An interesting custom is mentioned in conjunction with the upcoming holiday of Sukkos. In the Sha’arei Teshuva (Orech Chayim 625), we find that “one should increase the giving of charity on the eve of Sukkos.” Rabi Yehudah Assad offers an insightful explanation of this custom.
After the nation of Israel was rescued from the pursuing Egyptian nation by the splitting of the Red Sea, they sang a song in praise of Hashem. They uttered the words ” ‘This is my G-d, and I will adorn Him” The Talmud (Shabbos 133b) offers two possible meanings for this passage. One is “adorn yourself before Him in the fulfillment of Mitzvos, namely by making a beautiful Sukkah in His honor, acquiring and using a beautiful Lulav, using a beautiful Shofar, etc. Abba Saul, however, interpreted the passage as “This is my G-d and I will be like him,” meaning we should be like Hashem: just as He is gracious and compassionate, so too we should be gracious and compassionate.
On Yom Kippur, we spent the entire day fasting, praying that we be forgiven and that we be sealed for a good year. As soon as we conclude Yom Kippur, we immediately begin to involve ourselves in the Mitzvos associated with Sukkos, the holiday that occurs a few days later. We build a Sukkah and decorate it so that it is truly a sight to behold. We spend time selecting a beautiful Esrog, looking for a fruit with a beautiful shade of yellow, with no blemishes, with perfect symmetry. We search through the selection of Lulavim available to us, hoping to find one that is as straight as an arrow, meeting all the Halachik stringencies. We do this all so that we, in accordance with the verse, can adorn, can glorify the name of G-d. We attempt to do these Mitzvos in the finest way possible.
However, there is another way to interpret that verse. In our relationship with Hashem, we not only should perform His Mitzvos in the finest way possible. We also have to act with our fellow man in the finest way possible. And we do that by emulating G-d. Yes, we can have a beautiful Esrog. Yes, we can have a magnificent Sukkah. But if we do not treat our fellow man in the way the G-d would, we have not fulfilled the entire meaning of the verse “This is my G-d and I will adorn Him,” “Zeh Kei’li V’Anvei’hu.” We therefore must remember the poor and needy at this time, when they might find they are lacking the resources needed to properly celebrate the holiday. We can have a beautiful esrog, but not at the expense of our brothers and sisters in need.
Reb Mordechi of Nashchiz lived his entire life in penury. His daily diet consisted of only bread and water. For Shabbos, he made sure he was able to purchase of salted fish. Yet, the entire year, he scrimped and saved, putting aside a penny here and penny there, so that he would be able to purchase a beautiful Esrog for Sukkos. One year before Sukkos, he traveled to the city with a sizable sum of money with which to buy his Esrog. He encountered a man on the side of the road weeping bitterly. Rav Mordechai inquired as to what was troubling the man. The man explained that he supplied water to the townsfolk. Every day he would take his horse and wagon out to the well, fill up his jugs, and bring them back to the city where he would sell the water. This daily ritual brought him barely enough money to support his family. On this day, on the way back to town, the horse collapsed and died. The man had absolutely no savings with which to purchase another horse. Yet without a horse, he had no income and his family would starve. Hence, he was sitting on the side of the road, despondent. Rav Mordechai took out his money purse and handed every last cent to the water carrier.
Rav Mordechai came home, and was immediately greeted by his disciples. Noting the pleased look upon his face, they assumed he must have purchased a particularly beautiful Esrog. They asked him about his trip. He responded “Hashem has blessed me this Sukkos with an opportunity to do His Mitzvos in a beautiful fashion. The townsfolk will take out their esrog on Sukkos, make a blessing on it, and with that will have glorified Hashem. I, on the other hand, will be able to have my blessing over a horse, and with that I an extremely pleased.”
The holiday after the solemn Yom Kippur, Sukkos, is to be the time when we glorify Hashem by performing all of his dictates, whether they be commandments between Him and us or between our fellow man and us, in the best way possible. By beginning our new year on the right foot, we are setting the course for a year full of spiritual achievement and hopefully for material comfort and achievement as well.
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