Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


The following thoughts were written in memory of our former neighbor, Mr. Ayeh Leib (Leopold) Joseph:[1]
“If rain began falling (into the succah) when is one permitted to leave (and go back into his house)? From when the (rainfall is so intense that the) porridge becomes ruined (from the rain). They illustrate (the concept of rain falling on Succos) with a parable: To what is the matter comparable? To a slave who comes to dilute wine for his master[2], and the master poured the pitcher (of water) on his (i.e. the servant’s) face.”[3]
The parable is poignant. By casting the pitcher of water back in his servant’s face the master has clearly rejected his servant’s service. On Succos when it rains and we are unable to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah, it is a demonstration of G-d’s rejection of our efforts to fulfill the precious mitzvah of succah.
It seems strange however, that the Mishna utilizes a parable about a servant who was coming to dilute his master’s cup of wine. Why couldn’t the parable be where the servant was brining his master a cup of wine in the first place, instead of the servant coming to dilute the cup of wine that his master was already holding?
The Gra[4] explains that the High Holy Days - beginning Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur - are days of exacting judgment. The entire world is analyzed and subsequently judged by G-d Himself. All that will transpire throughout the coming year is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.
The holiday of Succos which immediately follow those intense days of awe, is termed “the season of our joy”. There is a plethora of mitzvos, customs, and laws endemic to this most jovial holiday, including dwelling in the succah and shaking the Four Species. The holiday of Succos presents us with an opportunity to arouse divine mercy and to “sweeten the judgment”, through the performance of the holidays’ mitzvos. To the extent that we fulfill the laws and mitzvos of the holiday is the extent of the ‘sweetening’ of the precise judgment exacted during the previous week.
If it rains during the holiday of Succos and we are deprived of the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of succah, then we have also been deprived of our ability to “dilute” and “sweeten the judgment”. It is as if G-d is declaring that His desire is that the original judgment remains, and not be ‘diluted’ with mercy.

The kabalistic writings reveal that the seventh day of Succos, known as Hoshana Rabba, is interconnected with the Days of Awe. The Zohar[5] states: “On the seventh day of the holiday (Succos) is the conclusion of the judgment of the world. On that day the rulings are dispatched to the ministering angels to administer.”
Although the judgments for the coming year are written on Rosh Hashana and sealed on Yom Kippur, they are not sent down to this world, as it were, until Hoshana Rabba. Thus, there is still a certain level of rectification and repentance one can accomplish through the service of Succos and its mitzvos.
The Shulchan Aruch states that although Hoshana Rabba is the final one of the intermediary days of the holiday when work is permitted to be performed, the day has an added dimension of holiness. Prayers are added, candles are lit, and the chazzan wears a kittel, as he does on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Also, the Bimah, which the entire congregation circles once throughout the other days of Succos while reciting the “hoshana” prayer, is encircled seven times, and many additional prayers are recited. Many have the custom to remain awake the previous evening in prayer and reciting special readings/prayers.
What does it mean to ‘sweeten the judgment’? How can our efforts on Succos have any bearing on the judgment which was already sealed on Yom Kippur? What is the added dimension of Hoshana Rabba?

There was once a powerful but benevolent king who was loved, respected, and admired by all his subjects. One day one of his ministers who was heretofore not known by the king appeared before his majesty to present his idea for a program which would spread the prestige and renown of the king. The king was excited by the minister’s ideas and invited him to remain with him for a week.
Throughout that week, the king and the minister spent a great deal of time together. As the week progressed the king was impressed with the unwavering devotion and love that this minister had for him. The minister was constantly speaking about the king’s greatness and was always excited and passionate to serve him in every way. They ate together and rejoiced together, and by the end of the week the king was sorry that the minister had to leave.
“Promise me”, ordered the king, “that you will come to visit me constantly and that you won’t be a stranger.” The minister bowed humbly before the king, “Your highness, as you know there is nothing that would bring me greater joy than to serve you and be close to you. However, there is a death sentence on my head. Just a few weeks ago your majesty’s High Court condemned me to death for treason against you.” The king was shocked, “Treason against me? Surely it’s a mistake. There is no one more loyal. But Alas! Once the High Court has issued its ruling, I am powerless to counter it.”
The king sat morbidly lost in thought for a few moments. Then suddenly his eyes lit up. He turned to one of his guards, “Quick, bring me the signed decree of this minister.” The guard hastily returned with the official document. The king read it aloud, “He is condemned to starvation!”  
The king then invited the minister to view the palace with him. The king and the minister walked together as the king led a tour, pointing out all the opulence and grandeur of his palace. After seven hours of walking the minister thought he would collapse. The king turned to him and asked him if he was hungry. The minister replied, “Yes, your highness, I am famished.” The king then ordered another guard to show the minister the king’s armies and legions.
By the time they returned to the palace the minister was pale. The king asked him what was wrong. The minister replied that he felt weak from hunger. The king smiled broadly, “Well my friend, in that case the evil decree has been fulfilled. We have starved you. Now be off on your way with my blessings and hopes that we will see you again soon.”
A sealed decree is surely very serious. However, there are times when loopholes can be employed by a scrutinizing and meticulous eye. In the Jewish world everyone loves a good “koontz”[6]. In fact, talmudic study is virtually built on such expositions and derivations[7].[8]

The Succos holiday affords us the opportunity to demonstrate our true love and devotion to G-d. At times even one who is unable to take full advantage of the Days of Awe can merit great levels through the service of Succos, with joy and festivity. One who takes advantage of the mitzvos of succah and shaking the four species, and performs every aspect of the holiday with love and unmitigated joy demonstrates to G-d that he is a confidant of the King, as it were, and that he is devoted to the King heart and soul.
Even after the decrees of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have been sealed it still remains to be seen how the decrees will be physically manifested in this world.
If a person who has demonstrated his great love and devotion to G-d throughout the days of Succos, then when the decrees of the Days of Awe are dispatched to this world on Hoshana Rabba, even if he has been sealed for an unfavorable year, they can “find a loophole” and transform the decree.

This concept is interwoven into the basis of the mitzvah of succah. There is a kaballistic prayer customarily recited prior to one’s fulfillment of the mitzva of succah: “May it be Your Will Hashem, My G-d, and the G-d of my forefathers, that You cause Your Presence to reside among us….. And in the merit of my leaving my house to go out – and I will enthusiastically pursue the path of Your commandments – may this be reckoned as if I have wandered afar… May you seal the Book of Life for our benefit, and allow us to dwell many days upon the land, the Holy Land, in Your service and in Your reverence…“
Peskita d’Rav Kahana explains that if G-d decreed that Klal Yisroel was deserving of exile during the coming year, we pray that our exiting our homes and “exiling” ourselves into the succah be a sufficient fulfillment of the decree.

“A slave who comes to dilute wine for his master”
“May you seal the Book of Life for our benefit”

[1] Mr. Joseph a’h was our neighbor for the five years that we resided in our apartment in Blueberry Hills Condominiums, until his passing on Hoshana Rabba 5768.
Mr. Joseph lived alone for many years (his wife had passed away over a decade before he did). Despite the fact that he survived the horrors of the Holocaust he never lost his pleasantness and the golden smile etched on his face, which hid the pain that was embedded on his heart. Erev Shabbos when his grandchildren would come to visit him, our children and his grandchildren would run back and forth between our apartments, much to his pleasure.
It was a Shabbos ritual for us to see Mr. Joseph walking alone slowly home from shul clutching his tallis. My children and I would race out of our apartment to wish him Good Shabbos. He would walk slowly up the steps, put his hand on the mezuzah and kiss it gently. Then, when he noticed me and my children, his eyes would light up. They would give him a handshake and a kiss, and he would happily wish them Good Shabbos and ask them how they were doing. He would ask me about how I was doing and how my wife was feeling. When I would return the question his response was always the same, “Everything is alright!” Then with a smile and a wave that hinted to the fact that it wasn’t all alright he would wish me ‘good Shabbos’ and disappear into his apartment.
On Hoshana Rabbah 5768, as we were preparing to leave for Yom Tov, I was alerted to the fact that he had not answered his phone or answered his door that morning. I went to his window and opened it from the outside, where I found him peacefully lying on his bed. May his memory be for a blessing!   
[2] In earlier times, wine was very thick and highly concentrated and needed to be diluted with water before it could be drunk.
[3] Mishna Succah 2:9
[4] Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (Vilna Gaon). His yahrtzeit (anniversary of the day of his death) is on the third day of Chol Hamoed Succos. 
[5] Vayikra 31:72
[6] A chapp/ koontz imply a witty twist that forces a person to say “aha” with a certain level of satisfaction.
[7] The classic physical symbol of gemara learning is a closed fist with the thumb out being turned through the air at 180 degrees.
[8] We find this concept in regards to the story of Purim. After Haman was killed by King Achashveirosh, Queen Esther pleaded with the king that he absolve Haman’s wicked decree which called for the eradication of the entire Jewish Nation. The king replied that he could not do so because once a decree was sealed with the stamp of the king it could not be retracted. The solution was that although they could not retract the decree which stated that the Jews were to be killed on the thirteenth day of Adar, there was no reason why a second decree couldn’t be passed that said the Jews could defend themselves.


Post a Comment