Summing Up Sukkot: Zman Simchatenu

Connecting Sukkot’s Simcha, brotherly love, and the new cycle of Torah readings which starts this weekend.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Smach Zevulun b’tseitecha, v’Yissachar b’ohalecha” : the tribe of Zevulun will be happy in its journeys ( for the purpose of trade); similarly, Yissachar in its tents ( of Torah learning; Devarim 33,18). Zevulun’s forays (“tzetecha”) out into the business world correspond to the seven days of Sukkot, with its joy in the Creation in toto (klal Ha’Briyah); since all of Creation has a part in this Simcha(happiness), we Jews need a Succah during these seven days, to keep our joy separate, protected in the hut of G-d’s presence( Shechina). But on the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we are alone with G-d and his Torah, and thus we need no protecting hut, and no separation from the other nations; for no being in Creation, other than the Jew, has a connection to Torah and Shechina( Sfat Emet, Tarmav,d’h ktiv lev).

The Sfat Emet stresses the partnership of the two brothers, Zevulun and Yissachar, when he describes our Sukkot happiness. Although we read this blessing to these tribes on Simchat Torah, there seems to be no connection of this business partnership to the issue of our holiday joy. These two tribes formalized an arrangement in which Jewish commercial talent and profit (that of seafaring Zevulun) funded the Torah-learning institutions of the tribe of Yissachar. Beyond a nice homiletic about Sukkot’s brotherly love and unity, what is the Sfat Emet’s underlying philosophy here?

Rav Matis Weinberg provides the key to connecting Sukkot’s Simcha, brotherly love, and the new cycle of Torah readings which starts this weekend. He starts with the Torah’s first incident of brotherly love, as opposed to the sibling rivalry typified by every biblical family until then: “V’ra’acha v’samach b’libo” (Exodus 4; 14). The Almighty has commanded Moses to go redeem the Jews from Egypt. Among many other arguments, Moses refuses to go because he thinks that his appointment as redeemer will be an affront to his older brother Aaron. G-d says that, on the contrary, Aaron will be happy over Moses’ appointment; moreover, that very joy is the reason that Aaron, and not Moses, will merit to become High Priest.

The High Priest (Cohen Gadol), of course, officiates in the Temple. Service in the Temple, comprised of prayer and sacrifices, is the Avoda. The partnership of brotherly love that was Moses and Aaron’s, who the Midrash compare to the two poles of the Holy Ark (which held the Torah), is what allowed Jews to serve (avoda) the Almighty in a partnership here on earth.

There are, though, even more primal links of Avoda to Creation. As Rav Weinberg points out, the Torah reading of Breishit ( Genesis) , which we begin on Simchat Torah, clearly shows that the purpose that man was put in Creation was, and is, to perfect Creation:” to serve the Garden and guard it (l’avda ul’shamra)” ( Genesis 2: 15). In verse 5, Rashi points out that Creation did not flower until “there was Man to oved”, to pray (= Avoda) for rain and to work the soil. This was the first instance of Man perfecting Creation, an Avoda that devolved on the Jews when mankind opted out of Torah, and milah (circumsion, an Avoda that perfects Nature, the human body in its natural state), and Covenantal relationship.

One last relationship is described in the Torah reading of Shemin Atzeret/Simchat Torah. As opposed to the harmonious, happy relations of Zevulun-Yissachar and Moses-Aaron, this story is of a relationship gone sour. As Rashi notes in Genesis 1; 16, the moon decided to complain about its subordinate role to the sun. Apparently, both sun and moon originally shined all 24 hours of the day, with the moon receiving its light from the sun. The moon complained that it is not fitting for a realm to have two kings. As a result of this complaint, G-d punished the moon, shrinking her in size and relegating to her only nighttime duties.

Rav Weinberg points out, G-d’s original intent was for sun and moon to enter, essentially, a Zevulun-Yissachar or Moses-Aaron relationship, in which Giver was equal to Receiver. Zevulun gave income to Yissachar, who in return gave(taught) Torah to Zevulun; Moses gave (taught)Torah to Aaron, who provided Avoda to Moses and all of Israel, as well as passing Moses’ Torah on to the nation. In a mutual covenant of brotherly love, all concerned entered a happy (simcha) partnership. Similarly, the moon was to receive light from the sun, but remain the Giver’s equal, passing on reflected moonlight to Creation. Petty bickering fractured that intended relationship, and we remember it monthly in our Prayer ( Avoda) of the New Moon( Kiddush Levana):

“May it be your will, Hashem, my G-d, to fill the flaw of the moon, that there be no more diminution in it. May the light of the moon become again like the light of the sun, and like the light of the seven days of Creation, as it was before the moon was diminished, as it says in the Torah: ‘The two great luminaries’. And may there be fulfilled upon us the verse: ‘They shall seek the Lord, their G-d, and David, their king. Amen’ (Hoshea,3; 5)”.

The allusion to David could refer to the incident in which his great-grandfather Boaz gave charity to his wife to be Ruth. Her description of the episode is immortalized in Ruth 2; 19 : “ The man that I did (chesed, kindness) to is named Boaz”. The Midrash points out the obvious: who was doing chesed to whom? Was not Boaz feeding Ruth? Yet Ruth considered herself an equal partner in a mutual relationship. Happy Giver= Happy Recipient.

These are the thoughts that should give direction to our happiness as we sit b’simcha In our Sukkot on this holiday, as we bind Lulav branch to etrog(citron), as we finish and begin the Torah-reading in the synagogue, and as we do our joyous Hakafot on Shemin Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Indeed, Chag Sameach.