Sukkot - Shkakh
By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
“After you have gathered in from your threshing floor and from your wine
press” (Devarim, 16:13). With these words the Torah commanded us about
Sukkot and Chazal (Sukkah, 12a) explained that this referred to the waste
of the grain crop and of the vineyards, and that if these are still
connected to the ground they are not eligible to be used for skhakh.
Sukkot is called ‘ the festival of the ingathering, chag heasif’ (Shmot,
23,16), as this is the time that all the crops are gathered into the
storehouses and granaries, after the harvests are completed. We should
know that everything in the material world is meant to teach us something
in the spiritual realm. So, parallel to the ingathethering of the crops,
there is, on Sukkot an ingathering of all our religious and spiritual
actions. In the material world, all the crops are cleansed of all waste
before they are stored. So, in spiritual matters too, of all the Torah we
have learnt and all the mitzvoth we have done, before they can be gathered
into the Heavenly storehouse, they have to be cleansed and purified of
actions that are not totally for the sake of Heaven and any impure
thoughts that we may have had when doing them. The Avnei Nezer taught that
this is what is done to us on Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim. Just as at
this time the evil people are signed and sealed immediately for
destruction, so too with each individual the evil portions are wiped out
and with each mitzvah the ‘pesolet’ is removed.
Now there are in agriculture two different sorts of waste, chaff and
straw. The chaff is valueless and useless, so that in Eretz Yisrael it is
simply strewn to the wind. However, in contrast, the straw and branches
are of value to the farmer both as bedding for animals and other uses; it
is only relative to the fruits, wheat or other grains that it is
considered waste. So too, with regard to spiritual matters there are 2
types of shortcomings or ‘pesolet’.
Mitzvoth, Torah and good deeds are sometimes accompanied by foreign
thoughts or performed while we still hold on to our wrong deeds. Then
these are serious sins and have to be cast aside quickly and thoroughly
like the chaff. They are cleansed easily because they are basically
foreign to the Jews and so do not become rooted within them, rather
brushed aside like the burrs that settle on a bald person’s head. This we
achieve on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Hakippurim, like the chaff that is
winnowed by the wind.
The Chovat Halevavot explains that every mitzvah consists of a material-
physical part that is the actual performance of the mitzvah, that always
involves the physical and a separate element that is the spiritual
component contributed by our kavanah, joy and religiosity. For the actual
performance there is the reward of this world, not a reward of material
things rather a reward that we will use the benefits we gain in this world
in order to merit our place in the world to come. The Rambam explains that
this is the goal and purpose of all the material-physical things we gain
in this world ( Hilkhot Teshuvah, chapter 9.). The performance element of
the mitzvot is like the straw for the farmer, in that while of itself it
has a value as we have seen, yet relative to the kavanah, spirituality and
spontaneity required for a mitzvah it is actually pesolet. Without them
our mitzvot cannot take us into the treasure house of the world to come
together with the kavanah, just as the straw isn’t gathered into the
farmer’s silo, but is used for other purposes.
The straw and branches cast aside after the harvest, that are pesolet
relative to the grain and fruit, the Torah commanded us to use as skhakh,
so too after cleansing ourselves of our actual sins on Rosh HaShanah and
Yom HaKippurim, the spirituality of that skhakh and of the Sukkat will
cleanse the material- physical performance of our mitzvot of the defects
caused by our lack of kavanah and by the mechanical and routine way that
we performed them. Then the Torah we have studied, the prayers we have
said and the mitzvoth we have performed will truly carry us to our merits
in the world to come.
Now we can understand the halakhah that s’khakh that is still connected to
the earth is pasul, invalid. Such skhakh is not religious nor is it
spiritual, since it is still connected and joined to an inanimate object,
the earth in which it is rooted. The material-physical element in the
performance of mitzvoth must not be done without religiosity, without
ecstasy or mechanically merely as a matter of habit. When performed in
these ways, our mitzvoth remain rooted and entwined in the inanimate and
the purely physical-material and therefore are pasol, unable to carry us
to the world to come.
Shem Mi Shmuel, Sukkot, 5672.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.