IF YOU ARE reading this, you’ve made it this far, b”H. It’s still early in the year, but hopefully, the fact that we made it through Yom Kippur, hopefully physically and spiritually unscathed, is a sign that we will do just fine the rest of the year, provided of course that we don’t go “sour” at some later point. If it can happen to Rebi Yochanan Kohen Gadol and Elisha ben Abuya, it can happen to just about anyone, God forbid.
But just like the weather, things can change pretty quickly, and sometimes almost without any sign, or at least one that we saw. How many times have people thought that the weatherman was wrong in predicting an upcoming thunderstorm, only to see a clear blue turn to thunder clouds in a matter of an hour…just after you lit the barbecue and invited your neighbors over.
Honestly though, was anyone really worried about their judgment heading into the Yemai Norayim? It’s like predicting the arrival of Moshiach: after seeing so many predictions come and go without actualization, you just don’t take them seriously anymore. Similarly, after surviving so many Rosh Hashanahs and Yom Kippurs without really changing too much, it can start to seem more like hype than reality.
That is a dangerous misunderstanding, which I will explain with an analogy.
Once a wealthy father decided to teach his two sons the importance of hard work and financial independence. He told his sons that they would be paid by the hour for the work they did, and that the money they earned would be the basis of their livelihood.
Concerned at first that they would fall short and not be able to pay their bills, they both worked hard. But after some time one of the sons worked a little less here and a little less there, and was surprised to see that somehow, he had enough money to pay his bills. The other son just kept working hard the entire time through.
The lazier son just got lazier and started to work even less, assuming that his father had been bluffing about only receiving what he earned. He tried to convince his brother of his theory, but his brother wouldn’t buy it and continued to work as if his parnassah depended upon it.
Many years later the father died. When it came time to divide the inheritance, the harder working son received far more than his lazier brother, who vehemently protested. Until, that is, the lawyer pulled out an accounting sheet that revealed the truth. It turned out that every time the one son fell short financially because he worked less, the father made up the difference from the son’s future inheritance. What he received as an inheritance was what had remained after years of drawing from it. The lazier brother only had a small inheritance, and no longer had a father who could pay him for his work.
Likewise, the fact that we can “sail” through the Yemai Norayim and come out on the other side doesn’t mean that we survived them, or at least completely survived them. We don’t know if we fell short or by how much, and how much it cost us as a result. Best to work hard now and “earn” our livelihood while we can, to avoid shock and disappointment later when we find out that we ate away for years from our eternal inheritance.
THIS IS A very short parsha that does not get enough attention. Some of the most important lessons about life are in Parashas HaAzinu, and overlooking them makes us vulnerable.
The lessons start from the very first word HaAzinu, but one that is really relevant in every generation is in this verse:
Remember the days of old. Reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you, your elders, and they will inform you. (Devarim 32:7)
Remember the days of old: what God did to past generations who provoked Him to anger. Reflect upon the years of [other] generations: the generation of Enosh, whom [God] inundated with the waters of the ocean, and the generation of the Flood, whom [God] washed away…Ask your father—these are the prophets, who are called “fathers”…your elders—these are the Sages…and they will inform you: of the events of the former times. (Rashi)
What do we learn from this? First of all, that Jewish history repeats itself. If it didn’t, then what relevance would the Past have to the Present? As we see today, so many people have a difficult time believing that what is going on today, including increased anti-Semitism, bears much resemblance to what happened in Europe for thousands of years leading up to and including the Holocaust. The world is different today, they say. History is different today, they think.
Maybe, but lesson #2 says, “Does that really make a difference?” Because, after all, it is not the gentile or turncoat Jew that creates the anti-Semitism. God does. They’re just perpetrators of it, HIS instruments to carry it out. Anti-Semitism, as the Gemora indicates (Shabbos 89a), originates from Heaven, and is not bound to place or people, only to the state of the Jewish nation.
Besides, says Lesson #3, who says that anti-Semitism is God’s only Modus Operandi when it comes to getting at the Jewish people? Just ask Enosh and the Generation of the Flood. The Coronavirus was not anti-Semitic, but it certainly had a profound effect on the Jewish people all around the world. Before that, there was 9/11. There can be a financial meltdown. The bottom line is, don’t wait to find out. Get the scoop as soon as possible, which brings us to Lesson #4.
Lesson #4 says, be particular about who you ask if you want to understand about what is going on in your generation. There are many sources of valuable information today, some more interesting than others, many more accurate than others. But there is only one source to turn to when it comes to putting current events in perspective of ancient history, and that’s the Torah experts, prophets if you have them, and elders when you don’t.
Acting incorrectly to situations can have all kinds of negative consequences, sometimes even death. It is one thing to ask an expert for direction, but just because a person is an expert in one area of knowledge doesn’t mean that they are in others as well. The danger comes when people think that their personal expertise is enough to correctly assess situations that belong to other areas of expertise.
Of course, to need to ask and then not to ask is the worst. Recently I had a conversation with someone who was once religious but left it all behind. He simply “doesn’t buy it,” the whole God and Torah thing. If I had asked him for “proof” that God doesn’t exist, I know he wouldn’t have had any. No one does. If I had asked him if he’d like to hear evidence that makes the case for God and Torah, I know he would have declined.
If I had then asked this person, “Do you prefer to be secular at the cost of truth?” he would have probably said yes, or feeling silly, he would have just counter-claimed that I have no “proof” either without finding out if I do. He’s like the son who stopped working hard because he didn’t see his salary drop off, unaware that it is costing him elsewhere.
THAT BRINGS US to Succos. Yom Kippur is for concretizing the truth in life, and Succos is about taking that truth out into the world.
It’s a little like turning a shirt inside-out. From the outside, everything is neat and organized, even somewhat formal. Only on the inside do you find all the seams and hanging threads that keep the shirt together and looking nice on the outside.
Likewise, one of the nice things about a house is that it is private. All kinds of “interesting” things can take place in a person’s house that they would never allow the outside world to see. All the “seams” and “loose threads” that keep people together are hidden from public view…until, that is, Succos. That’s when we turn the “shirt” inside-out by taking our inside-outside into the public domain.
Obviously aware of this change, many are on their best behavior for all of Succos, lest their neighbors hear family “secrets.” But families will be families, and it is not possible to keep up the facade forever. The inconsistencies will surface and reveal themselves, and many have had their embarrassing moments during the chag.
But that is the mussar of Succos: tocho k’boro (Brochos 28a). It literally means that the inside should be like the outside, assuming that the outside is respectable. In other words, you have to be consistent, good on the outside and good on the inside. People who are never have to wonder if they said or did anything in public to embarrass themselves, since they always act like a mentsch.
I have seen, on more than one occasion, how a couple of good questions can undo the calm and controlled exterior of a person. They present themselves as people who have it all worked out, but the questions show that they really don’t. They have just sidestepped some of the most important issues in life because God has let them. And they get real-l-l-l-ly angry at you for pointing it out.
But Succos says that true simcha in life comes from being self-honest, from owning up to the truth on the outside and on the inside, especially on the inside. Ask the questions, the right ones to the right people. If you wait too long and use the status quo as a false sense of security, then the questions will come after you. They have after the Jewish people in every generation. By that time, the answers are usually so obvious, but also too late, and that’s on us.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 21
LYING IN A succah at night and looking up at the stars is like a breath of ain od Milvado. You can just breathe it in, if you make a point of it. It is easy to lose the forest for the trees, or in this case, the schach for the comforts of indoors outdoors. There is nothing wrong with making a comfy succah with all the “trimmins,” but it would be a shame to do it to the point of denying yourself the experience.
Succos is all about a person’s relationship to God, or more specifically, their relationship to hashgochah pratis, as the following story indicates:[In the future time, the gentiles will] say before Him: “Master of the Universe, give us [the Torah] anew and we will perform [its mitzvos].” The Holy One, Blessed is He, will say to them: “Fools of the world! Only one who prepares on Erev Shabbos eats on Shabbos, [but] what will one eat on Shabbos if one did not prepare on Erev Shabbos?”
In other words, God will tell the gentiles at that time the opportunity for performing mitzvos passed, and that it is too late to ask to perform them then. Nevertheless, He will tell them:
“Nevertheless, I have an easy mitzvah [for you] called succah. Go and perform it.”
Immediately, they will take materials and build a succah on their rooftops. But The Holy One, Blessed is He, will shine upon them the heat of the sun in the season of Tammuz, and each one [unable to stand the heat], will kick their succah and leave…
But didn’t you say that The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not deal tyrannically with His creations?[This is not considered tyranny] because [there are also] times [when this happens] for the Jewish people as well, like when the season of Tammuz extends until the holiday of Succos. In such years sitting in the succah causes them suffering.
But doesn’t Rava say that one who suffers in the succah is exempt from performing the mitzvah of succah, and under these circumstances even a Jew is permitted to leave the succah?
One may be exempt from performing the mitzvah and permitted to leave the succah, but should one kick it?” (Avodah Zarah 3a)
Why? Because kicking something means that you blame it for your misfortune, not yourself. But when a mitzvah doesn’t work out the way we planned, that’s hashgochah pratis, God’s way of telling us that we need to change something. Or, it can be that He is testing us, to see if we trust Him even if He seems to undermine our effort to please Him.
Ain od Milvado doesn’t just mean that He is the only power in Creation. It also means that His way of thinking is the only way of thinking and, as He told us through Yeshayahu, it is not our way of thinking. It means if you want to second-guess anyone, second-guess yourself, but never second-guess God. He can live without us, but we can’t live without Him, and if we create any distance between ourselves and God, we are the ones to lose out, in this world and especially in the next one.