. This is something every human being can appreciate. This is in contrast with Shavuos, which is called “the holiday of the giving of our Torah” and Pesach which is “the holiday of our liberation.”

Second, we know from Chazal (Avos 5:16) that “A love which is dependent on something, when the thing is nullified, the love is nullified.” If our joy is dependent on having overflowing storehouses, that joy is by definition transient and ephemeral. There are people who believe they can only be happy if some series of external circumstance align precisely the way they want them. People tell me, “Ah, back in yeshivah in Israel I was happy.” Or, “When I was single and could go where I want whenever I pleased, I was really happy then.”

Other people live for their children throughout their lives. But when the last child moves out of the house, what do they have to live for? What gives them joy? Some people are fortunate to be married to a spouse with whom they are happy. But many others are not so fortunate. But even if they are among the lucky ones, what happens when that person leaves the world? Any happiness based on another person or some external circumstance will ultimately become nullified. The joy of Sukkos therefore cannot be based on some external circumstance.  Such a superficial and fleeting joy cannot be the source for all joy, nationally and individually, throughout time.

What is the joy of Sukkos? Anyone who has studied Mishnayos Sukkah (5:1) knows where the joy of Sukkos comes from: “Anyone who has not seen the joy of the water drawing ceremony [the Simchas Beis Hashoeva in the Beis Hamikdash] has not seen joy in his days.” The Mishnah continues that “there was no courtyard in Yerushalayim which was not illuminated with the light of the water drawing ceremony.” What was the nature of this joyous occasion?

Yerushalayim normally drew its water from an elaborate system of aqueducts and mechanisms that were truly a wonder of engineering. But this system was not used to procure the water to be used for the water libations on the altar on Sukkos. This water was drawn from the Shiloach spring. And as anyone who has been there knows, this spring was not flowing with torrents of water. Rather, the water dripped in, solitary drop by solitary drop.  The kohanim had to fight for every single drop that slowly rose up from the depths of the earth.

At the beginning of creation Hashem separated the upper waters from the lower waters. And ever since then (Tikkunei Zohar, 5:19b), the lower waters have been crying and saying, “We want to be before the King!” On Sukkos, we, who relate so deeply to the lower waters, dig deeply into every crack and crevice to draw out every drop of water from the Shiloach spring to bring it up to the King, up to the alter and connect them to their source. When the kohanim took the water up each of the fifteen steps (מעלות) of the Beis HaMikdash, they said one of the chapters of Tehillim that began “A Song of Ascents (המעלות).” Each little step was such an accomplishment.

Now we can understand the nature of the joy of Sukkos, which is the nature of a Jew’s ability to be happy throughout history. Happiness is not dependent on anyone, anything, any place, or any circumstance outside of one’s self. Rather, joy and happiness come from one’s personal decision to work hard to eke out Divine success and elevation, drop by drop, from the earth.

The Gemara (Yerushalmi Sukkah 50b) says that the prophet Yonah, whose book we just read Yom Kippur afternoon, first drew down the spirit of prophecy from the Simchas Beis HaShoeva: “Yonah ben Amitai was among those who made the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim, he entered into the Simchas Beis HaShoeva, and the spirit of prophecy rested upon him.”  And even though Yonah gave up on himself and descended into the boat to go to sleep and die in the storm (1:5), when he was swallowed by the giant fish, he davened (2:3-5, 7):

I called out in my distress to Hashem and he answered me, from the belly of the grave I cried out, You heard my voice. You threw me into the depths of the heart of the sea, a river surrounded me, all Your breakers and Your waves passed over me and I said, “I have been expelled from before Your eyes. Yet I will again gaze upon Your holy sanctuary!” But you brought up my life from Gehinnom, Hashem my G-d!

When Yonah had lost everything and was sitting in a place no one would ever hope to emerge from or live, he had absolutely no external reason to rejoice or be happy. Yet precisely because he stopped hoping for salvation in any circumstance outside of his connection and relationship to G-d and His will, he finally began to hope and pray again. He once again drew the spirit of joy and prophecy when he turned to G-d’s will for him and not to his own will for himself.  

This is beautifully illustrated in a mysterious story once told by the Freidiker Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, zy’a, at a farbrengin. In those days, some people made their living as an “organ grinder.” This was an individual who walked around town with a type of music box on wheels. He would set up his music machine at a street corner and start playing. He would have a young boy with him, usually an orphan who he took care of in exchange for work, who would walk around the people who gathered to listen to the music, bang on a drum and call out “More joy! More joy! More joy!”

The Rebbe related that it once happened that after a certain organ grinder began playing, the boy who worked for him did not start walking around and calling on everyone there to enjoy the music. The boy had simply gotten distracted and began daydreaming or playing by himself. He simply did not hear the organ grinder’s music. The man tried repeatedly to get the boy’s attention, but to no avail. Finally, after completely losing his patience, he walked over to the boy, in front of everyone prsent, and smacked him on the side of the head.

Immediately, the boy “woke up” to a feeling of physical pain and complete humiliation in front of everyone present. Without hesitation, he began banging on the drum with a huge smile, calling out, “More joy! More joy! More joy!” At that point, the Rebbe ended the story.

After the farbrengin, the chassidim began discussing the story. In Chabad, stories are not told for no reason. Everyone was trying to discern what the Rebbe had been trying to teach. One group of chassidim believed that the boy was completely heartbroken and humiliated, but that he called out “More joy!” out of a sense of obligation, because he had no choice. He felt no joy inside. The other group of chassidim maintained that despite the slap he had just received, the boy knew and felt, with every fiber of his being, that his entire existence was dependent on this man, and the man needed him to feel joy at that moment, so he felt sincere joy. The chassidim asked the Rebbe’s son-in-law, the future and last Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a, what he thought. He answered that there was no doubt at all that the second explanation was the correct one.

May we merit to recognize, despite any pain and suffering that we may experience, that our ability to feel joy and happiness comes from hard work to draw out every drop of light and life from within the wellsprings within us and a recognition that we do not need any person, place, thing, or circumstance in order to connect to the ultimate joy. May we merit seeing the true joy of the Simchas Beis HaShoeva in person, in Yerushalayim at the reestablished fallen Sukkah of Dovid HaMelech, may it be rebuilt soon in our days with the coming of Moshiach!

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