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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
One Can Acquire a World Through a Single Episode of Simcha

by R' Moshe Eliezer Schwartzbard

"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 Schwartzbard.

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 stay.

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 Yeshiva

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 entity.

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 Tarnopol

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, ask."

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 King."

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 our enemies.

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 tent."

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 Simcha

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.

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