This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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This week's Torah portion ' Ha'Azinu' is a song from G-d to encourage the Jews to be the holy, constructive nation they were meant to be and not the selfish egotists they want to be.
It precedes and prepares us for the 'Festival of Joy'; the holiday of ' Succot' (Tabernacles).
Succot are huts covered only by loose foliage to remind us how G-d surrounded us with protective Clouds 3,320 years ago for 40 years in the desert and how He is protecting us now as well.
But there is another, perhaps less known commandment done every day of this holiday (except Shabbat). It is called "Lulov" and consists of holding four types of vegetation (one pointed palm branch, two willow branches, three Hyssop branches, and one citrus fruit called an ' Esrog') (Lev. 23:40) and shaking them in a certain way.
At first glance this is not understood. We can understand how sitting in Succot and thinking of G- d's surrounding love adds to the holiday spirit. But what does the song about not sinning and shaking a Lulov have to do it. How do they add to "The Festival of Joy?"
To understand this, here is a story. (Alon Chabad Yagel #35)
Rabbi Mair Friman ob'm of Kfar Chabad Israel was a great scholar and a true servant of G-d. He could pray for hours on end and his knowledge of spiritual matters was phenomenal. But you would never know it if you saw him on a normal day.
He always had a smile on his face, a joke to tell and a positive saying to lighten someone's burden. Only when he opened a book to give a class in Talmud or Chassidut could you sense that he was something special.
But most of all he was a man of action. They say that when one of the Torah schools in Kfar Chabad was bankrupt he mortgaged his house, gave the house to the school management and paid them rent on the house for the rest of his life.
Yom Kippur 1973; Synagogues throughout the world were filled with Jews praying for G-d's mercy on all mankind when suddenly war broke out. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel!
An army jeep came screeching to a halt before the Synagogue where Rab Friman was pouring out his heart to the Creator of the Universe, an officer appeared at the door, called out his name along with a few other Chassidim, loaded them up and they were on their way to the front.
It didn't take long for them to discover the details. The situation was worse than they could have imagined. The inept Israeli government (as today) literally allowed the enemy to attack and break through unprepared and undermanned defense lines from the north and south with no resistance.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jewish soldiers were killed without a fight and the only thing standing between the invading murderers and Tel Aviv was.....nothing. The enemy was approaching and things looked bad.
But the Jews had two secret weapons that the Arabs hadn't reckoned with. The first was; The G-d of Israel:
The Arabs stopped!
If they would have continued the onslaught they could have claimed total victory in just hours, but they didn't. They inexplicably stopped!
Some say it was because their progress was so fast and easy they thought it was an Israeli trick to surround them so they stopped to check it out. Others say that their tanks forged so far in such a short amount of time they had to stop to allow their infantry to catch up.
But real truth was that G-d personally stopped them! An outright miracle even greater than those of the Bible (I heard the Lubavitcher Rebbe say this just days after it happened before it was in any newspaper).
And the second secret weapon was.....Jewish Joy; provided by Rabbi Mair Friman and Chabadniks like him elsewhere on the front.
This incomprehensible enemy delay gave the Israeli army a chance to regroup, bury their dead and set up defenses but things still looked very bad. The Israeli media with nothing optimistic to say only lowered everyone's morale. The 'invincible' Israeli generals of the Six-Day War were burying their heads in the sand. There was no leadership, no plan and almost no hope.
But then Succot arrived; the Holiday of Joy! (five days after Yom Kippur)
Reb Mair was in the tank division that broke through the Suez where it was impossible to make a Succa. But somehow, on the second day of the holiday a fellow Chassid brought him a Lulov from somewhere and a bold idea crossed his mind. He would convince the commander, a staunch atheistic Israeli, to do the commandment and get the entire battalion to do it as well!
He left the Lulov in his tank, climbed out, crouched down and ran to the commander's tank some 400 feet from his and knocked on the lid.
The commander popped his head out. "What happened?! Why aren't you in your tank!! " He yelled.
"Today is Succot." Friman replied.
"So what? So what if it's Succot? Are you insane?? You want to get killed?! What are you doing here? GET BACK TO……"
"No sir" he replied politely with a smile on his face. "Today is Succot and I want you to take the Lulov and Etrog and shake them! It's a Mitzva!! (Good deed) And I want you to bring all the fellows to do it too."
The commander realized that Reb Friman knew what he was doing. It was Judaism; the only chance that he had to restore the spirits of his soldiers.
"Come on!" said Reb Mair "Why be so sad. You can't win a war if you're sad! We have to be happy!! After all it's SUCCOT today!! We're going to win!!"
The commander thought for a few seconds yelled behind him. "Anyone that wants to follow me, we're going to make a blessing on the Lulov in Reb Mair's tank!' and climbed out of the tank.
In just minutes they were gathered around Reb Mair taking turns putting on his Yarmulke, taking the Lulov and making the blessing.
Suddenly a deafening shriek over their heads filled the air followed by a massive explosion that knocked them all to the sand. They covered their heads with their arms. There were more explosions to follow. They all looked in the direction of the noise and saw a frightening scene. The commander's tank had been blown open like a firecracker and was in flames! Its ammunition was exploding! An Egyptian shell directly destroyed the tank they should have been inside of.
They all rose to their feet, eyes wide as saucers, mechanically brushing themselves off, the commander was the first to recover from the shock. "You saved us!! Mair!! Your LULOV saved us!! He hugged Reb Mair and took the Lulov from him!
"From now on I'm in charge of the Lulov! Anyone and everyone must come to me and bless EVERY DAY!!!" And they began to dance to a lively Chassidic tune that Reb Mair sang.
But that was only half of the miracle.
The other half happened a few days later on Shabbat when the law is we don't shake the Lulov. But we do make 'Kiddush'; namely lift a full cup of wine and declare thanks to G-d for giving us Jews the Holy Sabbath.
The only problem was that none of the soldiers were in a thankful or holy mood. In fact they were miserable.
They were stuck in the middle of the desert hiding from Egyptian artillery crowded in a camouflaged, makeshift bunker (the tanks were too hot and stuffy) waiting for orders that didn't seem to be in a hurry to arrive and praying they didn't get killed.
Again Reb Mair to the rescue. "Kiddush time!" He yelled out. But everyone was too depressed to even tell him to go away.
"Too dangerous." Someone mumbled. "Get back under cover."
But Reb Mair wanted to make Kiddush OUTSIDE and he wanted everyone to join him. It took a lot of nudging and cajoling but finally he succeeded. Everyone was standing around his tank as he raised the cup of wine (how he got the wine was not explained in the story).
Suddenly the air around them flashed! They were blinded! The ground thundered and snapped them like a huge rubber band in all directions.
A huge Egyptian shell hit!! A direct hit!!!
A few seconds later each rolled over in the sand to witness. No one had been injured but the bunker they had been hiding in had been transformed into a massive smoldering hole. The shell had hit the place they were just minutes ago!!
They all stood, examined themselves and screamed in disbelief. "You saved our lives twice!!"
"Not me!!" Said Rab Mair, "It was your joy and the Creator that saved us all! But if you want to give thanks to someone," He concluded "give it to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who taught me and all his Chassidim to do everything to make people (especially Jews) genuinely happy."
This explains our questions.
Jews do sins only when they aren't happy. And the only time they aren't happy is when they refuse to connect to the Creator. But a Jew, or anyone for that matter, that thinks clearly, genuinely and humbly about G-d is bound to feel good.
And when one feels good he/she doesn't want to do bad.
This is the purpose of the song ' HaAzinu' and the theme of Succot as well; When we feel that G-d cares for us, protects us, surrounds us and wants us to be here we feel happy and want to do G- d's will (as in our story).
But this is especially true of the Lulov as Rabbi Friman showed. The Lulov is just a bunch of simple plants and a fruit which, on their own mean nothing, but when joined properly they become meaningful and even blessed.
This is exactly the message of Succot and the message of Judaism to the world: even the most simple, mundane things can be blessings of joy if used properly.
Indeed the Medrash likens the Lulov to a banner of victory. Namely; to show that no matter how formidable life seems we can conquer and transform the entire creation into a 'home' for the Creator; a blessed, meaningful and joyous place if we just put it all together according to the Torah.
Just one more deed, word or even thought will reveal
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