Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Ben Ish Chai, Sukkos

1) A person is obligated to sleep under in the actual air space of the sukkah (i.e. under the sechach.) One who sleeps under a bed that is over ten tefachim high has not discharged his obligation...

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that after Yom Kippur we flee the Amalek within by entering into the healing Sukkah which represents the ananei hakavod, clouds of glory. Just as the clouds of glory protected those within from Amalek, so too, the sukkah affords spiritual protection from Amalek which works assiduously to blunt one’s holy sensitivity. Since the easiest way to accomplish this blunting is when one is occupied with mundane matters, we lift up all our mundane pursuits by bringing them into the sukkah. In this manner we realize that it is in our hands to elevate every aspect of ourselves by remembering that Hashem is with us at all times and especially when we feel distant.[1]

But we must be careful to remain under the sechach. The Arizal teaches that the sechach should have spaces in between since it represents that Hashem sends down wondrous kindness into the mundane world.

We must internalize that Hashem is with us no matter what! Whatever place we have fallen to can be elevated. The moment we realize this, Hashem gives us tremendous loving kindness. In as much as a person is “under the sechach,” he remembers that Hahsem is with him, he draws down His providence and tremendous loving kindness even if this is not deserved—even if the one who truly realizes that everything is from Hashem is wicked as discussed in the Midrash.

But if one allows himself to be distracted from focusing on Hashem’s providence, he will be unable to access this kindness. Much like in the desert, he will be pushed out of the clouds of glory and vulnerable to Amalek.

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the main reason we have not been redeemed is because of our lack of encouragement, specifically when things are difficult.

But it is never too late to begin again! As Rebbe Nachman taught, in this world a person can make a huge profit with no real cost to himself at all. All he has to do is what he can, since every little drop of effort joins to form a big merit which helps one in his need, in this world and the next.

2) One must first build the walls of the Sukkah and only then put on the sechach...

The Mekor Chaim explains that one’s sukkah represents his portion in the next world, but it seems strange on the surface, that the sechach, the main element of the sukkah is primarily refuse. Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that we use refuse for the sechach, since this represents imbuing the joy of the next world into one’s experience in this world.[2] As Rebbe Nachman teaches this joy becomes so intense that one doesn’t feel any interest in attaining the next world, since his feeling in this world is so joyous that he only wants to be involved in another mitzvah.[3]

But of course such joy must be balanced and rooted in holiness, otherwise, most often one’s joy is a “strange fire,” as Rebbe Nachman teaches. First we need a basic structure of proper values and balanced connection. Only then can we experience the true joy of the next world in this world. First we build a structure, which represents fulfilling the mitzvos and avoiding transgressing the aveiros of the Torah. Only then will we be able to “put on the sechach,” in a genuine manner.

Yet even with a proper basis (or working towards attaining one if actually doing everything is as yet beyond one’s ability) the only way to attain the light of Sukkos is through joy, as the Beis Aharon of Karlin stresses. This explains why Sukkos is called, zeman simchaseinu, “Our joyous time.

3) The first [olive sized piece of bread] eaten in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkos is a Torah obligation... [Note: the Mishna Berura learns from the Vilna Gaon that each additional morsel of bread eaten in the sukkah fulfills its own Torah obligation above and beyond the mitzvah fulfilled by merely sitting in the sukkah, similar to matza on Pesach.]

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the sukkah may not be a permanent structure since it represents the bare absolute truth. So many people fall away from closeness to Hashem because of their perception of the truth, since it appears to them that they are distant and bad. But the real truth is that this is a gross error, since Hashem is always near to anyone who calls to Him in truth as the verse states, “Hashem is close to all who call to Him in truth.”

Rebbe Nachman explains that this means anyone who calls to him from whatever level he may be on. It may appear to one that he is hopelessly mired in a spiritual quagmire and will never merit lasting change, because he experiences an aspect of the plague of darkness and can not see the many ways to find lasting improvement and change. But truly calling out to Hashem from whatever level one may be at brings down a powerful light and enables one to see the many exits out of the darkness.

Through calling to Hashem honestly from whatever level one is at one merits to dispel the darkness and he can truly see that Hashem is with him even when he is involved in mundane pursuits.[4] This explains why at least the first morsel eaten in the sukkah fulfills a Torah obligation: the entire object of Sukkah is to strive to sanctify all of our mundane pursuits, especially eating with holiness.

4) One makes Kiddush after nightfall...

The Mekor Chaim explains that we sit in the sukkah for seven days because each day represents another stage of ten years, which together make up the seventy most important years of one’s life, from birth until seventy, [the average life span in many places of the world.] One merits to sanctify these years, through the mitzvah of sukkah, just as one sanctifies the seven days of the week through Shabbos. This sanctification is drawn down through kiddush, the very name of which means "sanctify."

In order to draw down this great holiness, we make kiddush at the onset of this holy chag.[5]

5) [Discusses the various customs of when one should say the blessing leishev baSukkah]

The Beis Aharon of Karlin explains that regardless of when one says the brocha, the main thing is one’s heart, since the sukkah represents partaking of the feast Hashem will make for the tzadddikim in the sukkah fashioned from the skin of the Levyasan in times to come. Since the word, Levyasan means to accompany or connect this alludes that we merit this level through connecting to Hashem in one’s heart. This includes both the joy in one’s heart and prayer which are called service of the heart. Yet the main focus of one’s divine service should be on attaining joy, especially during this special time.

[1] Likutei Halachos, Shabbos, #7

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Chezkas Karka’os, #3

[3] Likutei Moharan, I:5

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Ribis #5

[5] Mekor Chaim, Sukkah

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