Archive for September, 2010

Lessons of Succos part 2

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Here are the questions on the table:

1.     Why do we sit in a Succah?

a.     The Torah says it is to commemorate the way we lived in the desert after we left Egypt.                                                         

    i.      Then why isn’t it celebrated in the spring, after Pesach?                                                         

  ii.      If it’s not in the spring, why do we pick now, in the month of Tishrei?

2.     What relevance is there to how they traveled in the desert?

Why in the 21st century is that important?

I can understand the Exodus being a seminal moment in Judaism, but the caravans and huts they left in? Those are footnotes in history!?

3.     How does “Zman Simchasainu” – the holiday of happiness fit in with sitting in a Succah and being exposed to the elements? Wouldn’t the holiday of happiness be a “Ritz Carlton” type of stay, instead? In my mind, heat, A/C, no bugs and squirrels, ESPN and a closed roof are much more conducive to happiness.

4.     What does the harvest month being now have to do with succos?

One of the concepts everyone ties into their answers is: The “roof” of the Succah – the Schach – has to be made of flimsy un-protective material (also unfinished by humans). That symbolizes our “unprotected-ness and our reliance from Hashem to protect us. The expression “roof over your head” is considered a very basic requirement for some semblance of protection and security.The following ideas will help answer some of these questions and will give us what to think about in developing them further.

Not ancient history- A direction that the “Sifsei Chaim” takes:

The whole lesson of Succos is to remember the time that the Jews were in the desert. Totally vulnerable, totally exposed and unable to protect themselves in the “huts” they were able to build. Had Hashem not miraculously protected them with his clouds, fed them with Manna and water, they could not have survived.We need to sit in a Succah for us to be “exposed to the elements” (especially here in Minnesota) to realize that we, in the 21st century, are just as needy of Hashem’s protection as the nation was in the desert.

We are just as vulnerable, just as exposed as they were. We just don’t realize it day in and day out. We think our homes, our money, our political power are all assets that make us self sufficient. Succos is intended for us to realize how much we really don’t have control over (perhaps the economic downturn coupled with Iran’s increased threat these past two years have made this lesson more believable).

We are just as in need of G-d’s help and protection every day, as we always have been for 3300+ years.

To top it off, Succos takes place during the harvest season. While we are gathering in the harvest, thinking that our bumper crop is our success and financial security, the Torah tells us otherwise. We make our schach / roof in the Succah not out of the crops, but out of the husks and “garbage” from the harvest. To show that our protection comes from where we least expect it to. 

R’ Hirsch on Succos

Points out a few concepts:

·        The walls can be made of anything, the roof is where the restrictions are. That shows us that the separations between man and man (personal property) is perfectly OK and encouraged in our society. There is no obligation to make a communal Succah for all. Every household is supposed to make their own. However, the roof is where the limitations are. That is to show that our personal success (walls) and our actual security in life (roof) have nothing to do with each other.

·        Why in this month?

o   Succos can ONLY be in the month of Tishrei, because “precisely when the condition of the nation is opposite of its condition in the wilderness (harvest compared to barren desert), the people are to remind themselves of their life in the wilderness”.

o   Not only do we live in a Succah, but we were expected to leave our home and celebrate in Jerusalem with the nation. “on this Chag (national communal holiday), one is asked to renounce his separate existence and to join the nation which has gathered together with G-d, and he is asked to do so precisely at the time he is most inclined to cultivate his separate existence.”

o   Only after getting a new start through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can we have the strength and ability to attempt to develop true joy in our life on Succos. 

JB’s Succah thought – unrefined and undeveloped:

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

 The skeptic can ask, why spend all this time on building a Succah the way we do? It’s only for a week; 2 days will be rained out, and we spend 2 weeks building it, decorating it, putting in lights and heaters and all sorts of stuff. Just do it on the cheap, survive the few days bare bones and that’s it!

A very legitimate question.

Perhaps one of the lessons of Succos is drawing that question out of someone. Because it gives the opportunity to reflect the question back as one of the Succos lessons:

How much time do we invest in our temporary materialism? How much time, planning and energy do we put into a house that we’ll live in for 5, 10, 20 years – compared to the eternity of our souls? How much time do we spend researching, selecting and negotiating our car that we drive for just three years? Perhaps we look just as silly as the “Succah builder”.

Food for thought.

Other Lulav and Esrog – thoughts, lessons

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

  ·        Much symbolism in the 4 species and what they represent:

  R’ Hirsch: We each are given certain abilities. The 4 species represent the 4 levels of plant life and conversely, 4 levels of ability of people

  • o   Willow – has no taste no smell, very dependent on water. Has very little use, doesn’t offer us much (good for making baskets to carry other things in it, that’ it). Some people have minimal beauty and no fruit of labor. Just schleppers.
  • o   Myrtle –  has a nice smell but no taste – has beauty, not a lot of fruit from the labor
  • o   Lulav – date palm – bears fruit, has no smell – has fruit, but the palm itself has no beauty to it
  • o   Esrog – has smell and taste through the tree itself. Has beauty and fruit.

o   Everyone is given a different level of ability in this life. We all have to come before Hashem having used it properly. If we have developed it honestly and purely and it is ours (a Lulav can’t be borrowed or stolen). We all have a place before Hashem!

·        From R’ Mutty Eisenbach’s speech in Shul

o   Each Esrog grows for 2-3 years on the tree. Survives winter and summer a couple of times before being ripe. The Rabbis say that the Esrog is comparable to the Jewish people. It survives a cold winter, a hot summer and keep on growing, remains a developing Esrog. We too, have to live our lives, survive our tests “hot, cold” ups and downs and remain a Jew through it all, keep growing and not fall of our “tree”.

Why do we eat in the Succah?

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The Torah tells us to eat in a Succah to remember that when we left Egypt we lived in “Succos” in the desert under G-d’s direction and protection.  (There is a dispute in the Talmud if this is referring to Succahs like we sit in (huts) or the miraculous clouds that Hashem gave us in the desert for protection, but that’s for a different discussion). This means that Succos is really a continuation of Pesach – the Exodus – raising a different question of why we celebrate it now and not in the spring! Let’s leave that alone for time being, too. Drifting back to our point, why is it important for us to commemorate that Hashem had us in huts in the desert when we left Egypt and remember it every year? Rabbi Dessler explains; what was it like to have left Egypt, to have been slaves and now become free? What are we free to become? What was the purpose of our freedom? Was it to be like every other nation of the world and use that freedom for materialistic prosperity? Was it to settle in the land and have a thriving Jewish country in Israel? The Jews leaving Egypt would’ve had in their heads the definition of freedom and success as being like the upper classes in Egypt who lived in big estates and has slaves and had luxurious setting. That would be the immediate natural goal.Instead Hashem had them live for months, and then years in huts in the desert. This allowed them to develop into a free people without any opportunity to get caught up in building a house, obtaining property, building an estate and the like. Here, in the desert they were to “develop themselves” as a people and as individuals without the illusion that they are to be defined by their material goods. Here they could become a people who would grow as a community without all the material distractions of a home and property.Tell me, were our Jewish values stronger and our community mindset stronger when we all lived together in one neighborhood, (with limited options) on the North side or now that were are spread all over and can live anywhere? Has that strengthened us as a people? Has it given us a better perspective on what is important in life? Or has it made it easier to forget those around us? To make sure we are insulated from even seeing those who have less than us? Hasn’t it distracted us with the never ending search for the “perfect house”? It seems like it has given us a never ending series of worries about improvements and design in our houses, new furniture and landscaping and all that comes with it. None of these things are inherently bad, but they do distract us from realizing who we are and what is really important.
Sitting in the Succah, away from all of those distractions can be a great opportunity to reassess our priorities and focus in life.

Much more to say on this topic, I’ll let you all think about this and respond with some ideas.

Tim Brewster, TK, Gardy, Dan Monson and Succos (AKA Jewish Unity).

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Continuing with my obsession of sports analogies and life; we have the Mitzvah on Succos of taking a Lulav and an Esrog and waving them together every day. There are numerous reasons and symbolism behind this Mitzvah, but let’s start with the most famous and simple one.There are 4 species taken together with the Lulav and Esrog, they are as follows:

1.       Esrog (Etrog) (Citron) – Has a nice smell and has a taste

2.       Lulav (palm branch) – the Talmud says it has a taste (fruit bearing tree) but no smell

3.       Hadasim (myrtle branch) – has a nice smell and no taste

4.       Aravah (willow branch) – has no smell or taste

Each one of these represents a different type of Jew.

1.       Esrog – with taste and smell – is a Jew who learns Torah and has good actions (I’m thinking here of Ron Gardenhire, good personality and success on the field)

2.       Lulav – taste but no smell – is a Jew who learns Torah but doesn’t translate those into good actions (I’m thinking of Tim Brewster, great at “Rah Rah”, but no actual “fruit to show for it” – no successful actions)

3.       Hadasim – smell but no taste – is a Jew with good actions, but doesn’t put the time into studying Torah (I’m thinking Tom Kelly – good success, no personality at all)

4.       Aravah – no smell no taste – is a Jew who neither learns nor has good actions (I’m thinking Dan Monson, no personality and a failure on the court).

On Succos we have the ultimate display of Jewish Unity! We take all four together and make a blessing on them (in Temple times, we brought them to the Temple) and do the mitzvah together with ALL of them. This shows that ALL Jews have a place in Judaism, and we are only a complete people when we have all of us together, from the most righteous to the least righteous.  Everyone has a place at the table. In addition, the Rabbis teach us, we do this in order that each person can help supplement the others weaknesses!

This is especially pertinent post Yom Kippur as we look for a way to “have the rising tide raise all ships” and look for ways to better the Jewish people. So, on Succos, like no other time, we need to make every opportunity to make sure that our doors are open for all Jews to grow and participate in Torah and Mitzvah observance!

Defining self improvement

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The Bad News

The improvement we are supposed to do on Yom Kippur can only come by staring at the  mirror and making concrete action resolutions to be a better person. It isn’t the time to make any of the following resolutions:

  • I’m going to get someone else to give more Tzedaka
  • I’m going to convince person X to be more supportive to Israel
  • I’m going to lose weight (I wish)
  • I’m going to be a nicer person
  • A calmer person
  • You get the idea.


We need to think of actions we can do every day that will make us better people.


The Good News 

Our improvements can be minor in nature. Better small and doable than big, grandiose ideas that are DOA. Bite off a little bid, adapt to it, acquire it and make it your new baseline!

Stimulus 2

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I have a wonderful idea for the next round of stimulus from the Government.

They create a special 1-800 number that goes to a new Government department of debt reduction.  When you call that number you get a special agent assigned to your case. If you can show that you are a hardworking citizen, hold down your job, take good care of your family, help in the community and plan to keep doing that, then you are eligible for the new program. The program will eliminate ALL debt you currently have! House, credit card, bank loans, bills due; everything! All this without affecting your credit badly, without any tricks like some ad on the radio. All your creditors get paid in full what is owed to them, just not by you, rather by the Government. All this because you are a good person and good citizen.

Obviously this isn’t realistic (though don’t put it past Washington to try, if it’ll get them votes) and isn’t a serious idea. Or is it? If we substitute the money for spirituality it all makes perfect sense! On Yom Kipper, in just 4 days, we have a chance to make our case for how we are a pretty good person, plan to improve and are an asset to our community. If we can make that case well, Hashem will pay down all our debts and give us a totally clean slate to start with! Better even then the radio commercials for debt relief!

Our challenge is to truly feel that our spiritual debt-load is a burden of the same weight as our financial debt-load. When we can feel the debt properly, we will rejoice at the opportunity that Yom Kippur offers and see it as a day to celebrate and grab happily!


The Eternal Parsha, Haazinu.

Sunday, September 12th, 2010


This Shabbos we read one of the most famous verses in the Torah (Devarim 32,15).

“Jeshurun became fan and kicked. You became fat, you became thick, you became corpulent – and it deserted G-d, its Maker…”

Rabbi Hirsch explains that the verse refers to the abundance of blessing that Hashem has given us at times in history and our inability to use it to become better Jews.

To update his analogy:

Olympic champion Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day. He can do that because he burns an amazing amount of energy by swimming at high speeds for hours a day.

What if he continues this diet after he retires and gives up swimming? A year later he’ll be obese. There is no way a regular person can consume 12,000 calories a day without a plan to burn them!

It is the same with material blessings. Hashem gives it to us to burn more Mitzvos! Give Tzedaka, take time to learn, help invest in someone’s fledging business, send our children to Jewish Day School… What if we continue the intake but don’t burn the Mitzvah “calories”? Instead we buy a few new houses, cars, vacations, and the like?

Just like a retried Michael Phelps, the materialism causes us to gain spiritual obesity and sluggishness. Until we are too fat to do anything!

This IS the story of Jewish history. We need to work together to make sure that our freedom and success are means, not ends in our lives!

Evaluating the past year

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I have stated, felt and acted like this has been the hardest year of my life. The economic challenges at school and the trickle down effect it has across the board (working late hours, coming home frustrated) adds up. Though I am not a worrier by nature (I outsource that to my father) and am generally optimistic, I have felt worn down and frustrated way more than usual. 

 Then I had my “moment”.

So, (My daughter starts every paragraph with “so,”) I was standing in Shul a couple of weeks ago when we made a Kiddush for our new daughter, Esti. And it hit me; how can I go around telling everyone this has been the toughest / hardest / worst year of my life? Racheli and I just had a healthy baby girl AND we made a Bar Mitzvah for our oldest son this year. I should be talking about how this is the best year of life! 

Obviously, the problems and aggravation are still there, and are real. Nonetheless, before I come to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah with my list of “I wants”, I need to first come with my list of “thank yous”! Maybe we can all try and write down the thank you list and bring it to Shul. 

10 facts and tips for Rosh Hashanah (print and bring to Shul).

Monday, September 6th, 2010


  1. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the 6th day of creation and the birth, sin and punishment of Adam.
  2. The goal of the day is to establish G-d as the true King of the world.
  3. The Shofar has major symbolism for us to remember
    1. Hashem blew the Shofar at Sinai by the giving of Torah
    2. Hashem will blow a Shofar when Moshiach comes (see where we have been and where we are going)
    3. The Shofar is an alarm to wake us up from our spiritual slumber
    4.  The Shofar reminds us of the Akeida and the Ram that was caught by the horns
  4. We are being judged as individuals and as a community
  5. We are being judged by our actions last year and how they project forward for next year. Good trend lines can help!
  6. All of our fortune (good and bad) is being decided for the next year.
    1. That includes, health, wealth, peace and more.
  7. We have the opportunity to make a spiritual leap beyond the normal incremental steps.
  8. Keep in mind long term and short term goals
  9. We should finish Rosh Hashanah feeling spiritually stronger than we started.
  10. The Goal isn’t Shul, the goal is self improvement and evaluation. Shul is a tool.

BONUS. “We are asking Hashem to be inscribed in the book of life, in order that we have more opportunities to keep the Torah and do Mitzvos”