Eisav turned on his way back to Seir on that day, but Ya'akov
journeyed to Succot; he built a house for himself and made shelters
for his livestock. He called the place "Succot." (Bereishis 33:16-17)
At first glance this posuk has little if anything at all to do with
this week's parshah.
True, this was the last stop Ya'akov made on his way back into Eretz
Yisroel, just after his (non-)confrontation with his brother, Eisav,
in his 34th year away from home.
True, the next camp after entering Eretz Yisroel would be in Shechem
some 18 months later - in his THIRTY-SIXTH year away from home, where
Yosef, ancestor of Moshiach Ben Yosef, would be sold into slavery by
his brothers, and ultimately the final resting place of his bones.
And true, he settled there just after his name was changed from
Ya'akov to Yisroel after his fight with the Angel of Eisav.
In spite of all this, what connection is there to the spies in this
Leave it to the GR"A to point out the deep and profound connection
between the concept of Succah and Eretz Yisroel:
A famous saying of Rabbeinu (the Vilna Gaon) was: There are two
mitzvos that involve the entire body of a person: Succah and Eretz
Yisroel. A hint to this is in the posuk, "Then His Tabernacle was in
Jerusalem and His Dwelling in Tzion" (Tehillim 76:3). He added that
the mitzvah of a succah is that it must be made and not already
exist, and that this is true of Tzion as well, as it says in the
Midrash on the posuk, "A redeemer will come to Tzion" (Yeshayahu
59:20). Thus, as long as Tzion is not built a redeemer will not come
as Chazal say, "Once Jerusalem is built Ben Dovid will come"
(Megillah 17b), and in the Midrash, "Ben Dovid will not come until
Jerusalem is built." (Kol HaTor, Ch. 1:7)
Thus, it would not be too much of a stretch of one's imagination to
see Ya'akov's camp at Succah as a spiritual preparation for re-entry
into Eretz Yisroel. After all, he had been living in Chutz L'Aretz
for 34 years with his uncle Lavan (Mr. Materialism himself), and
Ya'akov wanted to make sure that he was holy enough to merit the
return to the holy land. Whatever Succah was, it meant the perfect
transition from the materialistic world back into the spiritual one,
something that was also embodied in his name change from Ya'akov to
Yisroel. A transition the spies in this week's parshah had apparently
been unable to make. And a transition Yosef HaTzaddik understood and
forewarned his brothers about:
When the ten spies went out to spy the land, the souls of the ten
corresponding tribes came into them, the actual sons of Ya'akov. This
is the sod of what Yosef told them (his brothers), "You are spies"
(Bereishis 42:9), to allude that in the future their souls would go
into the spies. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 36) This made perfect sense
because the Midrash says that all that happened to Yosef happens to
Tzion (Tanchuma, Vayaishev 10). They share the same gematria and the
same fate of being misjudged and abandoned. And the Vilna Gaon is
telling us that it has to do with the fact that the mitzvah of Tzion,
like Succah itself, can only be performed with one's entire body, a
cost the spies had not been prepared to pay . . . or many Jews
throughout history, for that matter, especially today.
Thus, Bris Milah only became relevant once Avraham Avinu made aliyah.
Living in Chutz L'Aretz did not represent total subservience to G-d
of every last limb of the human body. However, living in Eretz
Yisroel does, and therefore Bris Milah, or the lack of it, meant the
inability to fully acquire Eretz Yisroel, something the spies failed
to do, and something a Jew has to do in order to be one with G-d, as
the holiday of Succos itself teaches us.
Happy is the man whom G-d disciplines, and whom You teach Your Torah.
Sometimes it's hard to tell if a particular story from the Talmud
actually occurred, or if it is just meant as an analogy. However, in
the following case we know it is an analogy because it deals with the
future as if it is the present.
The nations will then plead, "Offer us the Torah anew and we shall
obey it." But the Holy One, Blessed is He, will say to them, "You
foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble on Erev Shabbos can
eat on Shabbos, but he who has not troubled on Erev Shabbos, what
shall he eat on Shabbos? Nevertheless, I have an easy mitzvah called
Succah; go and carry it out."
But how can you say this? Does not Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi say, "Why
does it write, 'The mitzvos which I command you this day to do them'
(Devarim 7:11)? Today only to do them, but not tomorrow to do them;
today to do them, but not today to be rewarded for them!" However,
The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not come to His creatures with a
pretext. And why does He call it an easy mitzvah? Because it does not
involve financial loss. Immediately, each one of them went and built
a succah on his roof. However, The Holy One, Blessed is He, made the
hot summer sun beat down upon them, and each one kicked the succah
and went out, as it says, "Let us cut their bonds and cast off their
ropes from ourselves" (Tehillim 2:3). But you have just said that The
Holy One, Blessed is He, does not deal with His creatures with a
pretext? And, even for Jews it happens that the summer extends until
the holiday, and they suffer [from the heat of the sun], and Rava has
said: He who suffers is exempt from dwelling in the Succah? Exempt
yes, but kick the succah too? No. (Avodah Zarah 3a)
It is what the Haggadah says regarding the Evil Son, "Had you been in
Egypt, you would not have gone out!" How do we know? Because, with an
attitude like the one he has exhibited today, we know that it would
have blinded him to the reality of the situation, as were the
12,000,000 other Jews who died in the Plague of Darkness because they
too couldn't see the hand of G-d in what had been happening.
Or, like the Rebellious Son, whom we kill at the age of 12 though he
has yet to become punishable for his sins. However, as the Talmud
says, we can see today by his actions that he will grow up to be a
sinner and become punishable with death. So, he is killed now while
he is still free of technical sin rather than let him be killed later
with a load of transgressions to his name, necessitating a long and
awful stay in Gihennom.
Likewise, the Talmud quoted above is a projection into the future
based upon the present, as if to say, judging by the present attitude
of the gentile nations today towards the Torah and mitzvos, and
towards the Jewish people too for that matter, they're going to be in
for a big shock in Yemos HaMoshiach when the truth comes out. And,
judging by the way mankind has rarely taken responsibility for its
own mistakes, it would probably want to claim "Foul!", and demand a
second chance, albeit a late one, whether or not the scenario
actually occurs is immaterial. This is not a comment about the
future, but chastisement about the present.
And if the nations of the world would make such a request, G-d would
make the point that their problem all along had not been their lack
of mitzvos, but something far more fundamental. After all, they could
have converted at any point along the way during their lifetimes, or
just have fulfilled the Seven Noachide Laws incumbent upon them.
Hence, hypothetically, G-d would give them the mitzvah of Succah,
which they would, hypothetically, promptly fulfill.
And, that will have been the easy part. Building the actual succah
and moving into it will have been the fun part. Assuming the test was
complete and they passed, they will be horrified when G-d plays what
they will perceive as a trick on them, making life in the succah
unbearable through the heat of the summer sun. Angry, they will leave
their succos, but not before first kicking them in a show of
So, the Talmud asks the obvious question: Even a Jew in such a
circumstance would be allowed to leave the succah?
The Talmud answers a not-so-obvious answer: But a Jew does not kick
the succah on the way out, even in such a circumstance.
In other words, the Talmud is teaching, the fundamental difference
between the Jewish people and the nations of the world is not just
the amount of mitzvos we have to perform. This was the essence of
what Moshe Rabbeinu was telling the Jewish people right before his
Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, want from you, except to fear
G-d, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve G-d
your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep the
commandments of G-d and His ordinances, which I command you this day,
for your own good. (Devarim 10:12-13)
In other words, though there are really a total of 613 mitzvos, they
become one mitzvah when one has mastered the art of yireh Shamayim,
Fear of Heaven. And, as the Rambam teaches, yireh Shamayim comes down
to developing the level of appreciation of G-d when love of Him flows
like water in a powerful stream. At that point, every mitzvah becomes
a labor of love, and equally important, every rejection is
chastisement from a loving father:
Happy is the man whom G-d disciplines, and whom You teach Your Torah.
You must love G-d with all you heart, with all your soul, and with
all your possessions. (Devarim 6:4)
The point of Rosh Hashanah is for a Jew to accept the yoke of the
Kingdom of G-d. On Rosh Hashanah we are supposed to realize that our
lives only have meaning when we are serving the King. However, as
strong as a villager desires to work in the place of the king, unless
he becomes respectable he will not be allowed into the palace. Before
Yosef could stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams, he was
given a haircut and made presentable.
Therefore, Yom Kippur follows nine days later. Yom Kippur is a
mikvah, a spiritual cleansing from the filth of previous sins on our
way to the King's palace. That is why we can say, Boruch Shem kevod
Malchusos l'olam vaed out loud on Yom Kippur without stirring up the
ire of the angels. On Yom Kippur, as a result of our fasting and
prayer, we look like angels.
The only thing left to do, if one has used Rosh Hashannah and Yom
Kippur properly, is to move into the palace: the succah.
By human standards the succah is barely a palace fit for a king. But,
for the King of Kings, it is a palace beyond our ability to
appreciate, because it is not the wood walls and thatched roof
ceiling that G-d enjoys, but the heart of the person who lives within
it. Succah involves our entire body, not just because we actually
have to physically enter it, but because if the heart isn't in it,
then neither is the person, so-to-speak.
In fact, physically-speaking, it is enough that the majority of a
person's body is in the succah to have performed the mitzvah. What is
really necessary is that the person wants to be there entirety,
completely in the King's Palace, with everything he has and with
everything it implies: complete reliance on G-d for survival and an
acceptance of a high level of Hashgochah Pratis - a commitment that
the spies had not yet been willing to make.
Indeed, I was recently told by someone who did not feel compelled to
even consider making aliyah at this time in history, that he heard
from a Chassidic rebi that, at the End-of-Days, the main tikun will
be for the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, as if to say, the Jews in Chutz
L'Aretz are okay where they are, doing what they are doing.
His understanding of this idea flies in the face of everything else
we know about the End-of-Days. However, the statement can be
understood in a different way that would make it perfectly consistent
with everything we have said until now, and for that we turn once
again to the heroic death of Rebi Akiva.
Once the wicked Government issued a decree forbidding Jews to study
and practice Torah. Pappus ben Yehudah found Rebi Akiva publicly
bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He
said to him, "Akiva, are you not afraid of the Government?" He
replied, "I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once
walking alongside of a river, and he saw fish going in swarms from
one place to another. He said to them, 'From what are you fleeing?'
They replied, 'From the nets cast for us by men.' He said to them.
'Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can
live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your
ancestors?' They replied, 'Are you the one that they call the
cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are
afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element
in which we would die!' So it is with us. If such is our condition
when we sit and study the Torah, of which it is written, 'For that is
your life and the length of your days' (Devarim 30:20), how much
worse off we shall be if we neglect it!" It is related that soon
afterwards Rebi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus
ben Yehudah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to
him, "Pappus, who brought you here?" He replied, "Happy are you, Rebi
Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah!
Pappus has been seized for busying himself with idle things!" When
Rebi Akiva was taken out for execution it was the hour for the
recital of the Shema, and while they combed his flesh with iron
combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of Heaven. His
students said to him, "Our teacher, even to this point?" He said to
them, "All my days I have been troubled by the verse, 'with all your
soul,' that is, even if He takes your soul. I said, 'When will I have
the opportunity of fulfilling this?' Now that I have the opportunity,
should I not fulfill it?" He prolonged the word Echad until he died
while saying it. A Heavenly Voice proclaimed, "Happy are you, Rebi
Akiva, that you are destined for life in the World-to-Come!" (Brochos
Of course Rebi Akiva was ready for life in the World-to-Come! If we
can be ready with less, then why would he not be ready with much more?
I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give
you the land of Canaan, and to be your G-d. (Vayikra 25:38)
That's not what the angels meant. What they meant was, "Happy are you
Rebi Akiva because you are destined to go STRAIGHT to the
World-to-Come, without stopping in Gihennom along the way like just
about anyone else!"
For, as it is well known, when G-d sought to make Creation, His
original intention was to run it according to the principle of Din
(Divine Judgment). That means you get what you pay for, no more and
no less. Fair, no?
However, G-d made man with a yetzer hara which meant that sin was
likely, and if the world ran according to Din then just about no one
would survive. Therefore, the Midrash says, G-d also infused Creation
with the concept of mercy, to make up for what man lacked in merit in
order for him to survive. However, mercy does not mean that we don't
have to pay later for what we got free now.
Indeed, the ultimate level for one to reach is on that which G-d can
deal with a person according to strict Din. This way a person can pay
for his mistakes in this world and avoid having to do so in the next
world, something that can only be possible if the person's sins do
not always warrant total destruction. As a result, the average person
lives by the grace of G-d, not by the judgment of G-d.
Not so with Rebi Akiva and his other nine colleagues. By abandoning
themselves to G-d they warranted to be judged exactly according to
their deeds, and their deaths not only sanctified the Name of G-d,
but it cleansed them completely and made possible their direct entry
into eternal paradise. Happy is the person who rises to such an
exclusive level, while the rest of us are more than happy to avoid
the pain of Din while basking in the grace of mercy.
When a person moves to Eretz Yisroel, he or she moves up to a higher
level of Hashgochah Pratis, as the posuk above implies, as the Talmud
The rabbis taught: A person should rather live in Eretz Yisroel, even
in a city whose majority of inhabitants are gentile, than outside the
Land, even if the majority of the city's inhabitants are Jewish. All
those who dwell in Eretz Yisroel are like those with a G-d, and all
those who dwell outside the Land are like those without a G-d.
As such, G-d can work with such a person, perfect him in this world
to avoid having to do so in the future. It's not that the Jews of
Chutz L'Aretz have arrived and therefore do not require much tikun at
the End of Days. It is that, having not arrived, not being able to
throw their entire being into the Palace of the King of Kings, they
have chosen to live with mercy, and not Din - like the spies before
Yes, the main tikun at the end of history is for the Jews of Eretz
Yisroel. But, not because of what they lack that their brothers in
Chutz L'Aretz already have, but just the opposite, because they have
already gained what their brothers in Chutz L'Aretz lack. Having
moved into the King's Palace with everything they have, they are
where the King can personally scrutinize them, but not out of anger
or hate, but out of love.
Perhaps this is even part of the message of Bris Milah, which
symbolizes such incredible devotion to G-d and a desire to be close
to Him. On one hand, it is the rite of initiation into the Covenant.
On the other hand, there is pain and there is blood. Bris Milah is so
Din-oriented, yet it really represents G-d's love for His people and
His people's love for Him.
I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me. When? Elul Zman - right at
the time of Divine Judgment.
Ironically, when the Talmud asks why succah is considered an "easy
mitzvah," the answer is, because it does not involve financial
expenditure, the implication being that the physical effort of
actually building a succah and moving into it bothers the gentiles
less than having to lay out money to do so. Yet, when it comes to a
Jew, it is amazing how much he will spend on a mitzvah, and the
Talmud teaches that one should even spend a third more than he might
have otherwise spent on a particular mitzvah (Bava Kamma 9b).
Perhaps, then, this is the more subtle message of the Talmud, the
same message of the Shema - the Jewish creed. For each term - with
all of our heart, with our entire soul, and with all of our
possessions - corresponds to a different period of 2,000 years. The
last phrase, about serving G-d with all of our possessions
corresponds to our 2,000-year period of history. The defining factor
of a Jew at the End of Days, will be his willingness to sacrifice his
possessions to be close to G-d, the message of the succah in general,
and of Eretz Yisroel in particular, as it says:
There is a tradition that, at the time of the arrival of Moshiach,
wonderful things will happen for Jews everywhere. On the actual day
that they arrive from the Diaspora . . . the walls of Yerushalayim
will be replaced. It will also be the day of the re-building of the
Temple, which will be built from exquisite stones and gems. Once the
dead are resurrected, they will become transformed and will have very
lofty natures. However, the same type of transformation will occur
for the . . . Jews who remained alive [in Eretz Yisroel], and their
bodies will be like that of Adam HaRishon before his sin, and like
Moshe Rabbeinu's. They will become so spiritual that they will be
able to fly like eagles, which will astound the redeemed exiles. Upon
witnessing this, the "Diaspora Jews" will become upset, and they will
complain to Moshiach, Are we not Jews like them? Why do they merit to
fly and live in an elevated spiritual state, and not us? However,
Moshiach will answer them, "It is quite well known that G-d works
measure-for-measure. Those who lived in the Diaspora and made efforts
and sacrifices to elevate themselves by moving to the Holy Land
merited purity of soul. They were not so concerned about their
finances and health. They traveled over vast lands and crossed seas,
not paying attention to the possibilities of drowning, being robbed
along the way, or being taken captive by some strange foreign ruler.
Being that they placed priority of their spirit over materialism and
physicality, they merit, measure-for-measure, to be elevated to this
lofty spiritual plane. On the other hand, you who also had
opportunities to go up to Israel, but remained hesitant and
reluctant, enamored instead with your materialistic status, making
materialism a higher priority than spiritual growth, therefore,
measure-for-measure, remain physical . . . However, for those who
valued their soul most, they will be transformed into supernal beings
and will be led into the earthly Garden of Eden. (Tuv HaAretz: Praise
Of Those Who Dwell In Israel At The Time Of Moshiach)
Shlach-Lecha. Send YourSELF. All of you. For, as the dove taught
Noach, "Better that our food be bitter but from the hand of G-d than
sweet and from the hand of man," because in this world, it is not
what you get that counts, but who's doing the giving.