"What the fool cannot attain on Yom Kippur at Ne'ilah,
the wise man merits on Succos and Simchas Torah through
simcha" (Hagaon R' Yisroel Salanter zt'l).
Vignettes from the memories of R' Moshe Eliezer
There was a period of simcha which descended upon the
yeshiva immediately after Yom Kippur, to reside throughout
Simchas Torah. All of the shmuessen revolved around
the question why the Torah so stressed the aspect of joy on
the Festival of Succos. And why did Succos merit the name
"The Season of Our Joy"?
We enter our succas and come under the wings of the
Shechina. We flee the strongholds of falsehood and
rest in the protective shade of our booths, the fortress of
our trust, for the succa shields us as did the Clouds
of Glory. The Seven Shepherds come to visit our succa
and gird us with faith and trust in Hashem.
At a time that the entire world still rocks from earthshaking
events of all kinds, we are serene and full of confidence.
The ground is secure underfoot and any hint or threat of gas
warfare is a thing long past, for our nostrils are filled
with the fragrance of the citron and myrtle.
The Simchas Beis Hashoeva that saved. A story.
A Story About a Tzaddik Who Never Attended Cheder
Who was that strange creature who just walked into the
yeshiva? His hair disheveled and uncovered, his garb strange -
- that of a maskil. The scene took place during the
celebration of simchas beis hashoeva. Attracted by the
music, the intruder's heart began throbbing with the "joy of
mitzva," and from that time onward he remained put, there to
Yaakov, the protagonist of our story, the daring fellow who
succeeded in climbing up from the lowest depths to the
highest heights, became completely immersed in love for
Hashem, in love for the Torah, and in fear of G-d.
In the yeshiva they had another name for him: "Baal
Hanisyonos," the man of difficult experiences.
What? You never heard of Yaakov of Tarnopol? Strange, indeed!
But that's not how they referred to him. In yeshiva, they
called him the "baal hanisyonos," a title that was
both name and description, for in his youth, no one called
him Yaakov: he was called Jake, a name that suited his type
of maskil of those times.
From the Lowest Depths to the Greatest Heights
Our hero never studied in cheder, for his father
ranked among the modern maskilim. As Providence would
have it, he entered a yeshiva that was famous and foremost, a
kingdom of Torah and mussar, a stronghold of the
faithful which remained impregnable to the lures of the
street, to the lurking powers of evil and to the temptations
of this world. Its gates repulsed foreign influences and
protected its inhabitants.
Each evening Jake would wend his way through the winding
alleys near our yeshiva, peer into the dusty windows and see
the students engrossed in their study. Whenever he passed, he
felt a sudden impulse to burst through one of those windows
or to open the door and shout, "Come out! Do something! Why
must you remain stationary in this place of narrow vistas?
Laggards! Go out and work!"
He Entered the Whirlpool of the Simcha -- at the
Whenever he met his "enlightened" friends, he would make a
mockery of the yeshiva students. Why, then, did he brave it
and enter the very lion's den? Was it a desire to mock them
at close quarters, to make fun of their dancing, to be able
to later tell his friends how ridiculous they had seemed, how
old fashioned and quaint these young saints were with their
strange customs and their self-made halos?
Who was this conspicuous fellow, in his modern dress,
bareheaded, who just entered the yeshiva? In spite of
himself, he suddenly felt a tremor of joy bubbling within him
and rising to the fore. And as he studied the flying feet of
the dancers, he suddenly felt hands stretched out to him, two
warm hands inserted into his own palms, clasping them and
grasping him along. And thus, he found himself in the midst
of the whirling circle.
Simchas Beis Hashoeva in the Yeshiva
Fortunate the eye that saw all this, where this world and the
next converged and melded, where heaven and earth became one,
the joy of mortal flesh there in the yeshiva, harmonizing
with the song of angels in heaven -- fusing into one single
The circle expands. Three hundred boys together with the
captains of the yeshiva, like flaming torches.
Ano, ano, ano, avdo deKudesho Berich Hu . . .
Yaakov did not even feel his feet lifting. The mingling
voices echoed and reverberated in his ears and spread out to
permeate all of his 248 organs. It began with his feet; the
waves rose upward until they reached his heart. The sound
diffused throughout his limbs and organs and finally
penetrated his brain, to be sent back down to his hands. And
he found that his hands were clapping rhythmically.
Emotions of longing, thoughts of holiness surfaced in his
mind. He had never tasted simcha shel mitzva, had
never experienced what it could do to a person.
One of the mortal angels with a black beard handed him a
kippa and he donned it . . .
Our hero danced and cavorted, feet flying up and down and
then up, up, straight up to his point of origin.
He stretched upward to grab something dangling beyond his
reach, something Up There. He extended himself, found himself
floating upward to an essence holy, exalted, elevated, and
then he descended again. The dancing continued to the
rhythmic clapping, his hands clapping one against the other.
And thus did he dance with them until dawn finally broke.
And he stayed there. He remained in yeshiva ever since.
He stayed and stuck to them. He studied Torah with them,
lishma, with arduous effort. He prayed with them with
intense fervor, and danced and perspired with them at every
joyous occasion. Joy pervaded his entire being and was
reflected upon his face, even when he ate his scant bread-and-
salt or slept on the benches of the shul. He was happy
casting his lot with them, happy in this world and fortunate
for the reward that awaited him in the next.
In the Succa of the Rosh Hava'ad -- R' Yaakov
R' Yaakov untied the knot of his bulging knapsack: it was
filled with figuratively juicy pomegranates, fragrant spices:
cinnamon and myrtle, saffron and frankincense. His mouth
spouted pearls of wisdom from the Zohar, midroshim
that human ears had yet to hear, and teachings of the Sages
that were honey-sweet to the palate. In his words:
The Torah commands us to leave our permanent dwelling and
enter a temporary one built from three makeshift walls and a
roof of straw, the refuse of the field and vineyard. This is
the succa of every Jew.
Why not observe this mitzva in pomp and glory, from the
actual fruit of the threshing floor and the vineyard?
This is harvest time. Farmers have just gathered the
cornucopia of the earth into their warehouses. The vineyards
have produced a bounty of rich wine. Why did the Torah choose
a setting for this mitzva from the rejects of the field?
Another thing to puzzle over is the reason why the Torah
enjoins us to be happy with three mentions of simcha:
"Vesomachto bechagecho," "Vehoyiso ach somayach" and
"Usemachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem."
Why did Succos merit the name of "The Season of our
Rejoicing"? Because "the King led us into His chambers," into
the shade of His protection. Whoever is privileged to sit
together with the King is able to make any request, and have
it granted. "Ask, my son, and I will give. Ask, my son,
Whoever has a mite of wisdom will ask for one thing only: to
be able to remain there forever. To always be able to sit
together with the King. This is what the Psalmist of Israel
asked, "One thing only did I ask from Hashem -- that shall I
request. To sit in the house of Hashem all the days of my
life." To be considered forever as "seated together with the
The succa is the fortress of our true security. Just
like the Clouds of Glory in the desert, the succa
absorbs all of the projectiles of fear and the arrows of
We rest securely within our succas and mock mortal
power; we deride fear and insecurity.
The defeatists cry out, "Enter your fortresses! Flee to your
shelters! Barricade yourselves in!"
And we declare: "For He shall hide us in His succa on
the day of evil; He shall conceal us in the confines of His
And we invite the Seven Shepherds: Come to us, holy guests!
These Seven Shepherds represent seven attributes: Avrohom --
chessed; Yitzchok -- the perfect sacrifice or total
dedication; Yaakov -- the dweller of the tents of Shem and
Ever's Torah; Yosef Hatzaddik -- withstanding tests; Moshe
Rabbenu -- a true servant of Hashem; Aharon Hakohen --
seeking and pursuing peace; Dovid Hamelech -- the Sweet
Psalmist of Israel.
These Seven Shepherds accept our invitation and enter our
succas, where they gird us with an armor of security
and trust in Hashem. We sit in the shade of the succa,
shielded from all threats and fear of the nations whose
armories are filled with weaponry, and who have the power to
destroy the entire world twenty times over. We mock their
mortal power; we shun their threats of, "Soon, just wait and
see what we can do to you . . . "
Our postures are erect like the spine of the lulov;
our air is pure and clean, filled with the fragrance of
the esrog and hadas.
The four species together symbolize the main organs of our
body, as if to say: All of my bones shall declare! And when a
Jew gathers up these four species and recites the blessing
upon them for Hashem's sake, he is virtually subjugating his
whole heart, his body, bones and senses unto Hashem.
The lulov has a spine which resembles that of man. The
esrog has the shape of a human heart. The hadas
is formed like the eye and the willow, the arova,
is like his lips.
The rosh hava'ad, R' Yaakov of Tarnopol, continues to
elaborate: Waves of joy and treasures of sublime bliss
descend upon us from Heaven. Let us see how mighty and
powerful is that joy of Succos, how brilliant is its
incandescence upon all of its beholders. It is a light that
produces sound, music, psalms and praises. These powerful
beams descend to the world and radiate, disperse to all its
corners, to penetrate wherever apertures are open to receive
them and to remain there.
One Can Acquire a World Through a Single Episode of
Eight years later, the rosh hava'ad, R' Yaakov
Tarnopol, reminisces about that event, the time he entered
the lion's maw of the yeshiva during a Simchas Beis
Hashoeva, and how he was struck by the lightning of a
dazzling moment of pure bliss, how it quenched the thirst of
his soul and changed his life forever more.