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Rabbi Levin's Blog

Noach

 A flood is a terrible thing.  Over the last few years we have seen floods and Tsunamis that caused major devastation, and these events are very troubling.  Now imagine a flood covering the entire world, all living beings wiped out.  I often hear people ask “how could such a good G-d let these things happen?”  What is happening here?  Why would such a devastating event happen and what can we learn from it?

 

Let me give a different perspective, based on Kabbala and Chassidus. (As usual, I am only able to give a short glimpse into the concepts on this forum.) Hashem wanted to create a world with beings that have free choice. Choice to believe in Him or not, to follow His commandments or not, to live our mission or not, to bring light or darkness. The goal of all this is to enjoy light overcoming darkness. In an environment with bright light, another light, no matter how bright, accomplishes nothing. In a dark environment, even a tiny candles transforms the place. Hashem therefore created this physical world with human beings who do good by choice. There are many spiritual worlds above this one, with spiritual beings that we call angels, but they have no choice, and therefore their service to Hashem is not that meaningful. It is only the human being in this world of darkness and selfishness, who chooses to do the right thing despite the environment, who truly fulfills the purpose of creation. 

 

How is it possible that the very source of life of the world is hidden to the extent that it is possible for people, whose very existence moment-to-moment depends on Hashem, can deny their very life-force and go against His will, and still survive and thrive (at least materially)? For that to happen Hashem had to mask His light, to create a space where His light is completely hidden. (Of course it is not light in the physical sense, but we use that metaphor because we can relate to the idea of light being hidden by layers of coverings.) Now here is the problem: Creating a dark environment creates darkness. Absence of light means that you have to search for light. The natural tendency in such an environment is to accept the darkness as natural and to go along with it. Bucking the trend takes sacrifice and hard work. In addition, in order to give us true free choice, we have two tendencies within us, also called two souls, the “Divine soul” and the “natural soul,” and we tend to be drawn toward the desires of the natural soul. So there is a real danger that people will choose to go in the other direction, and in fact this is often the case. Nevertheless, this risk is a necessary evil in order to give us real choice, so that the candle we light with a Mitzvah is really meaningful, lighting up the dark world and our own darkness. 

 

When Hashem first created the world, the intense darkness that was created by the concealment of His light was very difficult to penetrate, and the world descended into a cesspool of evil that could not be overcome. This is also evidenced by the fact that Noach built an ark for 120 years, warning people about the impending flood, and nobody listened. It was necessary to create a more equal balance between light and darkness. To soften the concealment and allow the dark world to let some light in, so to speak, and to create a more level playing field. So Hashem purified the world with the waters of the flood.   Just as a Mikvah purifies the impure, so too the flood purified the world. For a Mikvah to be kosher, it must contain the amount of 40 se’ah (a Talmudic measure). The flood lasted 40 days, corresponding to 40 se’ah. The pure evil was washed away, and what was left was a more refined world, a world where good people have a chance to do good and bring light.

 

That is the explanation of why the rainbow is the symbol of Hashem’s covenant never to bring a flood again to destroy the entire world. A rainbow is caused when the rays of the sun shine through the clouds. The symbolism is that whereas before the flood the darkness was so intense that it could not be penetrated by light, now this had changed and the clouds allow sunshine through them. It now became possible for people to choose to do the right thing no matter how dark the environment around us is.

 

There are several lessons here, and here is one that I think is very powerful. The challenges that we face in our daily lives, the worries about making a living and surviving day-to-day seem like a flood and sometimes overwhelm us. The Torah is teaching us, in its extensive discussion of the flood, that these flood waters are really there to purify us. When a person realizes that his or her work is not always as successful as expected, we begin to realize that we need Hashem’s blessings in order to achieve success. This realization itself brings the blessings that come after the flood, when we are able to infuse our work and daily activities with faith and spiritual purpose. 

 

Our upcoming JLI course will give us real tools to help overcome the “Flood” of worries and negative feelings that we face, and help us lead to a happier, more successful and productive life. I am very excited about it and looking forward to sharing it with you. You can register here. Please note that the first lesson, on Wednesday, November 13k, is free with no obligation to commit to the course. Come and see for yourself, I think you will really enjoy it. 

Sukkot

 The traditional greeting for Chol Hamoed  (the intermediate days of a festival) is "Moadim Lesimcha" in Hebrew or "Gut Moed" in Yiddish.  I guess it is the equivalent of "have a good holiday" in English.  The central Mitzvah of the holiday of Sukkot is, of course, the Sukkah.  During the holiday of Sukkot, we make the Sukkah our home by eating and drinking eat and drink in the Sukkah, studying or even hanging out in the Sukkah. we study and hang out in the Sukkah, and  In general, we try to do whatever we usually do in the house in the Sukkah, unless it is inconvenient, like if it is raining and the food is getting wet from the rain.  Then it is ok to eat in the house. although the Chabad custom is to always eat and drink in the Sukkah, even just to drink water, and even if it is pouring.  Sleeping is also not required if it uncomfortable. (The Chabad custom is not to sleep in the Sukkah in general, based on spiritual discomfort, but that is another discussion perhaps for a different time.  Some consider this a controversial position, but there is solid halachic backing for it, and the explanation has been published in “Likutei Sichot” volume 29.)  Which brings us to a striking question -  since when are we exempt from a Mitzvah because of discomfort?  Imagine saying that it is inconvenient to keep Shabbat so we are exempt.  Or it’s difficult for me to put on Tefillin today so I won’t do it.  We don’t find this idea with any other Mitzvah.  Yet with the Mitzvah of Sukkah, the central Mitzvah of the wonderful, joyous holiday of Sukkot, for which the holiday itself is named, we are exempt if it is uncomfortable.  (Disclaimer: There are halachic parameters for what is considered legitimate discomfort, it is not just an objective, personal decision.)

 

There are several answers given, among them the fact that we treat the Sukkah like our house, and if there was a major leak in the roof over our dining room, we wouldn’t eat there in the rain.  A deeper answer is based on the Rebbe’s teachings about the meaning of the Sukkah.  The Torah says that “all Jewish residents shall sit in Sukkot, in order that your generations shall know that I had the Jewish people dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt.”  What were these Sukkot?  Our sages taught that these were miraculous clouds that surrounded the Jews as they traveled through the scorching heat of the desert.  The Code of Jewish Law points out that knowing and understanding the intent of the Sukkah is a central part of the Mitzvah, as the Torah expressly says that the Mitzvah is “in order that your generations should know.” 

 

What is it exactly that we are remembering?  The clouds were protective of the Jewish people in many ways. The Talmud says, in addition to providing shade, they killed snakes and scorpions and flattened out mountains and valleys.  Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, in his Code of Jewish Law, writes that the Sukkah specifically emphasizes the shade aspect of the clouds.  If you think about it, most of our holiday celebrations are in remembrance of a deliverance from slavery, oppression or impending danger.  Think Pesach - the Exodus from Egypt, Chanukah – redemption from Greek oppression, and Purim – salvation from total annihilation at the hands of Haman and Achashverosh.  Contrast this with Sukkot.  The Jews were traveling for 40 years in the desert.  Not only did Hashem protect them against dangers like snakes and scorpions, but also provided shade from the heat and sun.  They could have found a way to shelter themselves, as Bedouins have done for thousands of years.  But Hashem ensured that they should have total comfort and not need to worry about providing shelter from the heat.  This is an expression of Hashem’s love for His people, and this is what Sukkot is all about.  So if the whole point of the Sukkah is to celebrate comfort, it doesn’t make sense to require us to sit there in a state of discomfort. 

 

This is one of the reasons that Sukkot is called “the Time of our Joy.”  After all our work of Teshuvah and coming closer to Hashem during the High Holidays, we now bask in the love and care of Hashem, and what could bring more joy than that?  The culmination of this holiday, the final day, is Simchat Torah, when we express our love for Hashem and His love for us through the Torah.  We dance with the Torah scrolls with great joy, we say L’chaim with a little more abandon than usual, and of course we complete the cycle of Torah reading and start again from the beginning.


There is no place for a great Simchat Torah celebration like Chabad! Chabad Palo Alto is having a "Simchat Torah Live" Celebration that you can check out here. Be sure to contact your local Chabad to see different Simchat Torah Celebrations near you!

Pre-Sukkot

The four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are considered a minor holiday.  In fact, the daily prayers during this time are holiday style.  There is a part of the daily prayer – viduy and tachnun (confession and supplication) that we don’t say on festive days, and we skip it during this period.  We all know about the upcoming Sukkot holiday, but why call these four days a holiday too? 

 

Let’s talk first about Sukkot.  Sukkot is called “Zman Simchateinu – the Time of our Joy.”  It is a holiday filled with Mitzvot, Sukkah, the Four Species of Etrog, Lulav, Hadassim (myrtle) and Aravot (willow), days of celebration with special prayers of thanks to Hashem, special meals and drinks, and dancing and singing throughout the holiday.  When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, there was a nightly celebration that lasted literally all night every night.  The joy was so great that the Talmud state that whoever did not see that joy has never seen joy in his or her life!  The dancing and singing, accompanied by musical instruments, was enhanced by the greatest sages juggling and leading the festivities.  There were tall posts with torches on top of them that cast so much light that the Talmud says that any person in Jerusalem could check wheat kernels at night by its light!  The celebration was called Simchat Beit Hashoeva – the joy of the water drawing.  Every day in the Temple there were animal and flour offerings.  Along with the daily offerings, there was a ceremony of pouring wine into a funnel on the altar leading to a pipe that went down deep into the ground.  On Sukkot, in addition to the wine, water was poured into a second funnel that was there for this purpose.  The water for this libation was drawn from the Shiloach spring below the Temple Mount (you can visit it now in Jerusalem) and was carried with great joy and celebration up to the Temple.  Chassidus and Kabbalah explain the significance of the pouring of the wine and the water, and why the water pouring created so much incredible joy.  You can read more about it here. 

 

Nowadays, when we don’t have the Holy Temple and the offerings on the altar, we still celebrate the holiday in every other way.  It is customary to gather in the Sukkah every night of the holiday to say L’chaim and celebrate.  In Crown Heights in Brooklyn the main street – Kingston Avenue – is closed and there is live music and dancing all night every night.  (On the first two nights and Shabbat there is no music played, of course.)

 

Now back to the four days before Sukkot. We have completed the service of the Ten Days of Teshuva and successfully completed the Yom Kippur atonement, and now we move into the spirit of the upcoming holiday, when we are celebrating the new Divine light and blessings that we have received during the Days of Awe.  Everyone is now busy preparing for all the observances and special Mitzvot of the holiday, building Sukkot, choosing a nice etrog and lulav set, preparing food for the holiday and studying the las and customs relating to it.  The mood is festive and the anticipation of the holiday lifts us up to a higher plane.  We begin to feel the energy of the holiday. 

 

Here at Chabad it is an especially busy time, one of my favorite times of the year.  Approximately 150 people will come to my office to choose their lulav and etrog, along with the freshest hadassim and aravot anywhere.  Here it is a personal experience, where everyone gets to personally choose a lulav and etrog that “speaks to them.”  We always order many more than have been reserved, so if you have not yet ordered one, you can still do so at www.chabadgsb.com/etrog.

 

I wish you a joyous holiday.  If you need any more information, please do not hesitate to contact me by replying to this email or at 650-424-9800.  May we merit the coming of Moshiach in the next day or two, and then we will be able to once again the enjoy the full joy of Simchat Beit Hashoeva in the third Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  

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