Succos and Jewish Unity
Succos is an integral part of the teshuvah process of Tishrei. After the cleansing work of Rosh Hashanah abd Yom Kippur, on Succos we are enveloped in Hashem's loving embrace. Chazal compare Succos to nisuin, with the Jewish People in the role of the bride entering the marital home.
Succos is also the culmination of another great theme of Tishrei — Jewish unity. On Rosh Hashanah, our primary service consists of crowning HaKadosh Baruch Hu as King over us. And unity among us is a prime measure of our success in doing so. To the extent that the King's subjects are united in loyalty to Him will they be united in common purpose with one another.
In the Talmud Torah of Kelm, from Rosh Chodesh Elul there hung a poster yellowed by age inscribed with this message from the Alter: "All the Rosh Hashanah prayers are designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, for our part, are called upon to crown the L-rd King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love for others and charitable acts, as Moshe said in his parting blessing: 'There will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with tribes of Israel as one.' "
Though we pass before the Ribbono shel Olam individually, ki'vnei maron, our case for the renewal for another year of our mission depends in large part on the extent to which we have made the lives of all those around us better by virtue of our presence.
The kabbalistic work Reishis Chochmah writes that we will be asked on the Day of Judgment: "Did you make your Creator King over you every morning and evening? Did you make your neighbor king over you with mildness of spirit?"
And Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, a product of the aforementioned Talmud Torah of Kelm, explained that the two questions are interrelated. The greatest barrier to both is self-centeredness (not to be confused with self-love), the view that everything in the world is coming to us as a matter of right. When we conquer our self-centeredness to help our fellow Jews and treat them with respect, we break that self-centeredness and are then able to accept the Divine Kingship as well.
Chazal make blindingly clear that if we do not get our house in order with respect to our interpersonal relationships prior to Yom Kippur, we will fall short with respect to the sealing of the books at Ne'ilah. Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between us and our fellow man until we have won the forgiveness of the one we wronged. We must be prepared for the humiliation of seeking forgiveness, and for granting it as well, rather than holding on to old wrongs.
If the repeated recitation of all our various sins is accompanied by genuine self-scrutiny, and is not just a rote moving of the lips, the result can only be humbling. When we realize how far short of the mark we fall, there is far less room to look deprecatingly at our fellow Jew. The breaking of our pride makes it possible to gain control of our pursuit of kavod. That pursuit inevitably divides us from our fellow Jews by setting us up as competitors: Anything that brings kavod to another inevitably comes at the expense of my own, at least as long as I spend my time comparing myself to others.
Genuine anivus, as we have explained many times, is the antidote to pride, for the anav does not compare himself to others but to his ideal self and what he has the power to be. That is the avodah of Yom Kippur. And precisely because he does not compare himself to others, and feel the need to demean them, the anav is able to relate seamlessly to others and join with them in unity.
SUCCOS, RAV DESSLER EXPLAINS , helps break down another one of the barriers that divide us from one another. The material world appears to us as a limited pie: The bigger someone else's piece, the smaller my own. So long as we are focused on material pursuits, we inevitably feel ourselves to be in competition with others. And that competition leads to the sinas chinam for which the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
But when we leave the apparent security of our solidly built homes to take up residence in a temporary dwelling under the stars, we break our reliance on our material possessions — possessions that provide only an illusion of security and certainly no permanence, as they cannot be taken with us to the grave — and enter a spiritual world.
The realm of Spirit is infinite, it contains no fixed pies waiting to be divided. Rather the spiritual growth of each of us only makes it easier for others to achieve similar heights. And then we become not competitors, but helpmates. Thus Succos becomes the antidote to the sinas chinam for which the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. That, writes Rav Dessler, is what Chazal meant when they explained that the mitzvah of Succah is a mini-exile that serves to protect against a much greater exile that might have been decreed on Yom Kippur.
There is, however, also a fundamental difference between Succos, on the one hand, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, on the other. The avodah of the latter two contains within it the means of bringing about greater unity among Jews. But that avodah is private and individual. On Rosh Hashanah, we think about what a genuinely G-d-centered life would be like and contemplate how far we are from it. On Yom Kippur, we examine ourselves to uncover all our barriers to coming closer to Hashem and undertake to change. We become aware of all that we have done solely because we have not felt ourselves to be acting in the presence of Hashem, for had we felt His presence we could never have done the things we did.
That self-scrutiny may take place in shul, but no one else can do it for me. Nor does my ability to scrutinize my thoughts and actions depend on anyone else.
Succos, by contrast, requires the kehillah. It is not only the completion of the teshuvah cycle but also the cycle of Regalim, the pilgrimage festivals in which each Jewish male was commanded to come to Yerushalayim. And every seven years, the great gathering of all Jews, Hakhel, took place on Motzaei Succos.
The circle dancing of the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah hints to the future dance described in Taanis, when all will join together in a great circle and point to the center of the circle and say, "Zeh Keili ve'anveihu." And as they point, they will also notice across the circle other Jews pointing into the same circle, joined by their common service of Him, albeit with many variations.
Finally, the mitzvah of the Four Species reminds us that each Jew is indispensable for the fulfillment of our ultimate mission. We must all be joined together, the Midrash tells us, just as the Four Species are held together. There are Jews who are filled with Torah and good deeds, like the esrog, which has both taste and a pleasant smell; and others who have primarily Torah, like the lulav, which has taste but not scent; and others who have primarily mitzvos, like the hadasim, which have scent but not taste. And finally, there are those who have neither Torah nor good deeds, like the aravos, which have neither taste nor scent.
But no matter how much money we spend on the first three species, if we are lacking the lowly aravos, costing but a few shekels, we have not fulfilled the mitzvah of the Four Species.
In the preceding midrash, Chazal remind us that there is no Jew who does not have his role to play and upon whom our collective mission does not depend. Can there be a greater message of Jewish unity than that?
And when we truly experience that message, we can also experience the unique joy of Succos — zeman simchaseinu.
The Machon Haredi Comes of Age
I had the privilege to be present at the birth of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs. The founding team shared an intuition that the chareidi community could greatly benefit from empirical information on the sector then lacking, and a research capacity to process and interpret that information.
Still, we had little experience in recruiting a research staff. Nor did we have a clear vision of who would be interested in the research and precisely how it would prove useful. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise to return to the Machon Haredi two weeks ago to find a beehive of activity. On the day of my visit, Tel Aviv University Law School professor Yoram Margalioth was outlining the findings of a paper on the impact of the allocation of child tax deductions on the chareidi community and proposals for change. Researchers of various levels of seniority, some chareidi, some not, filled every crevice of the office space.
Speaking to the chairman of the Machon, Eli Paley (who is also Mishpacha's publisher), I was struck by how well-articulated the mission of the institute has become. The Machon is now attuned and adept at identifying information that decision makers need. For instance, seminary heads need to know which new professions will be in demand, the earning potential of the professions, and the educational requirements for the profession.
Second, the Machon has proven an invaluable asset to chareidi MKs. After recent hearings on regulation of gemachim, a nonreligious MK remarked to Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, "This time it was the chareidim who looked like the professionals armed with the facts and statistics."
Finally, the Machon is rapidly becoming the go-to source for government ministries seeking information about the chareidi community. The Machon's first major project was a study (in conjunction with the Housing Ministry) that projected chareidi housing needs in the coming decades. And a second-stage study on implementation is in progress.
Research institutes without intimate knowledge of the chareidi community have repeatedly proven susceptible to glaring errors. The Israel Democracy Institute, for instance, published a report on the impact of reductions of financial stipends to yeshivos and kollelim when Yair Lapid was finance minister. Their conclusion was that the chareidi community is enormously sensitive to financial incentives and disincentives. One proof, widely discussed in the Israeli financial media, was the dramatic reduction of the number of foreign avreichim and single yeshivah students after the removal of the minimal government stipend for foreign students.
The number of foreign yeshivah students, according to the IDI, declined between 2012 and 2013 from approximately 10,000 to around 1,500. That was patent nonsense — certainly to any sentient chareidi. There has been no widespread closures of yeshivos for gap-year students: Rav Asher Arieli's shiur in the Mir remained packed, and there was still a wait to get into Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik's shiur in Brisk.
The IDI had dutifully collected the reports of foreign students filed by yeshivos. What they failed to realize was that when the stipends were removed, yeshivos no longer had any reason to file reports. Ergo, the ridiculous conclusions.