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THE ART OF BEING PROTECTED
On Yom Kippur, I felt I needed a sign, a.s.a.p. from G-d, to tell me what I should be working on for the year. I opened the Sefer in front of me, a Sefer that has in it four Sifrei Mussar: Messilat Yesharim, Orhot Tzaddikim, Shaarei Teshuva and Tomer Devorah. The page opened up to the first page of Shaar Hasimha in Orhot Tzaddikim: the importance of serving G-d out of happiness. I knew that this is what I need to work on for life, as this is what my Rabbi has told me. But now, I felt that G-d was telling me to listen to my Rabbi more closely. To be happy with my service of G-d, to be happy with what I have and what I do.
The holiday of Sukkot is the holiday in which we are actually commanded to be happy, even though we are held accountable to do all of our mitzvoth out of happiness. תַּ֗חַת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹא־עָבַ֙דְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּשִׂמְחָ֖ה וּבְט֣וּב לֵבָ֑ב מֵרֹ֖ב כֹּֽל: What is special about the Mitzvah of Sukkot, then, that we are told to be happy?
I had a hard time getting the fingers to the keyboard, as my hands are busy building a Sukkah and checking Etrogim. But always, when I get a chance to write, ideas flow from Above. Here is one of them: If you are not smiling, it means that you are lacking Emunah. And your body expresses this, via body language. How? Your smile is shaped upward at the edges, to display that you believe, that you realize, that you are just a Kli, a vessel, ready to accept from G-d whatever He sends. That you are protected in life, and not because you protect yourself. If you are frowning, the edge of the lips face downward, as if you are, subconsciously, displaying that you are protected, only because you protect yourself.
Immediately after High Holidays, when we ask G-d to grant us life itself, we realize that all that we have is G-d given. The holiday of Sukkot is the holiday when we show G-d that we realize that we cannot protect ourselves: only You can protect me.
I leave my house, my roof, my luxurious lifestyle, and I go out to a place where I am exposed to the elements of nature. Sun, rain, bees, mosquitos, flies, cats, hot, cold, and in Yerushalyim, where the Sukkot are back to back, the snoring neighbor. I am dependent on You, G-d. For You, G-d, are מלך עוזר, מושיע ומגן You are the Kind One Who Helps me fight my life’s challenges, Who saves me, because I can’t save myself. And, Who protects me, because I can’t protect myself.
With current events the way they are, the “N” word-threat thrown across the Atlantic, we really have nothing that we can do to protect ourselves from a Nuclear Armageddon. How can we be happy? When people face health issues, adolescence issues, financial issues, marital issues and they have no way to protect themselves, how do they stay happy? If the most probable situation is that when you fight, you lose, how can we be happy in this state of helplessness?
The answer is, you were never in control, you were never protected, because you protected yourself. You were protected because G-d protected you. Forty years in the Desert, a nation of over 3 Million could never, ever, protect themselves!
So, G-d commands each and every אזרח, each person who is a citizen, who feels like he is settled, to feel unsettled for a bit. בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת: To leave his home and enter his Sukkah. We are commanded in this holiday not only to be happy, but to make those who most probably feel helpless and hopeless to be happy, as well. וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ אַתָּ֨ה וּבִנְךָ֤ וּבִתֶּ֙ךָ֙ וְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וַאֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וְהַלֵּוִ֗י וְהַגֵּ֛ר וְהַיָּת֥וֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ: Those who are dependent on you, like your son and daughter, your slave and maidservant, the Levi who has no inheritance, the convert, the orphan and the widow. People who help those who can’t help themselves are those who believe that G-d takes care of them. People who are always worried about protecting themselves can’t be bothered with protecting others.
As much as you think that you can protect yourself, you can never protect yourself forever. Life goes by so fast. We are supposed to learn Kohelet on these days of Sukkot, as Kohelet tells us about the emptiness of external and material happiness, לִשְׂח֖וֹק אָמַ֣רְתִּי מְהוֹלָ֑ל וּלְשִׂמְחָ֖ה מַה־זֹּ֥ה עֹשָֽׂה: Allow me to share with you a Midrash in Kohelet. At one year old, a person is compared to a king: he is put in a cradle, and everyone is hugging and kissing him. Two and three year-olds are compared to a pig, that gets himself all dirty and sticks his hands in the toilet. At ten, a person is like a goat, as he jumps all over. A twenty-year-old is like a horse, standing tall, making himself look as good as he can, as he tries to find a wife. He gets married, and then, he is like a donkey, as he readies himself to carry the family load. His hairline goes up, belly goes down. He has kids, and now he is brazen like a dog, looking for bread and food to provide for his family, always sniffing out investment opportunities and new streams of income. He gets older, and he becomes like a monkey. Look at the old man’s shoulders. He tries to copy the youth, but he can’t. Out of all the Creation, the only creature who gets white hair when they get old is us humans. There is no going back in life. But this is all by the simple people. The Ben Torah, on the other hand, even when he becomes old, he stays king, as it says, והמלך דוד זקן. (Kohelet Rabbah 1;2) That’s all, folks. That’s life, in a nutshell.
You can’t protect yourself from old age, unless you learn and live Torah, and instead of ending life like a monkey, you end life like a king.
Sukkot is the holiday, that ironically falls out in Tishrei, in fall, and not in spring, in Nissan, when we actually left Egypt and were surrounded by clouds of glory. Because this holiday, which was predetermined 974 generations before G-d created the world, was intended to be in fall. Fall in Israel, agriculturally, is the time when the silos are full. It is a time to feel that we are protected, and because we protect ourselves… We have silos of grain, cellars of wine, and enough oil, to survive anything. This haughtiness is what brings to the worst, as we see in the second chapter of Shema, that abundance is a perfect recipe for heresy. Immediately after ואכלת ושבעת, And you will eat, and you will be satiated – then, we need to be careful not to go and serve idols. And as Moshe rebuked, that the sin of the Golden Calf was caused because of די זהב. Too much gold.
So go out of your house, out of your protection for seven days, look up at the stars through the Schach, and realize that you are protected, because G-d protects you. Not because you protect yourself.