Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the first day of Sukkos. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Some people’s most valuable possessions are their photo albums. They cherish the memories of the good times of the past when they gaze nostalgically at their old pictures. If that concept exists in this world, it must be rooted in something deeper in the higher worlds. Hashem certainly remembers everything that has ever happened. But which photo albums from the history of our relationship with Him does He love to look at? What are His favorite memories?
Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, shlita, recently wrote (Pirkei Machshava 84-86) of an experience he had two years ago on Sukkos 5773 (2012) at a large siyum celebration in Yerushalayim. As he was enjoying the siyum, he thought back on another Sukkos seventy years earlier, in 5703 (1942). At that time, he was in hiding with his parents on a Czech farm as they posed as non-Jewish farmers to hide from the Nazis. Rabbi Tauber remembered how, as a young child, he watched his father plan how they would fulfill the mitzva of Sukkah even in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. There was a closed-off construction site near the farm, so his father bribed the owner of the land to give their family access to the construction site to hide some of their property from the taxing authorities. They did this and managed to build a small, low Sukkah using some construction materials. They went each night of Sukkos to quickly eat and bentch in the Sukkah to fulfill the mitzva.
When Rabbi Tauber remembered this incident, he went to see his father who was also in Yerushalayim. As he recalled the events from seventy years earlier, his father said, “Ah, I remember that Sukkos! I’m still longing for such a Sukkah!” This is a man who survived the war with his entire family alive, lived to see his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren alive and well, and merited to live in Yerushalayim as Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish people are built up more and more. These things must have been beyond his wildest dreams as he huddled under that little Sukkah at some dirty construction site in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Yet he looked back on that little Sukka more fondly and with more nostalgia than all of the well-built Sukkos he sat in during all of the years since then with all of their halachic stringencies. Why?
Hashem made many miracles for us in the desert. He gave us manna, water from a rock, he sweetened the waters at Mara, caused our clothes not to wear out, sheltered us in the Clouds of Glory, and many others. Why did Hashem establish the Yom Tov of Sukkos to remember the Clouds of Glory in particular? What is unique about that miracle that it is more “memorable” than any other aspect of the desert experience?
Sukkos is the holiday of “I have remembered the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials when you went after Me in the desert, in a land not sewn” (Yirmiyahu 2:2) because it recalls His protection when we first entered the desert. The Sfas Emes, zy”a, explains that although the Jewish people reached very exalted spiritual levels, Hashem does not praise them for their lofty intellectual and spiritual achievements. Rather, He praises them because they “went after Me in the desert, in a land not sewn.”
Hashem praises us for what we did at the beginning of our journey with Him, rather than our more advanced accomplishments later on. He lovingly remembers the faith we had in Him in our “youth,” when we were still in a state relative immaturity and smallness, near the bottom of the forty-nine levels of impurity. This is remarkable. Hashem does not recall how we reached the level of prophecy attained by Yechezkel in his vision of the chariot when we stood on Mount Sinai. Instead, which photo album does Hashem gaze at nostalgically? He looks longingly at the pictures of the sacrifices we made for Him when we still, so to speak, had our nose rings and spiked hair. Hashem receives more pleasure and satisfaction from that than all of our significant attainments later on.
The Sfas Emes teaches us that the mitzvos, Torah, and sacrifices we make for Hashem when we are in a desert, a place bereft of the bells, whistles, and the stringencies of a more established Yiddishkeit are more precious to Him than anything else. When we are surrounded on all sides by the emptiness, filth, and confusion of this world, and yet we still manage to squeeze in time for some learning and mitzvos, in a certain way, that gives Hashem the greatest nachas.
When I grew up in Hillcrest in the 1960’s, most people did not build individual Sukkos the way they do today. Perhaps only ten to twenty individual families built their own Sukkos. This was a trailblazing act at that time, and doing so made one feel he was truly going “against the grain.” My father built a Sukkah every year and because it was so uncommon, this gave me a tremendous sense of pride.
In those days, there were no pre-selected, pre-checked, halachically certified lulavim and esrogim for Sukkos. In order to obtain a kosher set of the four species, we were forced to sort through buckets and buckets of hadassim just to find one kosher set. But the mitzva felt so much more precious because it wasn’t easy and ready-made. It was not what everyone was doing so it had so much more significance. Of course it is better than many more people are observing more mitzvos more properly than before. But when a mitzva becomes “mainstream,” when everyone is doing it, it does not have the same special meaning as it does when one goes “out of the box” for G-d. That is so special.
That is why Rabbi Tauber’s father valued that little construction site Sukkah more than all of the beautiful Sukkos he sat in over the years. That is why Hashem remembers our youthful dedication to Him in following Him out into the desert despite the fact that we were still immersed in the forty-nine levels of impurity. That show of faith when we were still surrounded by the filth of Egypt is more precious than all of the levels we acquired later on. That is why Sukkos, which recalls how we traveled with Hashem in the desert, became a Yom Tov and all of the other miracles and levels we attainted in the desert did not.
This idea is also found in Tanya (chapter 36) as well. We know Hashem created this world, which is the lowest of all worlds, by contracting His light through an infinite number of worlds and an infinite number of descending levels to progressively conceal it such that it could form the material from which this world can exist. The Alter Rebbe teaches: “[This world] is on the lowest level, lower than which there is nothing. It is a type of concealment of His light. It is darkness upon darkness to the extent that it is full of husks [impurity] and ‘the other side’ which are literally opposed to Hashem… Behold, the purpose of the chain of the worlds, and the descent from level to level is not for the sake of the upper worlds… Rather, the purpose is this lowest world. It is Hashem’s will to have pleasure [specifically from this lowest world…”
The Tanya is teaching us that just like Hashem has more pleasure from the Jewish people’s early belief in Him when they followed Him into the desert than He does from the fact that they attained a great level of prophecy, Hashem’s main pleasure from everything He created is the Torah and mitzvos we eke out from this lowest, basest, most physical of all worlds, not the service of the angels in the higher worlds.
There is a dispute in the Gemara (Sukkah 7b) as to whether a Sukkah should have the qualities of a permanent dwelling or a temporary dwelling. On a deeper level, this dispute is about what kind of mitzvos Hashem values the most. There are certainly some Jews (very few) whose Yiddishkeit is a “permanent dwelling.” They always live in the revealed presence of Hashem. But for most of us, our Yiddishkeit is a “temporary dwelling” in which we try to grab a mitzva here and a mitzva there wherever we can. In fact, the halacha is that a Sukkah must be a “temporary dwelling” because the mitzvos that we scrape together in this world of confusion are more precious in some ways than the service of those few tzadikim who live with Hashem as a “permanent dwelling.”
That is why the greatest joy on Sukkos is the water drawing ceremony. The wine libations the rest of the year did not bring as much joy because wine indicates the highest level of wisdom being used toward Divine service. But water is the simplest liquid, indicating the simple, initial attempt at Divine service that is so precious to G-d, even more so than the highest level of G‑dliness attained by those who delve into the wine, the secrets, of Torah. By celebrating the water drawing ceremony on Sukkos, Hashem gives us the ability to value and appreciate the simple mitzvos we manage to do even when it isn’t the mainstream, well-worn path. He wants us to sense the preciousness of every single drop of Torah and mitzvos we can do. We must appreciate each act of “when you went after Me in the desert.”
This Sukkos, may we all merit to recognize that Hashem’s favorite “memories” of us are of the mitzvos and Torah we do for Him when it is outside of the norm. They the most precious. In the merit of the importance we place on the mitzvos which are simple like water, may we merit to watch the water drawing ceremony once again with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash soon in our days.