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INNER PEACE



B.S.D.

Rabbi David Aaron
Excerpt from "Inviting G-d In"

In addition to living in the sukkah and waving the four species, it is customary on Sukkot to read the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes), written by King Solomon. The Talmudic sages tell us that King Solomon was inspired to write this book when he realized that the Temple that he built would be destroyed in the future. Lamenting over that excruciating truth, he wrote, "Futility of futilities, of what worth is the work of man under the sun."

It seems odd to read this apparently depressing book on the holiday of happiness. However, King Solomon's brutal confrontation with the transience of life and our temporary accomplishments on earth actually reveals the key to true happiness and security. He concludes, "In the end, obey the word of Hashem and do His bidding, because this is everything."

Sukkot teaches us how to find security and permanence in what seems transient. We embrace the perishable four species and dwell in a makeshift but covered with biodegradable materials, as we acknowledge that happiness and security are based not on what we possess but on who we are in relationship to Hashem. When we serve Hashem here and now, we infuse the finite world with infinite meaning and connect the fleeting moment to eternity.

When we understand this truth, we will never be in a rush to get to some other place and some future time, because we realize that the joy of life is to serve Hashem and there is no better time than now and no better place then here-so what's the rush? If not now, when?

We often do wrong and sacrifice our integrity in the present because we are anxious to secure our future. Sukkot, however, teaches us that we can find security even in the temporal and transient when we focus our attention on serving Hashem here and now.

Adam and Eve also transgressed because they were impatient. They intuited that eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad was essential to fulfilling their purpose on earth. And they were right, but their timing was wrong. According to the Kabbalah, Hashem wanted them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, but not then. The right time to do it would have been on Shabbat. Had they patiently waited, trusted Hashem, and eaten the fruit as a humble service to Him-rather than as a rebellious act in defiance of Him-they would have accomplished their ultimate goals. They would have actualized their Godliness by experiencing Hashem's love and their oneness with Hashem.

Sukkot sets us off on the right foot into the new year by teaching us how to protect ourselves from sadness and evil: trust in Hashem, humble yourself before Him, and only concern yourself with fulfilling His commandments-here and now.

THE CIRCLE OF LOVE

Each morning of Sukkot, near the end of the festive prayer service, we carry our four species, marching in a circle around the Chazan, who holds the Sefer Torah.

On the last day of Sukkot, which is referred to as Hoshanah Rabah, we encircle the Torah seven times. This number is reminiscent of the seven times the Israelites circled the city of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. But the day after Hoshanah Rabah-when we celebrate the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, also called Simchat Torah-we dance in a circle around an empty space hugging the Torah in our arms. Why?

During the seven days of Sukkot, when we circle the Torah, we remind ourselves that Torah must be the center of our lives. If we are self-centered, we cannot love others, nor can we love Hashem. To achieve true love, we need to move ourselves out of the center and put the Torah-which contains the will and wisdom of Hashem-in the center.

Some people, however, claim that the laws of the Torah are actually obstacles to achieving true love. They argue that the rituals, formalities, and minutiae of Torah law interfere with experiencing a warm, personal, individual, spontaneous, and loving relationship with Hashem and other people. They believe that the commandments build walls, not bridges.

This is never true as long as we remember that the laws of the Torah are the will of Hashem and express what Hashem asks of us. True love means doing for your beloved what he or she asks of you-not what you feel like doing even though it is against his or her wishes.

But, even when you understand this basic truth, the commandments could interfere with your loving relationship to Hashem if you perform them mindlessly. The richness of ritual depends on the measure of intention you invest in it. Imagine that you decide to tell your beloved three times a day that you love her. If you don't mean it at all but simply repeat, "I love you," like a parrot, then this mindless routine will become obstructive and destructive to your love.

This is a danger only when we consider the commandments of Hashem to be peripheral to our daily lives. However, when we put the Torah in the center of our lives and acknowledge that it is the axis upon which our lives revolve, then over time the Torah will actually break down the walls that separate us from Hashem. This was the message that Hashem communicated to us through the prophet Isaiah: "It is only your wrongdoings that separate you from Me." The Torah and its commandments, however, break the barriers that divide us and build bonds of love.

After we succeed in making the Torah the center of our lives during Sukkot, and the barriers to love are broken down, then we celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah by dancing with the Torah around an empty space. Of course, we know that there is no such thing as an empty space, because Hashem's presence fills the earth-there is no place void of Hashem's presence. On Simchat Torah we acknowledge that putting the Torah in the center of our lives empowers us to find the true center, core, and soul of our lives-Hashem.

The celebrations of Sukkot and Simchat Torah prepare us to dance our way into the upcoming year in a circle of love, embracing the natural, holding the hand of our fellow Jew, hugging the Torah, and feeling close to Hashem. And we experience all this in the very midst of our everyday lives in this transient world.



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