Eisav turned on his way back to Seir on that day, but Ya’akov journeyed to Succot; he built a house for himself and made shelters for his livestock. He called the place “Succot.” (Bereishis 33:16-17)
At first glance this posuk has little if anything at all to do with this week’s parshah.
True, this was the last stop Ya’akov made on his way back into Eretz Yisroel, just after his (non-)confrontation with his brother, Eisav, in his 34th year away from home.
True, the next camp after entering Eretz Yisroel would be in Shechem some 18 months later – in his THIRTY-SIXTH year away from home, where Yosef, ancestor of Moshiach Ben Yosef, would be sold into slavery by his brothers, and ultimately the final resting place of his bones.
And true, he settled there just after his name was changed from Ya’akov to Yisroel after his fight with the Angel of Eisav.
In spite of all this, what connection is there to the spies in this week’s parshah.
Leave it to the GR”A to point out the deep and profound connection between the concept of Succah and Eretz Yisroel:
A famous saying of Rabbeinu (the Vilna Gaon) was: There are two mitzvos that involve the entire body of a person: Succah and Eretz Yisroel. A hint to this is in the posuk, “Then His Tabernacle was in Jerusalem and His Dwelling in Tzion” (Tehillim 76:3). He added that the mitzvah of a succah is that it must be made and not already exist, and that this is true of Tzion as well, as it says in the Midrash on the posuk, “A redeemer will come to Tzion” (Yeshayahu 59:20). Thus, as long as Tzion is not built a redeemer will not come as Chazal say, “Once Jerusalem is built Ben Dovid will come” (Megillah 17b), and in the Midrash, “Ben Dovid will not come until Jerusalem is built.” (Kol HaTor, Ch. 1:7)
Thus, it would not be too much of a stretch of one’s imagination to see Ya’akov’s camp at Succah as a spiritual preparation for re-entry into Eretz Yisroel. After all, he had been living in Chutz L’Aretz for 34 years with his uncle Lavan (Mr. Materialism himself), and Ya’akov wanted to make sure that he was holy enough to merit the return to the holy land. Whatever Succah was, it meant the perfect transition from the materialistic world back into the spiritual one, something that was also embodied in his name change from Ya’akov to Yisroel. A transition the spies in this week’s parshah had apparently been unable to make. And a transition Yosef HaTzaddik understood and forewarned his brothers about:
When the ten spies went out to spy the land, the souls of the ten corresponding tribes came into them, the actual sons of Ya’akov. This is the sod of what Yosef told them (his brothers), “You are spies” (Bereishis 42:9), to allude that in the future their souls would go into the spies. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 36) This made perfect sense because the Midrash says that all that happened to Yosef happens to Tzion (Tanchuma, Vayaishev 10). They share the same gematria and the same fate of being misjudged and abandoned. And the Vilna Gaon is telling us that it has to do with the fact that the mitzvah of Tzion, like Succah itself, can only be performed with one’s entire body, a cost the spies had not been prepared to pay . . . or many Jews throughout history, for that matter, especially today.
Thus, Bris Milah only became relevant once Avraham Avinu made aliyah. Living in Chutz L’Aretz did not represent total subservience to G-d of every last limb of the human body. However, living in Eretz Yisroel does, and therefore Bris Milah, or the lack of it, meant the inability to fully acquire Eretz Yisroel, something the spies failed to do, and something a Jew has to do in order to be one with G-d, as the holiday of Succos itself teaches us.
Happy is the man whom G-d disciplines, and whom You teach Your Torah. (Tehillim 94:12)
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a particular story from the Talmud actually occurred, or if it is just meant as an analogy. However, in the following case we know it is an analogy because it deals with the future as if it is the present.
The nations will then plead, “Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.” But the Holy One, Blessed is He, will say to them, “You foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble on Erev Shabbos can eat on Shabbos, but he who has not troubled on Erev Shabbos, what shall he eat on Shabbos? Nevertheless, I have an easy mitzvah called Succah; go and carry it out.”
But how can you say this? Does not Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi say, “Why does it write, ‘The mitzvos which I command you this day to do them’ (Devarim 7:11)? Today only to do them, but not tomorrow to do them; today to do them, but not today to be rewarded for them!” However, The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not come to His creatures with a pretext. And why does He call it an easy mitzvah? Because it does not involve financial loss. Immediately, each one of them went and built a succah on his roof. However, The Holy One, Blessed is He, made the hot summer sun beat down upon them, and each one kicked the succah and went out, as it says, “Let us cut their bonds and cast off their ropes from ourselves” (Tehillim 2:3). But you have just said that The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not deal with His creatures with a pretext? And, even for Jews it happens that the summer extends until the holiday, and they suffer [from the heat of the sun], and Rava has said: He who suffers is exempt from dwelling in the Succah? Exempt yes, but kick the succah too? No. (Avodah Zarah 3a)
It is what the Haggadah says regarding the Evil Son, “Had you been in Egypt, you would not have gone out!” How do we know? Because, with an attitude like the one he has exhibited today, we know that it would have blinded him to the reality of the situation, as were the 12,000,000 other Jews who died in the Plague of Darkness because they too couldn’t see the hand of G-d in what had been happening.
Or, like the Rebellious Son, whom we kill at the age of 12 though he has yet to become punishable for his sins. However, as the Talmud says, we can see today by his actions that he will grow up to be a sinner and become punishable with death. So, he is killed now while he is still free of technical sin rather than let him be killed later with a load of transgressions to his name, necessitating a long and awful stay in Gihennom.
Likewise, the Talmud quoted above is a projection into the future based upon the present, as if to say, judging by the present attitude of the gentile nations today towards the Torah and mitzvos, and towards the Jewish people too for that matter, they’re going to be in for a big shock in Yemos HaMoshiach when the truth comes out. And, judging by the way mankind has rarely taken responsibility for its own mistakes, it would probably want to claim “Foul!”, and demand a second chance, albeit a late one, whether or not the scenario actually occurs is immaterial. This is not a comment about the future, but chastisement about the present.
And if the nations of the world would make such a request, G-d would make the point that their problem all along had not been their lack of mitzvos, but something far more fundamental. After all, they could have converted at any point along the way during their lifetimes, or just have fulfilled the Seven Noachide Laws incumbent upon them. Hence, hypothetically, G-d would give them the mitzvah of Succah, which they would, hypothetically, promptly fulfill.
And, that will have been the easy part. Building the actual succah and moving into it will have been the fun part. Assuming the test was complete and they passed, they will be horrified when G-d plays what they will perceive as a trick on them, making life in the succah unbearable through the heat of the summer sun. Angry, they will leave their succos, but not before first kicking them in a show of frustration.
So, the Talmud asks the obvious question: Even a Jew in such a circumstance would be allowed to leave the succah?
The Talmud answers a not-so-obvious answer: But a Jew does not kick the succah on the way out, even in such a circumstance.
In other words, the Talmud is teaching, the fundamental difference between the Jewish people and the nations of the world is not just the amount of mitzvos we have to perform. This was the essence of what Moshe Rabbeinu was telling the Jewish people right before his death:
Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, want from you, except to fear G-d, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve G-d your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep the commandments of G-d and His ordinances, which I command you this day, for your own good. (Devarim 10:12-13)
In other words, though there are really a total of 613 mitzvos, they become one mitzvah when one has mastered the art of yireh Shamayim, Fear of Heaven. And, as the Rambam teaches, yireh Shamayim comes down to developing the level of appreciation of G-d when love of Him flows like water in a powerful stream. At that point, every mitzvah becomes a labor of love, and equally important, every rejection is chastisement from a loving father:
Happy is the man whom G-d disciplines, and whom You teach Your Torah. (Tehillim 94:12)
You must love G-d with all you heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions. (Devarim 6:4)
The point of Rosh Hashanah is for a Jew to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of G-d. On Rosh Hashanah we are supposed to realize that our lives only have meaning when we are serving the King. However, as strong as a villager desires to work in the place of the king, unless he becomes respectable he will not be allowed into the palace. Before Yosef could stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams, he was given a haircut and made presentable.
Therefore, Yom Kippur follows nine days later. Yom Kippur is a mikvah, a spiritual cleansing from the filth of previous sins on our way to the King’s palace. That is why we can say, Boruch Shem kevod Malchusos l’olam vaed out loud on Yom Kippur without stirring up the ire of the angels. On Yom Kippur, as a result of our fasting and prayer, we look like angels.
The only thing left to do, if one has used Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur properly, is to move into the palace: the succah.
By human standards the succah is barely a palace fit for a king. But, for the King of Kings, it is a palace beyond our ability to appreciate, because it is not the wood walls and thatched roof ceiling that G-d enjoys, but the heart of the person who lives within it. Succah involves our entire body, not just because we actually have to physically enter it, but because if the heart isn’t in it, then neither is the person, so-to-speak.
In fact, physically-speaking, it is enough that the majority of a person’s body is in the succah to have performed the mitzvah. What is really necessary is that the person wants to be there entirety, completely in the King’s Palace, with everything he has and with everything it implies: complete reliance on G-d for survival and an acceptance of a high level of Hashgochah Pratis – a commitment that the spies had not yet been willing to make.
Indeed, I was recently told by someone who did not feel compelled to even consider making aliyah at this time in history, that he heard from a Chassidic rebi that, at the End-of-Days, the main tikun will be for the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, as if to say, the Jews in Chutz L’Aretz are okay where they are, doing what they are doing.
His understanding of this idea flies in the face of everything else we know about the End-of-Days. However, the statement can be understood in a different way that would make it perfectly consistent with everything we have said until now, and for that we turn once again to the heroic death of Rebi Akiva.
Once the wicked Government issued a decree forbidding Jews to study and practice Torah. Pappus ben Yehudah found Rebi Akiva publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He said to him, “Akiva, are you not afraid of the Government?” He replied, “I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once walking alongside of a river, and he saw fish going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them, ‘From what are you fleeing?’ They replied, ‘From the nets cast for us by men.’ He said to them. ‘Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors?’ They replied, ‘Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element in which we would die!’ So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study the Torah, of which it is written, ‘For that is your life and the length of your days’ (Devarim 30:20), how much worse off we shall be if we neglect it!” It is related that soon afterwards Rebi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus ben Yehudah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him, “Pappus, who brought you here?” He replied, “Happy are you, Rebi Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Pappus has been seized for busying himself with idle things!” When Rebi Akiva was taken out for execution it was the hour for the recital of the Shema, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of Heaven. His students said to him, “Our teacher, even to this point?” He said to them, “All my days I have been troubled by the verse, ‘with all your soul,’ that is, even if He takes your soul. I said, ‘When will I have the opportunity of fulfilling this?’ Now that I have the opportunity, should I not fulfill it?” He prolonged the word Echad until he died while saying it. A Heavenly Voice proclaimed, “Happy are you, Rebi Akiva, that you are destined for life in the World-to-Come!” (Brochos 61a.)
Of course Rebi Akiva was ready for life in the World-to-Come! If we can be ready with less, then why would he not be ready with much more?
I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your G-d. (Vayikra 25:38)
That’s not what the angels meant. What they meant was, “Happy are you Rebi Akiva because you are destined to go STRAIGHT to the World-to-Come, without stopping in Gihennom along the way like just about anyone else!”
For, as it is well known, when G-d sought to make Creation, His original intention was to run it according to the principle of Din (Divine Judgment). That means you get what you pay for, no more and no less. Fair, no?
However, G-d made man with a yetzer hara which meant that sin was likely, and if the world ran according to Din then just about no one would survive. Therefore, the Midrash says, G-d also infused Creation with the concept of mercy, to make up for what man lacked in merit in order for him to survive. However, mercy does not mean that we don’t have to pay later for what we got free now.
Indeed, the ultimate level for one to reach is on that which G-d can deal with a person according to strict Din. This way a person can pay for his mistakes in this world and avoid having to do so in the next world, something that can only be possible if the person’s sins do not always warrant total destruction. As a result, the average person lives by the grace of G-d, not by the judgment of G-d.
Not so with Rebi Akiva and his other nine colleagues. By abandoning themselves to G-d they warranted to be judged exactly according to their deeds, and their deaths not only sanctified the Name of G-d, but it cleansed them completely and made possible their direct entry into eternal paradise. Happy is the person who rises to such an exclusive level, while the rest of us are more than happy to avoid the pain of Din while basking in the grace of mercy.
When a person moves to Eretz Yisroel, he or she moves up to a higher level of Hashgochah Pratis, as the posuk above implies, as the Talmud itself states:
The rabbis taught: A person should rather live in Eretz Yisroel, even in a city whose majority of inhabitants are gentile, than outside the Land, even if the majority of the city’s inhabitants are Jewish. All those who dwell in Eretz Yisroel are like those with a G-d, and all those who dwell outside the Land are like those without a G-d. (Kesuvos 110b) As such, G-d can work with such a person, perfect him in this world to avoid having to do so in the future. It’s not that the Jews of Chutz L’Aretz have arrived and therefore do not require much tikun at the End of Days. It is that, having not arrived, not being able to throw their entire being into the Palace of the King of Kings, they have chosen to live with mercy, and not Din – like the spies before them. Yes, the main tikun at the end of history is for the Jews of Eretz Yisroel. But, not because of what they lack that their brothers in Chutz L’Aretz already have, but just the opposite, because they have already gained what their brothers in Chutz L’Aretz lack. Having moved into the King’s Palace with everything they have, they are where the King can personally scrutinize them, but not out of anger or hate, but out of love. Perhaps this is even part of the message of Bris Milah, which symbolizes such incredible devotion to G-d and a desire to be close to Him. On one hand, it is the rite of initiation into the Covenant. On the other hand, there is pain and there is blood. Bris Milah is so Din-oriented, yet it really represents G-d’s love for His people and His people’s love for Him.
I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me. When? Elul Zman – right at the time of Divine Judgment.
Ironically, when the Talmud asks why succah is considered an “easy mitzvah,” the answer is, because it does not involve financial expenditure, the implication being that the physical effort of actually building a succah and moving into it bothers the gentiles less than having to lay out money to do so. Yet, when it comes to a Jew, it is amazing how much he will spend on a mitzvah, and the Talmud teaches that one should even spend a third more than he might have otherwise spent on a particular mitzvah (Bava Kamma 9b).
Perhaps, then, this is the more subtle message of the Talmud, the same message of the Shema – the Jewish creed. For each term – with all of our heart, with our entire soul, and with all of our possessions – corresponds to a different period of 2,000 years. The last phrase, about serving G-d with all of our possessions corresponds to our 2,000-year period of history. The defining factor of a Jew at the End of Days, will be his willingness to sacrifice his possessions to be close to G-d, the message of the succah in general, and of Eretz Yisroel in particular, as it says:
There is a tradition that, at the time of the arrival of Moshiach, wonderful things will happen for Jews everywhere. On the actual day that they arrive from the Diaspora . . . the walls of Yerushalayim will be replaced. It will also be the day of the re-building of the Temple, which will be built from exquisite stones and gems. Once the dead are resurrected, they will become transformed and will have very lofty natures. However, the same type of transformation will occur for the . . . Jews who remained alive [in Eretz Yisroel], and their bodies will be like that of Adam HaRishon before his sin, and like Moshe Rabbeinu’s. They will become so spiritual that they will be able to fly like eagles, which will astound the redeemed exiles. Upon witnessing this, the “Diaspora Jews” will become upset, and they will complain to Moshiach, Are we not Jews like them? Why do they merit to fly and live in an elevated spiritual state, and not us? However, Moshiach will answer them, “It is quite well known that G-d works measure-for-measure. Those who lived in the Diaspora and made efforts and sacrifices to elevate themselves by moving to the Holy Land merited purity of soul. They were not so concerned about their finances and health. They traveled over vast lands and crossed seas, not paying attention to the possibilities of drowning, being robbed along the way, or being taken captive by some strange foreign ruler. Being that they placed priority of their spirit over materialism and physicality, they merit, measure-for-measure, to be elevated to this lofty spiritual plane. On the other hand, you who also had opportunities to go up to Israel, but remained hesitant and reluctant, enamored instead with your materialistic status, making materialism a higher priority than spiritual growth, therefore, measure-for-measure, remain physical . . . However, for those who valued their soul most, they will be transformed into supernal beings and will be led into the earthly Garden of Eden. (Tuv HaAretz: Praise Of Those Who Dwell In Israel At The Time Of Moshiach)
Shlach-Lecha. Send YourSELF. All of you. For, as the dove taught Noach, “Better that our food be bitter but from the hand of G-d than sweet and from the hand of man,” because in this world, it is not what you get that counts, but who’s doing the giving.
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org