THE TALMUD PROVIDES a sneak preview of what will happen after history comes to an end:
How can you say that it is possible to perform a mitzvah after the end of this world? Doesn’t Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi say: “What is the meaning of: ‘You shall therefore keep the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day, to do them’ (Devarim 7:11)? This teaches that today, in this world, is the time to do them, but tomorrow, in the World-to-Come, is not the time to do them; today is the time to do them, but today is not the time to receive one’s reward, which is granted in the World-to-Come”? Even so, God gave the nations an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, because The Holy One, Blessed Is He, does not deal deceitfully with His creations, but wants them to feel that they have been judged fairly. Why does God call the mitzvah of succah an easy mitzvah? Because performing the mitzvah involves no monetary loss. Immediately, each gentile will take materials and go and construct a succah on top of his roof. And The Holy One, Blessed Is He, will set upon them the heat of the sun in the season of Tammuz, and everyone who is sitting in his succah will be unable to stand the heat, and he will kick his succah and leave…There are times for the Jewish people as well when the season of Tammuz extends until the holiday of Succos, and in such years sitting in the succah causes them suffering. Doesn’t Rava say that one who suffers in the succah is exempt from the mitzvah of succah, and under these circumstances even a Jew is permitted to leave the succah? If so, why are the gentiles criticized for leaving? Granted one is exempt from performing the mitzvah and is permitted to leave his succah, but should one kick it? (Avodah Zarah 3a)
It’s a fascinating story but also hard to imagine. Is this really going to happen, or is the story just a means for a message, and to the Jewish people, not the nations of the world (who can’t even learn Talmud)? Secondly, the Talmud’s explanation of why succah is called an easy mitzvah also seems lame. There are certainly “cheaper” mitzvos than building a succah! Why did the rabbis use the mitzvah of succah to distinguish Jew from gentile?
It has been said that the man who loves his job never works a day in his life. A similar thing can be said about money: a person who loves what they buy doesn’t mind the expense.
“Why would you pay so much for that?”
“So much?! I got a great deal!”
In fact, it is amazing what a person will pay or do for someone or something they love. The greater the love, the more they will willfully and lovingly pay for it. Succah is a not an inexpensive holiday per se. It only becomes an “inexpensive” holiday when it is the extension of the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah.
THE MAIN FOCUS of the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah for many seems to be survival, and to convince God to bless them with a new and even more prosperous new year. Succos for them is basically a psychological and emotional release after all the religious stress.
But that is like treating a symptom and not the cause of the illness. It helps somewhat, but only temporarily. The main difference between this approach and the intended one is the difference be-tween teshuvah m’yirah and teshuvah m’ahava, teshuvah because of fear, and teshuvah from love. Only teshuvah m’ahava has the power to transform past sins into merits (Yoma 86b).
It is also the difference between the two main traits in Creation, Chesed and Gevurah. Love is a function of Chesed, which is the power to unify, whereas fear is the result of Gevurah, which is the cause of separation. As central as fear of God is (Brochos 33b), since it keeps man at a distance from God, LOVE of God is the goal because it binds a person to God. This is the reason we say Avinu Malkeinu, and not Malkeinu Avinu.
Fear does not necessarily indicate like-mindedness. It only shows an appreciation that there are rules, and that one can be punished for breaking them. It is good for obedience, but not for relationship, and certainly not for making partners in the fulfillment of objectives. People will only do what they must to avoid punishment and will cheat if they believe they can get away with it.
Love means just the opposite. It is the merging of realities, in this case, a person’s with God’s. But there is a fundamental difference between the love of a person and the love of God. The fact that people love one another today does not mean that they would have loved one another in the past, had they met. In fact, sometimes people know each other for years, and only come to love one another later on, perhaps after significant changes in either one or both of them. They love what they have become, not necessarily what they were.
God never changes. He always loves us, even if we don’t always love Him. Sometimes love of God does not come until after we have changed. But once a person has made the necessary changes, they realize that, had they known and appreciated God then as they do now, they would have loved God then as well, and therefore, not have sinned.
This is how current love of God can turn past sins into merits. They weren’t sins. They were mistakes. They occurred because we thought differently, wrongly. Whatever “benefit” we may have derived from the sin doesn’t compare to the desire we now have to have never sinned. God sees that, appreciates that, and responds to it accordingly.
THE TALMUD STATES that if it rains during Succos, it is comparable to a servant who has brought water to the king to mix with his wine, as per his duty, only to have it thrown back into his face by the king (Succah 29a). With a human king, it could simply be an act of cruelty. With God, it is a statement about a lacking in the mitzvah being performed. How should a servant react?
Before a human king, the servant usually responds with fear. Rejection of service means that the king is displeased with him, and that can have even more frightening consequences. Today it can mean a loss of his job. In olden times it could mean the loss of his life.
Before the King of Kings, the true servant of God responds with love. Any fear they have is, that they failed in their expression of love. The rejection is not taken as a reflection of the object of their love; they’re “perfect.” It is taken as a reflection of a lack on the part of the giver, which does not inspire disillusionment, but a desire to improve for next time. If it rains during Succos on a true servant of God, they have to assume that their expression of love—the mitzvos of Succos—is not what it should be. But kick the succah on the way out? Not a chance.
Thus, even though Succos is called “Zman Simchasaynu—Time of Our Joy,” it is really “Zman Ahavasaynu—Time of Our Love.” But then again, is there a greater source of joy than the love we feel for others, especially for God?
This is what the Talmud is telling us through this story. This is supposed to be a distinguishing factor of the Jewish people. The rest of the world relates to God through fear more than through love, which is why the mitzvos are not relevant to them. You cannot cling to that which you fear.
In fact, ironically, without love of God it is not really possible to fear Him, at least not the way He wants to be feared. This is what Moshe Rabbeinu indicated when he said:
Now, Israel, what does God your God ask of you? Only to fear God, your God…(Devarim 10:12)
“But isn’t fear of God just one of the 613 Mitzvos incumbent upon us?” they must have wondered. “Did Moshe Rabbeinu forget about the other 612 mitzvos?”
But this was precisely the point Moshe Rabbeinu was making to them. If you only fear God, then mitzvos will be burdensome to you. You will fear consequences, and not God Himself. But if you have love of God, then all of the mitzvos will become labors of love, and then you can “see” God the way He wants us to see Him, as Avinu Malkeinu.
BUT ISN’T PESACH supposed to be teshuvah m’ahavah and Rosh Hashanah, teshuvah m’yirah? The answer has to do with the true nature of yirah itself. On one level, they are very different, but on an ultimate level, they actually became the same thing, as the Rambam alludes:
What is the process for coming to love and fear God? When one contemplates His actions and His wondrous and great creations and sees in them His wisdom, that it has no limit and no end. Immediately he will love and praise Him, and desire tremendously to know His great Name. (Yad Chazakah, Yesodei HaTorah, 2:2)
The Rambam started off talking about both love and fear of God, and ends up talking about…which one? Both, actually, because on this level of awareness, there really is no difference between the two; they merge. This makes Pesach about a love that begins with love, and the period from Rosh Hashanah to Shemini Atzeres about a love that begins with yirah, an enhanced awareness of God and His awesomeness. This is what talks to the heart of a person and inspires the greatest love possible.
What the Rambam is alluding to in his halachah is really the starting point of that love. There are many virtues in life worth adopting and emulating, but the “center pin” of them all is hakaros hatov, appreciation of the good. The more one sees the good that God does for them, the more lovable God becomes to them. The more they appreciate that good, the greater they feel about life.
There are many things to think about on Rosh Hashanah, and many things to focus on. But the most important focus is on recognizing and appreciating all God has given to us, and continues to give to us. It includes everything from the simple to the complicated, from the obvious to the hidden. Everything we have, there is someone else who is missing it. Everything we are happy to have avoided, there is someone else suffers from it.
As one’s appreciation grows, so does their love for God, and their teshuvah. It happens quite automatically. Therefore, if you want to use the day of Rosh Hashanah the best way possible and maximize your growth, this is the starting point. Everything we need is right in front of us. Well, almost everything. The appreciation of all of it is what we bring to the table, and all that appreciation leads to.