Sunday, October 16, 2016
“... תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה/… God your Lord’s eyes are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the year’s end.” (Devarim 11:12) Although the plain meaning of this pasuk refers to God’s constant Providence over the land of Israel, Chazal understand from this pasuk that at the beginning of the year, God blesses all our activities for the entire coming year.
While we are assured of God’s blessing for the entire year, whether we actually receive the blessing depends a great deal on our state of nearness to Him. At the beginning of the year, having been through the process of repentance that begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and culminates forty days later on Yom Kippur, we are in a purified state. The Torah tells us clearly, “כִּי־בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם .../For on this day He will atone for you to purify you …” (VaYikra 16:30) Everyone of us should believe that by the end of Yom Kippur we are purified.
In a purified state we are able to receive God’s blessing. However, with the higher spiritual level comes a higher level of kitrug as well. How can we thwart the kitrug and retain this purified state through the coming year so that we can receive God’s blessing for the entire year?
The Sfas Emes teaches us that God gave us the holiday of Succos after Yom Kippur specifically to help us receive God’s blessing for the entire year. A primary theme of Succos is the togetherness of the nation of Israel. Chazal tell us that although each of us needs his own lulav on the first day of Succos, Chazal learn from a pasuk that the entire nation can fulfill the mitzvah of succah in a single succah. Owning the succah is not a prerequisite for fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in it.
Furthermore, the Torah calls the holiday, חַג הָאָסִיף/the holiday of gathering. The plain meaning of this name refers to gathering the grain left in the field to dry during the summer. However, it is also an allusion to the gathering of the nation together.
The Sfas Emes teaches that the way to receive God’s blessing for the entire year is to identify strongly with and be subsumed within the nation of Israel. Chazal say this clearly regarding the mitzvah of the four species. Each one of the four species represents a different type of Jew. The aravah/willow branch which has neither taste nor smell represents those who have neither Torah nor good deeds. Just as the aravah is no less an integral part of the mitzvah as the other species, so too, are Jews represented by the aravah protected as part of the nation when they connect with the nation.
The Torah calls the willow branch עַרְבֵי נָחַל/willows of the brook. Halachically, it makes no difference where the willow grows. Nevertheless, the Torah associates the willow with a stream. In the Zohar we find that a stream represents the spiritual mechanism by which abundance is brought into this world. The Torah mentions the stream specifically regarding the willow branch to show that even the Jew who does not have Torah nor good deeds can merit the stream of abundance because of his inclusion within the nation.
This is a powerful lesson to take into the holiday. The days of the holiday, days during which we gather together unencumbered by our usual activities, are particularly conducive to identifying with and feeling a part of the nation. This feeling of identification and inclusiveness has the additional advantage of propagating peace and harmony amongst our people. As part of the nation we can merit God’s blessing for the entire year. And the entire nation can merit receiving blessing as Chazal teach us that peace is the vessel that can hold blessing.