Monday, October 13, 2008


I had been wondering what the link between the regular theme of Tishrei, that of Tshuvah, and Sukkot was. Here I am on an Egged bus with a copy of the Sfat Emet in front of me, and I haven't seen anything on that particular topic so far.

I have however, seen a fantastic D'var Torah elsewhere on the web, so please take two minutes to click the following link and read the article. I hope you enjoy reading it! Here's the link.

In my summer classes with R' Daniel Katz I learned something very interesting, and it would seem that (at least one of) his source(s) is a drasha by the Sfat Emet I read just now. R' Katz explained in his classes how a cube is a very symbolic object in Judaism. A cube is a symbol of the spiritual world and physical world acting in harmony, a source of tremendous power. He explained that it was no coincidence that a Chupah is a cube, as are T'fillin, and so too are most Batei Knesset along with the bimah that stands in their middle. Intriguingly, so too is a Sukkah. The Holy of Holies was in the form of a cube, and the Holy Place was a double cube in length. He explained that a cube has six sides with one central, focal point. A cube has the spiritual number of seven imbued within it. It also has 12 axes, and again, if we count the central point, we arrive at 13. Another highly significant number.

The point that the Sfat Emet raises is that a Sukkah is like a Chupah.(Which is another cube shape.) A Chupah is where the act of marriage between a man and wife is finalised, and the Sfat Emet intimates that when we sit in our Sukkot, we are realising our marriage with Hashem. If Pesach was the flash, that magical spark of pure potential, and Shavuot was Hashem betrothing us at the Chupa of Har Sinai, Sukkot is the completion of that marriage, where we stand under the wedding canopy with Hashem and consummate our marriage.

The Sfat Emet in another teaching on Shavuot, explains what the significance of Tfillin are. Just like on Shavuot we take the Bikkurim, the year's first fruits, and mark them as being from Hashem with a red ribbon, the Sfat Emet reveals the parallel of T'fillin and the Jewish nation as a whole. When a Jew wraps T'fillin around his arm, he is marking himself off as being holy, special, and God's property. No coincidence that ion both cases a strong colour is used, T'fillin being black and the Bikkurim are wrapped with a red string. And relevant to this D'var Torah, the man recites, while wrapping his T'fillin, "V'erastich li," an expression of betrothal.

As the Sfat Emet says, “the Sukkah is like a Chupah, concluding the marriage of man and wife. ‘For I caused Israel to dwell in sukkot when I took them out of the Land of Egypt.’ (Vayikra 23:43) At the Exodus from Egypt, Israel were sanctified (wedded) to God, as it says: ‘I am the Lord who sanctified [or weds] you, who brought you forth from the Land of Egypt to be your G-d.”’ (Vayikra 22:32-33)

The Sukkah, in this beautiful interpretation, is the wedding canopy that we joyfully re-enter each year, reaffirming our commitment to God and our certainty of God’s love for us.

But the Sefat Emet continues, asking a most contemporary question: How could God have “chosen” Israel, only one of the many nations on earth, for special relationship? How could the Infinite choose a partner that is itself only a small part of the whole of creation? The angels seemingly had a serious problem with the concept of Hashem "marrying" himself to humans. Of all the creations, why man? (And of all the nations, why us? Is that not a question that troubles non-Jews to this very day?)

And the Rebbe’s response: “God is wholeness itself. Why then did God choose a fragment of something [i.e., choose Israel]? Scripture answers: ‘I dwell with the lowly and those of humble spirit.’ (Isaiah 57:15) The Zohar adds that a person with a broken heart is indeed whole. This in fact is to be said in God’s praise: Wherever God dwells there is wholeness….”

The Infinite, says the Sfat Emet, can enter into relationship with a finite creature because the One can make a part whole. The Holy One is wholeness itself. In connection to God, all that is fragmentary can be healed, all that is separated can be rejoined, all that is broken can be mended. Thus Sukkot is a time when all of us may find a measure of healing for whatever ails us.

At the end of the teaching comes the most remarkable surprise. “This is the real meaning of ‘who spreads a sukkah of peace’ [from the Hashkiveinu prayer, in Ma'ariv]. The inner point [the spark of holiness within] that is everywhere is wholeness; Israel represents this among God’s creatures. On Sukkot 70 bullocks are offered for the 70 nations. The water libation [of Sukkot] is also interpreted by the Talmud to mean that Israel should pray for God’s kingdom to spread over all Creation.”

In this stunning teaching, the Sfat Emet develops the rabbinic notion that the biblical sacrifices for Sukkot are offered on behalf of all the nations of the world, joined in service of the Holy. A far cry from the holy days that remind us of past enmity with other peoples, this holiday is a time of hope, of abundant possibility, of a vision of a world sheltered together under God’s sukkah of peace.

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