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Succot (5767)

This Shabbat we will be celebrating the seven day holiday of Succot; "The Time of Our Joy."

For one week we leave our homes and live in temporary, leaf-roofed huts called 'Succot' and also shake four types of vegetation called "Lulov and Etrog" for a few minutes each morning and rejoice.

But it's not so clear exactly why we should be happy.

True, we are supposed to remember how G-d surrounded us with protective clouds for forty years in the dessert just like our Succot surround us. But still, all this together is not much to be happy about!

Some want to say that living in huts makes us appreciate our normal homes even more. But, this would be a reason to rejoice AFTER the holiday when we return home. And what about the Jews who don't have homes - or who live in huts all year? What do they have to rejoice about?

To understand this, here is a story (Kfar Chabad Magazine issue #1,199 pg 28).

Russia 1935. Stalin, may his name be cursed forever, had total control of the bodies, minds and hearts of the entire population of the U.S.S.R. 'He was revered as the 'Luminary of the Nations' by hundreds of millions of Russians and Communists throughout the world ('Leftist, Kibutzes in Israel actually displayed his picture on lunchroom walls).

So it was no wonder that the old Jew who had been the sexton of the 'Great Synagogue in the progressive city of Yaktrinoslov' got swept up in the Communist fervor, changed his name from 'Gershon' to Grisha quit his job and got a new one - as an informer for the secret police (N.K.V.D).

The Party appointed him to be manager of the apartment building where he lived and gave him a very important task; spying on the chief Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Shneerson who also lived in the building.

Every move, every visitor, even every phone call (the Rabbi's phone was tapped) he reported. He couldn't wait to catch him in some 'sin'. He even took to occasionally following him when he left the apartment.

In fact, as Grisha read more and more 'party' literature he came to detest his own 'dark' religious past represented by the Rabbi. Communism was alive, bold, on the way to enlightening the world!! Soon all mankind would be free from 'religion' and 'bourgeois oppression' and the Rabbi was trying to stop it! He was tempted to just make up a story and have the Rabbi arrested.

But for some reason he didn't do it. In fact try as he could, he wasn't able to stop observing the Sabbath and a few other commandments.

One winter night about half past midnight slumbering Grisha was awakened by a knocking at his door.

'Who could it be at this time of the night?' he thought to himself.

Certainly it wasn't the police; when they paid midnight visits they would almost break the door down. This was a quiet steady knocking.

He peeked through the peep hole in the door and saw....His enemy! The Rabbi! What could he want at this hour?!

He opened the door a bit and began to say something harsh, but the Rabbi's face and eyes did something to him.

"May I come in?" The Rabbi asked, Grisha opened wider, the Rabbi entered, and Grisha closed the door after him but for some reason Grisha had trouble turning and looking him directly in the face.

"Listen Grisha" said the Rabbi putting his hands on Grisha's shoulders and turning him gently around. "I trust you. I believe you are a friend and I trust you."

Grisha wanted to protest; to tell the Rabbi to leave. He even began to declare that he was working with the police, but he couldn't say a word.

'Not only that', the thought crossed Grisha's mind like a fleeting black crow, 'maybe now I'll get real incriminating evidence!' But he looked at the Rabbi's eyes and felt ashamed.

The Rabbi continued speaking softly, he was aware of the danger. "Tonight about an hour ago an old woman knocked at my door. Are you listening Grisha?" he shook his head yes.

The Rabbi continued, "I let her in and she began weeping. She explained that her daughter works in the Communist headquarters and a week ago she brought home a Jewish fellow that works with her and announced they were going get married. But when she found it was going to be a civil ceremony she told them that it had to be a proper Jewish wedding or she wouldn't come and, despite the fact that they are sworn atheists and tried to protest, they finally agreed.

"Of course this is a great risk on their part. If they get caught they will be fired from their work and possibly jailed or worse. But they too showed up at my door afterward at ten minute intervals to not attract attention. So I had to work quickly but cautiously. I had to find nine other Jews we need ten …. A minyan. (A Jewish wedding requires the presence of ten observant Jews as witnesses) that I can trust.

"But …." Grisha tried to say something but again he simply couldn't.

Why were all these people; the Rabbi, the bride and groom, the old lady risking their lives…… For what??! Grisha was deep in thought.

The Rabbi voice broke through, "I could only find eight other Jews, with me it makes nine. We need you."

Grisha realized that the Rabbi was no fool and knew exactly what he was. But now he trusted him with his life and the lives of others.

It was in his hands. He thought for a moment, again glanced at the Rabbis kind eyes, motioned for him to wait, slipped on a pair of pants and shirt over his pajamas, shoes on his feet, a Yarmulke on his head and followed the Rabbi up the stairs.

In the Rabbi's apartment there were eight other men, a handsome young man and woman and an older woman. They glanced at Grisha and then at the Rav with confusion. But the Rav wasted no time.

He pulled down all the window shades, sat the couple down, asked them a few questions, wrote a marriage document, produced a bottle of wine and then told everyone to stand and spread a large prayer shawl (Tallit) high over the bride and groom as a wedding canopy. Then he began the short ceremony.

Everything was silent except for the Rabbi's voice. It was as though they had entered a time tunnel. He read the marriage document; the groom put a ring on the bride's finger, the Rabbi made several blessings... And that was it.

The Bride and her mother were crying with joy. The groom was crying with joy. Everyone smiled and whispered 'Mazal Tov!! The men were shaking hands and hugging each other in joy. Only the Rabbi was still; his eyes were afire with love of the Creator.

They didn't dare sing or dance lest they attract attention which could mean death for them all but their hearts spoke louder than words.

Then something happened to Grisha that he had only experienced as a child.

He felt happy

In moments, one by one the guests silently exited the Rabbi's house and descended the stairs into the darkness. Until only Grisha was left.

He took out his wallet, removed a card and handed it to the Rebbe.

"What is this?" he asked.

"This, Rebbe, is my Communist Membership card. I don't need it anymore. From now on I'm loyal to you and your G-d… our G-d. I'm a Jew, Rebbe. I'm a Jew! And no one can take that from me. You were right, you can trust me.

This answers our question.

Succot is a happy holiday because it reminds us that this temporary often false and disappointing world is really full of blessing, meaning and joy….. if we connect it to the Creator and His Torah.

As Grisha in our story discovered; Communism and Stalin could rule Russia and promise freedom and progress while Rebbe Levi Yitzchak seemed to be on the 'losing' side; pursued, oppressed and obsolete.

But only the Rabbi could provide joy and truth.

This is the message of Succot. We leave our seemingly permanent homes to remind us that true permanence can only be found in the eternal Commandment of Succot.

Something like the young couple entering the wedding canopy in our story; we are getting married to reality. And that is happiness.

This will be the job of Moshiach who will spread the joy of Succot to all mankind and put the entire world under this wedding canopy of truth and meaning.

Even the vegetation (Ps. 96:12) will dance (as the Lulov and Esrog do now) with joy to their Creator.

Incidentally, The Rabbi in our story was the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who said;

"It's up to us to do all we can; even one more good deed, word or thought can tilt the scale and bring.

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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