Haazinu/Succos: Temporary Dwellings

In this week’s poetic and moving song-of-Torah, Parshas Haazinu, Moshe Rabbeinu prepares to take leave of the nation he has loved and led for forty years.  The people will now cross the Jordan River to fulfill their destiny in Eretz Yisrael, while Moshe will die and be buried on the eastern banks of the river, in the land of Moav. 

And Hashem spoke to Moshe, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לֵאמֹר, in the midst of that very day, saying: עֲלֵה אֶל-הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה הַר-נְבוֹ, אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי יְרֵחוֹ; וּרְאֵה אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לַאֲחֻזָּה – Ascend to this mount of Avarim, Mt. Nevo, which is in the land of Moav, which is before Yericho, and see the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance; וּמֻת, בָּהָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹלֶה שָׁמָּה, וְהֵאָסֵף, אֶל-עַמֶּיךָ – and die on the mountain where you will ascend, and be gathered unto your people…כִּי מִנֶּגֶד, תִּרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וְשָׁמָּה, לֹא תָבוֹא–אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – For from afar you shall see the land, but you shall not enter there, into the land that I give to the Children of Israel (Devarim 32:48-52).

בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, in the midst of that very day – R’ S.R. Hirsch writes, “According to our Sages, עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם denotes the ‘strength of the day’ – i.e., its full power, full daylight, and it indicates that the act took place in broad daylight.  Moshe’s going off to die belonged to the sphere of his free life of duty.  It did not constitute a passive acceptance of physical necessity.  In moral freedom he gave himself up to G-d’s Will and rule, just as he did whenever he fulfilled a mitzvah.  It was necessary to specially emphasize this, for his death deprived him of what would have been the crowning achievement of all his earthly activity – the more so as the people needed him precisely then, when it was about to conquer the Land in order to realize the Torah.  What is more, according to what is stated below (34:7 – And Moshe was 120 years old when he died; his eye had not become dim and his freshness had not departed), Moshe must have known that he was still in possession of the full physical and mental powers required to carry on his activity.”

And yet, despite possessing his full physical strength and mental capabilities, Hashem decreed that Moshe’s time was up.  Even the greatest leader of all time, Moshe Rabbeinu, about whom the Torah says: בְּכָל-בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא – In My entire house, he is the most trusted; Moshe, who spoke to G-d – keviyachol (as if it were possible) פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה… וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת – mouth to mouth, in a clear vision and not in riddles (Bamidbar 12:7-8)… Even this majestic giant of a man would now meet his end.

Moshe’s death, outside of the Holy Land, reminds us all that man’s physical existence emanates from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream (U’ne’sa’neh Tokef). 

Moshe’s end reminds us all of the feelings we face during this time period of year.  And yet, from the awe and reverence of the Yomim Noraim, we quickly transition to the love, ecstasy and simcha (joy) of Chag Ha’Succos.  From prayer, fasting, penitence and supplication, we move to rejoicing in the shelter of our temporary dwellings, the Sukkah which the Zohar calls the “Shade of Faith”. 

R’ Yonasan Eibeishetz zt’l (1690-1764) teaches that, “The Sukkah as a shade, a transient type of shelter, connects with Chazal’s statement with regard to fulfilling the mitzvah of Sukkah: Leave the confines of your permanent dwelling and enter the confines of a temporary dwelling (Sukkah 2a).  A simple reading of this text suggests that we leave permanent edifices such as our houses, and enter temporary ones, like huts, which are not as comfortable or stable as permanent structures.  Yet, there is a significant philosophical message behind this directive as well.

“A Jew should comprehend that his physical existence in this world, including the material benefits that he might enjoy, are merely temporary.  The only permanent achievements are spiritual, intangible things.  Accordingly, on Succos, one is made to leave the physical stability of his house and enter the transient Sukkah…

“Succos encourages us to take the spirituality that suffused us on Yom Kippur and bring it with us into a temporary, minimalist lodging so that we can try to live our lives as examples of spirituality.  That is also the reason the halacha (Jewish law) requires that we be able to see the stars through the s’cha’ch, the Sukkah’s ‘roof’.  Doing so reminds us to devote our hearts to Hashem… Hashem wants us to realize that we are guests in this world and, as such, we are expected to refrain from indulging in the physical.  Instead, we are to divert our focus from the aesthetics of our houses and possessions in order to realize their temporary nature.  Am Yisrael should consistently look toward the heavens, search for the stars above, and long for spiritual devotion and a lasting connection to Hashem” (Derash Yehonatan, S.Hammer, p.38,40).

There is a well known story regarding a visitor from America who came to Radin and visited with the Chafetz Chaim, R’ Yisroel Meir Ha’Kohen Kagin zt’l.  The wealthy visitor was astonished at the sparsity and lack that he perceived in the home of the Chafetz Chaim.  Inquisitively, he asked the Chafetz Chaim, “Where are your possessions?”  To which the Chafetz Chaim replied, “Where are yours?”  “Mine?” replied the man, “Why I am just passing through Radin!”  “I too,” the sage replied, “am just passing through…”

May we take the kedusha (holiness) that we experienced on the Yomim Noraim along with us, into our Succos and beyond.  Let us be ever cognizant that while we can and should enjoy the bounty of Hashem’s world, even the greatest of men does not live forever.  We must always keep our eyes on the stars, striving to grow upwards towards our Source, till our very last day. 

At the levaya, Ari Fuld’s father, R’ Yonah Fuld, related that as the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, his son truly understood the importance of a Jewish homeland, a cause he wholeheartedly embraced.  “He was a paratrooper and he fought in the second war against Lebanon,” said Rabbi Fuld.  “He would continue serving whenever he was called up for reserve duty.  My wife would ask him when he was going to stop and he said that he would continue serving his country until he had breathed his last breath.”  הי״ד. תהא זכרו ברוך. 

בברכת בשורות טובות, נחמות וישועות, שבת שלום, וחג סוכות שמח,

Michal

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