This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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This week will be the holiday of Succot: the Festival of Joy!
It is actually a commandment to be happy on this holiday, but it isn't easy when the 'real' world confronts you. When problems of livelihood, debts, health, family, enemies etc surround us the last reaction we have is Joy! And the Jews have had more of their shares of all these. In fact the Mishna tells us that "We are forced to be born and forced to stay alive (by G-d!)." (Avot 4:22). Life is often a very difficult and trying business.
But, despite all this, and even BECAUSE of it we can be happy. Especially in the holiday of Succot when we remember that; just as the walls of the Succa surround and embrace us…. so G-d protects and loves us!
The problem is …. Clearing our minds enough to actually remember this. Infact, part of the commandment of Succa is to KNOW (L'maan Yaid'u Doro'sai'chem) that G-d protected us in the desert with clouds of 'glory' when we left Egypt and He protects us THE SAME WAY today… just look how He shields the defenseless Israelis from both their suicidal 'government' and from the daily barrages of missiles raining upon them from the Gaza Strip!!! Miracles!!)
To understand this a bit more here is a story : (B'sod HaParsha, Bait Chabad Ber Sheva, VaYigash 5769).
Kiev, Russia 1916.
The Jews in Russia had more than their share of troubles from the gentiles. While in other countries there were periods of relative peace and quiet, in Russia there were always problems. In Kiev it was in the form of the governor; General Drantlon. He had been a decorated warrior in the Czar's army but was always a ruthless anti-Semite and if it wasn't for the fact that being Governor kept him busy with other things he would probably have driven the Jews out of Kiev completely.
So it was no wonder when he made decrees to ruin the holiday of Succot. One of the most colorful and joyous holidays in Judaism is Succot (Tabernacles). Jews throughout the world remind themselves of G-d's kindness by being happy and living in branch-covered booths called Succot that they specially build outside their homes. When the Governor got wind of this he took action; no Jew would celebrate while he was in charge!
One week before the holiday he issued a decree forbidding the building of any outdoor booths in or around the city Kiev until further notice due to 'fire regulations'.
The news hit the Jewish community like an earthquake! No booths meant no Succot!! What would they do? A hasty meeting of the community leaders was made and it was decided that a delegation of three of the most distinguished Jews in the community would travel to the Governor and try to appease and convince him, with bribery if necessary, to change his mind.
The entire Jewish community gathered in the Synagogues to pray and say Psalms for their success.
But that evening they returned with heads hung in defeat; The evil Governor refused to even grant them an audience! He had them evicted from his castle grounds!!
Another meeting was held; there must be a solution! They said Psalms, prayed, wept and afterward sat for an hour without one concrete idea… the old Rabbi of the community even pointed out with a heavy heart that where life is at danger the people are exempt from the commandment. Especially here when there was no choice! The Governor gave his policemen orders to search and destroy; it was impossible to build a Succa anyway.
Suddenly one of the wealthy members clapped his hands and exclaimed, "That's it! My ship! What an idea!! My ship!!" Everyone turned to him and he spoke in an excited tone. "Listen, the decree forbids us to make Succot on the LAND of Kiev, right? But I have a ship here in the harbor! Get it? We can make the Succa there! Then it won't be on the LAND! It will be on the water! So it won't be breaking the decree! And if you think about it on the water there's no fire hazard either! What do you think?!"
The others looked at each other, then at the Rabbi who thought for a moment and for the first time in a week a smile crossed his face. It was a miracle!!
One of those present pledged to supply the wood and foliage, another said he would buy food, another that he would prepare it, a fourth said he had trustworthy workers and in no time the plan was formed. Two large Succot would be built on the deck of the ship. One would be for the more wealthy citizens, their families and their many guests and the other would be for the rest of the people.
They had to work fast. Secrecy was foremost! Jewish workers were brought in and sworn not to tell anyone, food was cooked, materials were brought and in just days two huge Succot were surreptitiously built on the ship and camouflaged to look like ordinary cargo.
Meanwhile the old Rabbi had to keep it all secret. That Shabbat he explained to his sad congregation that it was permissible to eat in their homes under the circumstances etc. and it was a 'mitzvah' to think only of good things and be happy. Namely, prepare themselves for the holiday and hope for a miracle.
Finally the big night arrived! Hundreds of men gathered in the synagogue to usher in the Joyous Holiday of Happiness (Zman Simchatainu) trying to make believe they weren't disappointed. But then, after they finished the evening holiday prayers and were wishing one another 'Good Yom Tov' the Rabbi pounded on the podium and when there was silence revealed the miracle; there were Succot!
Everyone was to bring his family and every Jew he saw to the docks and meet on board the ship!
The joy was uncontrollable. After a few seconds of silence people were hugging each other weeping with happiness, dancing to happy tunes and a few even made summersaults! An hour later the Succot on the ship were filled with brightly dressed, beaming families getting seated, ready to eat the festive meals and toast "L'Chaim" to one another.
Meanwhile, back in the castle the Governor had been sitting before his fireplace smoking a cigar sipping on a brandy and savoring the thought of the suffering Jews when someone came bursting in to his room and breathlessly gave him the 'bad' news.
"WHAT?" he stood and screamed, "'What?! ON A SHIP?!! Those devils fooled ME??!" He threw his glass of brandy to the floor in to a fit of insane anger and began cursing, screaming, throwing things and knocking over furniture. "I'll show them!!" He ran to the wall, took down his sword and two pistols, fastened them to his belt, told his servants to alert the guards and in just moments he and some twenty horsemen were spurring their horses madly out of the castle grounds their coats dancing wildly in the wind behind them, toward the docks.
When they reached their destination he stopped and held up his hand for them to be silent. Over the hard breathing of the horses singing could be heard coming from a ship docked in the distance. "Follow me!! It's over there!"
In no time they arrived, dismounted and, with the General in the lead, stormed into the large Succa where hundreds of families were sitting. "What is this?!!" He screamed pulling his sword with one hand and a pistol with the other. "I'll kill you all!! All of you get out immediately!!! GET OUT!!!" he was about to fire a round into the branches that made the ceiling when suddenly the old Rabbi stood and bravely approached him.
The Governor was taken aback, the Rabbi must have been seventy or eighty years old and he had never been confronted by such a person in his life.
The room was still, a few children cried but the noise faded into the background when Rabbi spoke in a high but clear and forceful voice.
"Your honorable General Drantlon, our master and Governor. There never has been and never will be anything, anywhere in the world ever that can uproot the Commandments which we received directly from G-d thousands of years ago. No power can tear the Jewish people from their religion. Our Holy Torah teaches that we must sit in Succot and although we have been in exile, scattered throughout the world and suffering for two thousand years, we have not cast off nor will we ever cast off its teachings."
The room was silent. The Governor narrowed his gaze at the Rabbi, nodded his head ever so slightly and returned his weapons to their sheaths. Then he stuck out his hand, shook the hand of the Rabbi and turned and left the room with his entourage close behind.
That holiday was the happiest ever for the Jews of Kiev, spiced by the sweet victory over an enemy that tried to destroy them. But the best victory was yet to come; from that day on the Governor had a change in heart toward the Jews. Not only were there no new decrees but he cancelled all the old ones he had made.
This answers our questions. All the other religions are based on the experiences of one or a few 'chosen ones'. But in Judaism an entire nation; millions of people were all 'chosen' by the Creator to witness the most fantastic event in history; G-d personally told them what He really wants.
Not as the other religions teach; that the purpose of life is the afterlife but rather that the purpose of all life is to do what G-d wants HERE and NOW in THIS world. Namely to show how CLOSE G-d is and bring Him yet CLOSER and make the world more Holy.
This is what angered the Governor in our story; he wanted to keep G-d out of his private life so he could do as he pleased but the Jews kept bringing G-d closer. That is why Sinai brought hatred.
But as we saw from our story it also brought love. When the Governor realized that the Creator and His Commandments are good, lasting and eternal he changed his mind.
So Moshiach will bring about in the entire world. Moshiach will renew the freshness and infinite life contained in the Torah and its commandments just as the Jews felt at Mount Sinai; but in a more internal and lasting way that will bring only peace, love and blessing into the world.
Something like how the Governor felt in our story.
Then the entire world will feel the 'Succa of David'; the love, closeness and protective hand of the G-d of Israel.
But it's all up to us; one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring....
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