Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shimini Atzeret - Stay one more day

The eighth day of Sukkot is called Shemini Atzeret. It is this holiday which best expresses G-d's love for the Jewish people. The name itself, "Atzeret," comes from the Hebrew word "to stop" or "delay." G-d detains us, as it were, for one more day before we return to our regular lives after a month of festivities.

The Midrash likens this to a king who holds a seven-day celebration for his sons. On the eighth day, when it comes time for them to leave, he is reluctant to see them go and asks them to remain for one more day of celebration.

There is something special about this holiday, Shemini Atzeret, that actually prevents the departure from taking place at all.

This concept is reflected in the precise language of the Midrash. "Your departure is difficult," the king tells his sons, not "our departure."

This alludes to the fact that G-d never abandons the Jewish people; His love for us is constant and eternal. "Your departure is difficult," G-d tells us. G-d doesn't want us to abandon Him; He therefore requests that we celebrate one more holiday together which will serve to strengthen our bond.

The entire theme of Sukot is Jewish unity. When we are united with one another our relationship with G-d is strong. But, AFTER Sukkot there may exist the possibility that we will revert to our self-centeredness.

And so in order to prevent this from happening, G-d asks us to remain with Him a while longer; to celebrate a holiday which will secure our unity in an everlasting manner.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Story - Soldier jumped over the wall for Sukkah

Rebbi Abraham of Slonim (the Yesod HaAvodah) arrived at the synagogue in the morning on the first day of Sukkot and found a Jewish soldier there. The rebbe called him over and said, "I see light shining from you. What did you do?" The soldier was speechless; he didn't want to say. But when the rebbe pressed him, he told the rebbe what had happened the previous night, the first night of Sukkot.

"I was a guard in my army camp and was feeling badly that I wouldn't he able to observe the mitzvah of being in a sukkah" he started. "But then I noticed that beyond the wall around the camp was a Jewish home and in its courtyard was a sukkah. Now, if I left my post I could be shot but I decided that after all the officers left and I was alone, I would risk it. I would climb the wall and be in that sukkah.
As time passed, I started to worry because the officers were not leaving. Bu then, fifteen minutes before midnight, everyone left and I was alone. I stuck a piece of bread in my pocket and quickly jumped over the wall. I went into the sukkah, made the blessings and ate my bread. I then quickly jumped back over the wall.

"I was so happy," he told the rebbe, "that I had had the opportunity to fulfill the mitzva of eating in the sukkah."

"That's beautiful," said the rebbe, "but you wouldn't shine so much from that. Tell me more."

The soldier then admitted that he had been so happy with what he had done that he had danced the night away.

"Ah!" exclaimed the rebbe, "Now I understand why you're shining so much!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Story - Saved because of Sukkah

"Run away!" the woman begged her husband. "Go before they find you!

It was the height of the Communist regime in Russia, and all religious activity was strictly forbidden. Numerous rabbis had already been exiled to Siberia. Nonetheless, there were a handful of brave individuals who risked their lives and taught Torah to Jewish children, they organized communal prayer, they provided kosher meat, and they built ritual baths, etc. They risked their lives to keep the embers of Judaism alive.

Reb Michael, a Chasid, was one of these courageous and defiant Jews.

Every day the Chasid's wife urged him to flee, but Reb Michael pushed off his departure for he knew he was the only Jew in town who could organize a minyan for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

"Fine, But as soon as Yom Kippur ends, you're leaving!" She insisted.

After Yom Kippur, Reb Michael tells his wife, "I can't leave, I need to take care of a Sukka for the Jews here...."

On the first night of Sukot, each person took a different route, arriving at Reb Michael's sukka at staggered hours throughout the evening. One after the other they snuck in, made Kiddush on the wine, washed their hands, ate a piece of challa and departed hastily.

After the first two days of Sukot, Reb Michael realized the time had come for him to leave. That night he took some food and went out to his sukka in the back of his house.

Suddenly he heard loud knocking on his front door. Reb Michael jumped up and started in the direction of his house. But what he heard next stopped him in his tracks. "Open up! Police!" a harsh voice demanded.

He heard the police announce that they had come to arrest him, and his wife's reply was that he wasn't around. Fine!, they told her, they would search the house for themselves. Thank G-d he was in the sukka.

Stealthily, his heart beating wildly, Reb Michael tip-toed till he reached the street, he then broke into a run in the direction of the train station. In the meantime, his wife's only prayer was that her husband not arrive home in the middle of the search.

For several days she was unaware of his whereabouts. Then a letter arrived from her brother who lived several thousand kilometers away, informing her of his guest....her husband.

Reb Michael knew it was the sukka he had built that was his salvation.