Saturday, October 11, 2008

Succos 5634 First Ma'amar

There is a famous allegory mentioned by Chazal[1] comparing the relationship between the nation of Israel and God to that between a bride and bridegroom. The Sfas Emes elaborates and relates it to Succos. The Exodus is considered the marriage as the pasuk states, “אֲנִי ה' מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם: הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../I am God who sanctifies you, who takes you out of the land of Egypt.” (VaYikra 22:33:34) The Hebrew word for marriage – kidushin – is the same as the word for sanctify. The underlying meaning of both is to become dedicated. A married woman is “dedicated” to her husband in the sense that her marriage permits her to him and prohibits her to all others. In the same sense, when God sanctifies us, He makes us dedicated to Him alone.

A Jewish marriage transaction, though, comprises two parts. The first part is the marriage/kidushin by which the husband makes his wife dedicated to him alone. The second part is the chupah by which he takes her into his house. The canopy – chupah – under which a couple marries, symbolizes the husband’s act of taking his wife into his house. When the nation of Israel left Egypt, God took us to live in huts in the desert, “... בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם .../… I settled the children of Israel in huts when I took them out of the land of Egypt …” (VaYikra 23:43) The Sfas Emes teaches that these huts symbolize the completion of the marriage transaction – the chupah – as it were, between us and God.

That God separated us from among the nations to be dedicated to Him alone causes a certain vulnerability. Separateness draws attention. The huts of the desert symbolize God’s protection over us. We find another pasuk which hints at this as well, “ ... וּלְמִקְנֵהוּ עָשָׂה סֻכֹּת .../… and for his livestock he made huts …” (Breishis 33:17) The word for livestock has the same root as the word for acquisition. The pasuk can therefore be translated as, “… and for His acquisition He made huts …”, implying the nation of Israel whom God “acquired” by taking us out of Egypt and over whom He spread his protective canopy. Along the same lines we say in Ma’ariv, “הַפּוֹרֵס סוּכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ/He spreads a canopy of peace on us.” The word poreis/spread, also implies a portion (as in אֲַכִילַת פְּרַס/eating a piece.) hinting, as well, that God separated us.

Clearly God chose us to be His nation from among the nations. The pasuk states explicitly, “ ... חֵלֶק ה' עַמּוֹ .../… God’s portion is His people …” (Devarim 32:9) The Sfas Emes asks, though, that since God is the ultimate completeness, why would He choose only a portion? A portion seems to contradict wholeness. Should God not have chosen all the nations?

When we think about this, though, we realize that the question really does not start. The reason is that wherever God reveals Himself, there is completeness. Where does God reveal Himself? Where does He dwell, as it were? The prophet Yeshayah stated, that God dwells specifically with “broken vessels”, “אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּח/I will dwell with the despondent and lowly of spirit.” (Yeshayah 57:15) These are the righteous whose hearts are broken in their service to God. The Zohar[2] explains that although they are “broken vessels” they are really more complete than any other place. God Himself, chooses to dwell within the righteous and makes them whole. This is a deeper meaning of, “הַפּוֹרֵס סוּכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ/He spreads a canopy of peace on us.” As we’ve said, poreis/spread, also means a portion. Shalom/Peace has the same root as the word for whole – shalem. This brachah, then, is saying that God separated us from the nations of the world but then protected us with His canopy of peace, making us whole.

It is our duty to spread an awareness of God to the rest of world. God structured the physical world so that there is a spiritual life force inherent in every creation. This spiritual life force, actually a revelation of God in a sense, is a point of completeness within the physical. So too, the nation of Israel is the point of wholeness among all the nations.

This idea relates particularly well to the holiday of Succos. Chazal[3] teach us that Succos is for the nations of the world as well as for us. Seventy cows, representing the seventy nations, were sacrificed. The water libation, unique to Succos, represents the nations of the world as well.[4] The point of this is that Godly abundance comes to the nations through us, the nation of Israel. It is our duty not to keep God, as it were, to ourselves. Rather we are required to request that the kingdom of God spread throughout the Creation. We find a hint to this in Avos (1:3), אַל תִּהְיוּ כַּעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְשִׁים אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנַת לְקַבֵּל פְּרַס/Do not be like servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward.” Rather we should serve God altruistically. The Tanna uses the word pras for reward. As we’ve seen, pras also means a portion. Therefore, the Tanna is hinting that we should not serve God only for ourselves but rather we should seek to spread awareness of Him throughout the world.

Succos, then, is a culmination of the process by which God established the nation of Israel as the point from which completeness and abundance spreads to the rest of the world. It is also the beginning of the process of spreading the abundance to the rest of the world. Succos represents the culmination of the “marriage” between the nation of Israel and God, God’s protection and making us whole. It also represents our spreading an awareness of God and His abundance to the entire world. May we merit being God’s channel.

[1] See Mechilta BaChodesh 3

[2] Zohar 3:90b

[3] Succah 55b

[4] See Gur Aryeh on Rashi, Bamidbar 29:18, remez lenisuch hamayim

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