with Rav Avigdor Miller
His Clouds of Glory
Part I. Understanding Sukkos
Aftermath of Yom Kippur
When I was in yeshiva in Slabodka — a long time ago — on the day after Yom Kippur, in the morning, the Rosh Yeshiva said a few words to the bnei yeshiva. We were going home now; some of us stayed but most were going back now to their hometowns for Yomtiv and this would be the last talk we would hear from the Rosh Yeshiva until Cheshvan.
Now, we had built up during the month of Elul a great binyan of da’as; a great edifice of yiras Hashem and understanding. Especially in those yeshivos where they spent time on mussar. Three times a week we heard long shmuzin and in Elul it was even more. And the davening in the yeshiva was of course extremely impressive. And then came Rosh Hashana, and then Yom Kippur. When neilah came to an end we were different people altogether; Yom Kippur had transformed us.
I’ll tell you an anecdote. I remember on motzei Yom Kippur I went to my stanzia to eat with my chavrusa; we were sitting together at the table, two chaveirim. We didn’t say one word throughout the entire seudah we were eating together. The experience of Yom Kippur had made such a tremendous impression on us and no one was going to open their mouth and deflate that feeling. We sat there eating in complete silence.
Buildings May Collapse
And so on the following morning, after shacharis, the Rosh Yeshiva spoke to all of us. “You all labored very much on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur,” he said. “You put your hearts into your tefillos in the yeshiva and you were elevated and inspired; you accomplished a precious achievement. To pray in a good place these three days is equivalent to three months of learning.”
“But it is important now that you should be on guard,” he said. “Because when you go home soon, so Yomtiv comes and then Simchas Torah; you have to beware of leitzanus.” Leitzanus means lightheadedness, lack of thought. He quoted to us the famous words of the Mesillas Yesharim that leitzanus achas dochah meah tochachos – one leitzanus can overthrow a built up tower, a skyscraper of over a hundred tochachos.
Tochacha means lessons; lessons in da’as, in seichel, in yiras shomayim. Now, even one tochacha is more valuable than diamonds but let’s say you go someplace to hear a hundred lectures on yiras shomayim. A hundred tochachos means you’re a wealthy man! You have a big skyscraper now. It can bring in a lot of income, a skyscraper full of da’as.
But the Mesillas Yesharim is telling us that one leitzanus can make the whole building topple and fall down. One thoughtless jest can overthrow the results of a hundred sessions of serious thought. When a person becomes lightheaded and silly then all of his great ideals tumble away into nothing.
And therefore it is important now to be on guard. Because now begins Yomtiv; many days of happiness all the way through Simchas Torah. And so it depends how you’ll celebrate. If it will be a thoughtful celebration, lisheim shomayim, very good.Of course you’ll eat good foods. You’ll be happy; you’ll sing and dance too. קוֹל רִנָּה וִישׁוּעָה בְּאָהֳלֵי צַדִּיקִים – In the homes of the righteous there are sounds of rejoicing and happiness. Who else should be happy if not those who keep the Torah? But if it deteriorates into hefkeirus, into wildness and silly frivolity, then all of the achievements you gained on Yom Kippur go lost.
I remember in a certain shtiebel they used to throw wet towels at each other on Simchas Torah; wet towels on Simchas Torah! There’s a mitzvah to make a towel wet on Yomtiv? It’s a question if it’s even permitted. But they threw wet towels at each other.
I was seventeen years old and I used to go up to duchan, birkas kohanim. I saw once an old man get up to duchan on Simchas Torah. He was standing next to me and he was supposed to say the bracha of birchas kohanim. He said “Boruch atah Hashem,” and then instead of saying asher kidishanu, he said shehakol nehiyeh bidvaro. He lifted up his tallis and showed that he was drinking a glezel with schnapps. In the presence of the whole tzibur he took off the tallis, made a shehakol and drank schnapps! There were all kinds of leitzanus they used to practice and the people lost what they had built up.That’s a tragedy; Yom Kippur is a very precious possession and we have to hold onto the effects as long as possible.
Day of Precious Achievements
Now, some people might think that they didn’t achieve too much on Yom Kippur anyhow. They were listening to the chazan, the niggunim, and looking at the clock counting how many hours there are until neilah; could be you were thinking about what will there be for supper time.
But rabbosai, you have to know that even the most simple Jew is transformed by Yom Kippur. Just to sit among frum Jews all day long is a bracha. If you’re in a frum shul among frum people all day long that’s already an achievement. That in itself is worth coming to shul for; just for that alone. Even if you didn’t daven a single world.
But you davened too; you spent the whole day speaking lashon kodesh. Did you ever think what a benefit it is to talk lashon hakodesh all day long? If Hakodosh Boruch Hu made a language, He made every letter purposeful. It sounds like kabbalah, but it’s common sense. Hakodosh Boruch Hu doesn’t do things at random. Everything has chochma in it so every letter of the alef beis is made for a purpose; it’s a language that changes our souls, it transforms the neshamos of those who talk that language. I’m not talking about ivrit that they speak in Tel Aviv. I’m talking about the holy language of Hashem that’s in the machzor, in the Tanach.
All day long you were saying lashon hakodesh, and it’s prose that’s written by holy men too. Besides words from Tehillim, the piyutim we say were written by holy men, by gedolei Yisroel. Ordinary people didn’t write these poems; only great tzaddikim and talmidei chachomim. And they breathed into these piyutim a whole world of kedusha. So saying the words alone, even if you’re an am haaretz and you don’t know the meaning of the words, just saying it, the words transform your neshama.
Protecting The Skyscraper
The truth is you gained a great deal more than that. On Yom Kippur what are you doing? You’re declaring all day long that who is going to be the author of your happiness? Who is the One who will protect you and your family all year long? Only Hashem. וּכְתוֹב לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים – He’s the One who is going to give you a happy life. בְּסֵפֶר חַיִּים בְּרָכָה וְשָׁלוֹם וּפַרְנָסָה טוֹבָה – He’s the One! All your words on Yom Kippur are directed to Him and you become convinced. You know what a chinuch that is? You’re educating yourself in bitachon, trusting only in Him. He’s our protection. On Yom Kippur you’re standing all day gaining a very strong awareness that everything we have – our lives, our health, our wealth, our everything – is coming from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
That’s a wealth! It’s a skyscraper of daas you’ve built for yourself. And so, when Yom Kippur is over, you’re not the same man. You have changed fundamentally. Everyone is transformed by Yom Kippur.
And that’s why after Yom Kippur we must be very careful, as much as possible, to maintain whatever we achieved on that great day. It could be that some people don’t notice it because it goes lost right away. Even if you don’t throw wet towels, but if you go back to regular living, olam hazeh’digeh living, living without thought, so it goes lost. And that’s a tragedy. When people are successful on a day like that and they gain so many good things, so many great attitudes of the mind, it’s a tragedy if they neglect to keep it. And that’s why Sukkos comes immediately after Yom Kippur.
In ma’ariv we mention “meshane ittim”, Hashem changes the times. Now, in the plan that we call “nature”, we understand how the seasons follow a purposeful order and they maintain the existence and the benefit of the world by following a certain seder. We spoke about that once, the benefits of night following the day, of the seasons changing.
For example, now the fall is coming; the leaves are changing colors and soon they will fall off the trees. There’s a great benefit here that has been planned by Hakodosh Boruch Hu. In the summertime the leaves were needed; they gave us shade from the hot sun and they breathed in oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air to make the trees stronger and healthier.
But in the fall it is time for the trees to stop growing; the leaves are not needed for shade now and the earth needs to rest over the winter months and recoup its energy; and so, the leaves fall off and the materials that were expended in creating those leaves are returned to the earth now in the form of fertilizer where they will be transformed into energy for next year’s plants. Every season, one after the other, has its benefits that were planned by the great Designer.
And exactly the same is the seder by which Hakodosh Boruch Hu made the moadim – the order of all the moadim are planned for our benefit. Of course our little minds are not capable of fathoming the reasons of the Torah, but to some extent we understand the great plan of having Sukkos follow Yom Kippur. We understand that Sukkos was planned by Hakodosh Boruch Hu to set in stone the achievements we made on Yom Kippur and to build on them.
Higher Than The Mitzvos
Which means this is the time that we should gain a keenness, a sharpness of hargasha, an awareness and sensory perception that we’re actually living in Hakodosh Boruch Hu’s protection. It’s so important to utilize Sukkos properly.
Now of course if you’re just an ordinary frum Jew, you built a sukkah that’s kosher and you have everything else, you’re mekayem all mitzvos of the Sukkah, we’re not going to criticize you. But that’s not the main achievement of Sukkos.
The Chovos Halevovos declares that all of the mitzvos of the Torah are made for a higher purpose. What’s higher than a mitzvah? The penimiyus of the mitzvah! To get an understanding of what the mitzvah is telling you. The mitzvos teach you a certain kind of wisdom and you perceive it more sharply by doing the mitzvah. And it’s that wealth of the mind that is going to be the main achievement of Sukkos. Of course, it depends how much effort you’ll invest into the mitzvah but the opportunity of using the sukkah to build onto that skyscraper you built on Yom Kippur is available to all of us.
Lower The Ceiling
There’s a din in the mishna, סֻכָּה שֶׁהִיא גְּבוֹהָה מֵעֶשְׂרִים אַמָּה פְסוּלָה. When you make a sukkah, it can’t be higher than twenty amos. If the schach is more than twenty amos from the floor to the ceiling, the sukkah is possul.
Now, you might have thought that a taller sukkah is more hidur mitzvah; the bigger the sukkah, the better. It’s more beautiful; why not? But the Tanna says no; it can’t be higher than twenty amos – that’s about three stories. And it’s a question – why is that so? Why can’t I build a very tall sukkah?
And the answer is that it states in the Torah – it’s a very important teaching we’re learning now – that the purpose of going into the sukkah for seven days is לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דּוֹרוֹתֵיכֶם – in order that your generations should know, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – that I caused the Bnei Yisrael to dwell in sukkos, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם when I took them out of Eretz Mitzrayim (Vayikra 23:43).It means that you sit under the schach in order to be reminded of something; to remember how we sat in sukkos, in huts, for forty years in the wilderness.
And in order to know the purpose of the schach you have to see it. A very important point! The schach is there for you to see, לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ, to teach you daas, to remind you of what took place in the wilderness. And if it’s too high, if it’s higher than twenty amos, you have to crane your neck. You might not do it and you’ll miss seeing the schach; it means you missed the entire purpose of the sukkah. But under twenty amos you could easily see it and that’s what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants from us. And the more you look, the better.
Now, a lot of people know that mishna – it’s the first one in Mesichta Sukkah after all – but we have to listen well to that din. It’s a great lesson and very many people don’t think about it enough; Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects us to take a look at the schach. And when you look at the schach, you have to know what you’re seeing. If you’re looking up but you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s a waste. You’re looking לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ, in order to gain da’as about those forty years when Hashem kept us in the midbar.
Now pay attention because it’s not that simple. The Rambam writes the following words in his Moreh Nevuchim(3:50). “The greatest of all nissim that our nation ever experienced,” he says, “is the forty years that the Am Yisroel spent in the midbar.” We’re not talking about Yetzias Mitzrayim. We’re not even talking about Matan Torah. Just to live forty years in the midbar, a nation of two million, three million people,that’s the greatest neis of all.
Storms, Sickness and Starvation
All kinds of things could have happened. In the desert, there are sandstorms that could bury people. And rains; there are sudden downpours that come down and make floods that drown people. It happens in the desert – flash floods that drown out entire caravans.
Every kind of illness travels through desert camps. There’s a prevalence of all kinds of disease. When people are crowded together in one small place, all you need is one ill person to set off an epidemic. And then it speeds like lightning through the whole camp killing people. And yet, nothing happened! Nothing ever happened!
And what about food? A nation of millions and they didn’t have any fields to cultivate; what would they eat? They should have starved to death in the midbar! Where would they find food? Even water they couldn’t find. It was unbelievable that a nation of more than two million men, women and children should exist in a place where nothing grew.
Loner on the Lot
And they were surrounded by enemies too. We know on one side was Egypt. The Mitzrim suffered so much from us and they were full of hatred and anger at us. All the other nations – Edom, Midyan, Amalek – were jealous of us and worried about what we might do next; they wanted to destroy us.
And everybody knew that we took out kesef vezahav, all the wealth, of Mitzrayim. Now, had we had fortified cities in the midbar, high walls and people standing on the walls with bows and arrows prepared to shoot at the enemy, maybe. But we had nothing at all.
I always give the same mashal. Suppose you go let’s say to Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant and you make a tent on an empty lot and you want to sleep there that night. And everybody, all the people who live there, know that you have a pile of money in your tent. What chance do you have to survive?
And it wasn’t one night. It wasn’t a month or even a year. It happened for forty years! You know what it means to live for forty years in a wilderness where food and water is not available, and where danger lurks at any moment?! And yet this nation of millions was protected and sustained! They lived!
Guarded by Glory
And where did they live? Not in walled cities. Not in houses. They were in sukkos. A sukkah is a flimsy building, a flimsy little thing. You put up some thin walls, you put sticks on top, whatever it is, and finished. That’s a protection?! It’s almost nothing at all.
The answer is that it was the most effective of all protections. You know why? Because the sukkah was nothing. It was just a facade. Who was really protecting them? Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Overhead they saw the ananei kavod, the clouds of Hashem’s Glory, and they knew it was only Hashem. Every night you could see the cloud of fire overhead!
Every day and night for forty years they saw that! And they were learning an important lesson; that our only protection in this world is Hakodosh Boruch Hu. For forty years they were reviewing that lesson and it got into their bones.
Best Time in History
The midbar was the best time in our history. They were transformed by being in that machane; they became great. What a tremendous experience that was! QSome people think it was terrible to be in the midbar; they pity the people who were in the midbar. Oh no! On the contrary, you should be envious of them. That was the time to be alive. We’re so sorry we weren’t there. That’s the way we should feel. Oh, I wish I could have been in the dor hamidbar. Ah! To be every day under the clouds of glory. It became fixed in their hearts forever. That’s how they became the dor deah; they were the generation that knew Hashem more than any other generation.
Now, if you’re a person who desires pleasures, if you’re looking for good times, the wilderness was not the place, that’s certain.וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל (Bamidbar 21:5)!If you were a dandy, a fop who’s accustomed to luxuries then you became disgusted with that daily diet, the same thing always. You were weary of being crushed together in that camp where a couple of million people lived side by side in tents jammed together.
But for those who know that they’re in this world for one purpose only, to achieve perfection of the mind, so there’s nothing better than living under the ananei kavod. If you were seeking perfection, if you wanted to make progress, there was no place in the world that would be better. To live in a camp that was invulnerable because there was a Sukkah overhead — the Ananei Kavod, the Clouds of the Presence of Hashem — protecting them, that transformed a person more than learning a hundred seforim about yiras shomayim.
Sentiments in the Sukkah
And that’s what we’re trying to do when we come into our sukkahs. We’re trying to recapture that feeling. When Yomtiv comes and we walk into that little edifice that we erected and we look up at the schach – so because you’re here tonight you’ll remember that the schach is trying to teach you something. Everyone is talking, looking at the noi sukkah, finding their seats, squeezing into the little sukkah, very good, very good. But you’re thinking; you look up at the schach and you’re thinking.
“Once upon a time our forefathers sat in little huts like this for forty years. And they were the safest, the most protected of any generation in our entire history because they had the ananei hakavod; they had Hakodosh Boruch Hu protecting them. In the midbar there was nothing but schach overhead and still they were more secure in the midbar than ever afterwards in our history.”
That’s why our chachamim tell us that when we look at the flimsy schach, in addition to the thought that we were protected by such a flimsy covering, we have to understand that the schach is a dugma, an example, of the ananei hakavod, the clouds overhead in the midbar.
Now you know a reason why it shouldn’t be a davar mekabel tumah; everybody knows that the schach cannot be made out of peiros, out of anything fit to eat, or any keili, anything that’s mekabel tumah. Why is it that the schach is possul if it’s made out of a davar hamekabel tumah?
Now, I’m not capable of telling the secrets of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, but we can easily understand a superficial explanation. Because the schach reminds us of something very, very holy; something that’s kadosh. It’s reminding us of the Shechina overhead. We can’t make the Shechina tamei!
And so you’re sitting in the sukkah and you’re looking at the schach and thinking, “This sukkah is a pretty flimsy protection. There’s no roof of masonry. There’s no iron door. There’s nothing. It’sonly schach. Anybody can climb up and jump into the sukkah through the schach, chas veshalom. Is this how they sat for forty years in the dangerous wilderness?!”
Yes! Because they had the ananei kavod, the Shechina, protecting them. That’s what we’re remembering on Sukkos. לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ — it’s the most important lesson to think about when sitting in the sukkah. The only true security is Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Moshe Rabbeinu was leading us – we had Aharon Hakohen and Yehoshua and Miriam and other tzadikim too – but it was Hakadosh Baruch Hu who was standing guard over the Am Yisroel.
Now, that’s a very important subject but you have to know that it’s only the beginning – we’re just scratching the surface. Because the sukkah is not just a reminder about the past; it’s also a lesson for the present and for the future forever.Because we’re going to learn now that the sukkah we go into on Yomtiv is not only for the purpose of reminding us about the ananei kavod in the wilderness, but just as important it’s reminding us that we are being protected by Hashem’s clouds overhead right now.
Aswe sit in the sukkah and we’re looking up at the schach and we’re thinking, “In addition to the fact that Hashem protected us in the midbar – without any fortified cities we were the safest in our entire history – but also, I’m looking up at the schach and I’m reminding myself of the ananei hakavod that are overhead right now.” When you raise your eyes to the schach, you have to think that. That’s the lesson.“I’m reminding myself of the ananei hakavod that are overhead right now! Even in our generation we’re being protected by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory.”
You Can’t Move!
That’s why the Jews, when they talk about Hakodosh Boruch Hu, they say Hamakom. Everybody knows, “Hamakom yenachem eschem.” Hamakom this, Hamakom that. Hamakom means“The Place.”
Why do we call Hashem “The Place”? Because there’s no such thing as any space where Hashem isn’t. He’s the makom of the world. Not He’s in the world. The world is in Him! He is The place. We live in Him. You think you live in a house? No! You’re living in Hashem! The Jewish people especially. They live in Hashem! He’s our home! Even if you move; if you move from Brooklyn to Lakewood or from Boro Park to Williamsburg, you’re not moving. You are where you always were. You were in Hashem before; you’re in Hashem now too!
And you should think about that when you’re sitting under the schach; yes think about that. לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ –You should know. You should gain an awareness; a sensory feeling that the shechina is overhead at all times on our nation. And the schach is there to aid you to gain that perception that He’s watching over us.
Sheltered In the Sukkah
I want to quote two pessukim in Tehillim (31:19, 21) to illustrate that. It’s talking there about when Dovid was surrounded by enemies who were speaking against him on all sides; Dovid is talking for himself but he’s speaking on behalf of all of Klal Yisroel too. He says, “תֵּאָלַמְנָה שִׂפְתֵי שָׁקֶר – All the lips should be stricken down, הַדֹּבְרוֹת עַל צַדִּיק עָתָק – those who speak falsehood against the righteous man, בְּגַאֲוָה וָבוּז – with arrogance and contempt.
תַּסְתִּירֵם – You, Hashem, will hide them; it means You will shelter the Jewish nation, בְּסֵתֶר פָּנֶיךָ, in the protection of Your Countenance. You will protect them מֵרֻכְסֵי אִישׁ, from the wickedness of men.
How will Hashem protect us from the wickedness of men? תִּצְפְּנֵם בְּסֻכָּה – You will conceal them in a the sukkah; You will protect them in Your sukkah מֵרִיב לְשֹׁנוֹת – from the battle of tongues against us.
Surviving In the Sukkah
It means we are living in a world of enemies and it’s only because we are in Hashem’s sukkah that we survive. We always have had enemies who are talking against us, all kinds of falsehoods. Every kind of canard, all the time. The UN for instance even now came out with a declaration that Medinas Yisroel is to blame for shooting the Arabs. Arabs are innocent fellows, of course. The murderous Arabs, the very worst, are poor innocent fellows and Israel is guilty. So they all came together and they made a declaration blaming Israel. And our honorable President, maybe he wasn’t too happy about it, but he also joined in.
Now I’m not a big patriot of Israel, but we see that UN is one big gathering of anti-Semites. They didn’t even let Israel come into any one of their committees. No committee was open to Israel to become a member.
Not only in the UN On all sides, anti-Semites are busy all the time. There’s a tremendous literature of antisemitism and it’s been like that from the earliest times.
And still we’re here. The enemies who slandered us disappeared already. The Greeks were the worst of all. Josephus quotes many Greek writers and their falsehoods against us. The Greeks never stopped writing against us and now they’re gone. Greece of today is not the Greece of antiquity. Greece is entirely lost. All their godshave gone lost. Their religion and culture have gone lost.
Yesh Chochma Bagoyim
Edom hated us. Midyan hated us. Moav hated us. And they’re all gone. Bavel is gone and Persia is gone. They’re all disappearing one after the other. But we’re still here. It’s good to hear what a goy says about this. Everybody knows how I always quote Mark Twain. Mark Twain said that “the Jew walks on the graves of all his oppressors.” They’re all gone and we walk on their graves.
How does such a thing happen? How is it that we’re traveling through the wilderness of the nations for so many years and we’re protected? It’s because Hashem keeps us in His sukkah. Overhead are the ananei hakavod and they are protecting us exactly as they did in the midbar. הַפּוֹרֵס סֻכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל – He spreads a sukkah of peace over us and that’s the only reason we’re still here.
And that’s what we should be thinking about when we sit in the sukkah; the schach is reminding us that we are forever protected by Hashem. As you’re sitting in the sukkah, everybody is talking. Simchas Yomtiv. Very good, why not. The sukkah is a sociable place; why not.
However, you’re different. You’re sitting and thinking. “I’m looking at the schach and I know thatit’s mamish the ananei hakavod overhead. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is overhead right now. I won’t see it like we saw it in the midbar but He’s overhead, absolutely. And despite the fact that many nations rise up against us, in the end they will all be frustrated because Hakodosh Boruch Hu is מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם. His ananei kavod are with us forever.
Everyone’s Little Sukkah
I want to add another point now. The Rambam tells us an important klal that applies to all of us. He says that the stories that we read about in the chumash about the whole nation apply equally to each person individually.
And that means that just as our nation in general is protected by the sukkah of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, in addition, each person should know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has a sukkah around him personally. Hashem is protecting you individually.
Hashem is the one who helps you come to where you are today. Now, maybe you’re too young to realize that. Someday you’ll look back on your life’s history and you’ll be amazed at the things that happened that protected you and caused things to turn out in the best way for you. When you’re an old man you’ll look back and you’ll see, “Oh, boruch Hashem that You were a sukkah to me!”
I won’t take up your time but could tell you stories that happened to me again and again. I can tell you at least four instances when Hashem did something to me – at the time I thought it was a loss, a failure for me, and it turned out that these four failures saved me. Four times in my history I remember; there were more than that, but four times I remember I tried to do something and I failed and it turned out it was boruch Hashem that I failed. Had I succeeded, I wouldn’t be here today. I would be ruined.
Stealing From The Mafia
Everybody can think back and see how he was protected in Hashem’s sukkah. We had a man here in our shul; a hardworking man who never had a chance to come to any of the shiurim in gemara. Even to davening he couldn’t always come. He was working like a slave in his shop.
Then one day he took an order for merchandise from a huge store; a big order from a Stop and Shop store, a chain store. And he didn’t know that this store was already a customer of someone else, someone in the Mafia. By accident he took away a customer from the Mafia. When they saw that he took away their customer, so at night they came to his shop and they exploded his store with a bomb.
So he came running to me early in the morning, “What should I do now?!” He was afraid for his life! The Mafia was after him for stealing away a customer.
So the first thing I said was, “Where’s your car parked?”
“In front of my house; in the driveway.”
So I said, “Right away, hurry up. They’ll bomb your car! Take it and park it five blocks away from the house.”
Saved By The Mafia
And then I said to him, “Do you know who this person is whose toes you stepped on?” He said he knows, he knows who it is. I said, “Call him up right now and tell him you’re quitting business. Tell him that as of now you’ve resigned – you’re closing up shop.”
He called him up and the Mafia man said, “Oh, is that so? I’m so sorry to hear that. If I can be of any help to you in the future, please let me know.”
So now he’s out of a job. You know what happened? He had to get a city job. And now he started coming to shul every day. He started coming to shiurim, and after a while he became a shtikel lamdan too. And now he’s teaching others gemara! He’s a different personality now.
Staying In The Sukkah
And so when Sukkos comes, that’s the time to think, “Boruch Hashem, boruch Hashem. Hashem is giving me His full attention – each one of us; He’s doing what’s best for each one of us. עַל גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֵף, like the eagle hovers over its nest and spreads its wings to cover its little goslings (Devarim 32:11). That’s how Hakodosh Boruch Hu is protecting me. He’s helping me at every step; protecting me mamash.”
Here’s a man who’s sitting in his sukkah and he’s thinking, “How did I come to this, to be sitting in the sukkah? So many young people like myself are not in the sukkah today. Where are they? I don’t know. Where iseveryone else? I was zocheh to sit in the yeshiva; the yeshiva is a sukkah. Oh, it’s a zechus!
So many people didn’t make it. Sometimes you have a second cousin; what happened to him? A rachmonus on him. But I’m here! You have to think how lucky you are that you belong among the frum Jews. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is keeping you in His sukkah; He’s protecting you.
The Real Sukkah
So everybody must know that this sukkah you’re sitting in is only a mashal for the real sukkah over you – He is protecting you personally. There’s a cloud overhead to protect you, a sukkah all around you, a sukkas shlomecha for your benefit. You look through the cracks in the schach at the sky and you’re reminded of the ananei hakavod, of your ananei hakavod.
And even though we don’t see overhead the clouds of glory that they saw in the midbar, the Shechina is still overhead. אַשְׁרֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִי כָמוֹךָ – Who is like you, Yisroel? רֹכֵב שָׁמַיִם בְעֶזְרֶךָ – that you have an Hashem who rides in the skies to help you. You don’t see it, but He’s riding in the skies, in His chariot, to help you. וּבְגַאֲוָתוֹ שְׁחָקִים – He’s in the clouds (Devarim 33:26). He’s above you, still looking down upon you, to this day.
Explaining the Abstract
That’s a very important possuk to listen to. רֹכֵב שָׁמַיִם בְעֶזְרֶךָ – Hashem is riding through the sky in a chariot to protect us. Some people when they hear such things, they get nervous. Hashem in a chariot? Riding in the skies? It seems so anthropomorphic; putting Hashem like a human, chas v’shalom.
So before we continue with the subject I’m going to say a few words about an important principle of the Torah. If you learn Moreh Nevuchim,you know that the first third of that sefer is very boring to us. It’s dedicated to one subject, to explain away all the physical expressions, about Hashem; yad Hashem, einei Hashem – the hand of Hashem, the eyes of Hashem. The Torah is full of such things.
And so the Rambam spends many pages explaining these phrases away – they’re only meshalim he says. Hashem doesn’t have hands. He doesn’t have eyes. He doesn’t need eyes to see. He can see just fine without eyes. And so the Rambam explains all these in an abstract and more noble way. He explains to us the ideals that are meant instead of the plain words.
The Frying Pan and The Fire
Now the question arises, why does the Torah bother using these expressions that it should become necessary now to explain them away. Even Targum Unkelos bothers with it. Many times Targum Unkelos takes a physical expression about Hashem and he explains it in a different way. So why was this trouble caused? Hashem could have said it like the Rambam explained it. He could have used noble words like the Rambam and Unkelos did.
And the way it’s written now is very dangerous because if you really believe that, you’re finished. If you think Hashem has a hand or eyes or a nose to smell, you’re an apikores – you lose your portion in the World to Come. So why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu fill the the entire Torah with such booby traps? At every step, a man can trip up and chalilah lose his chelek l’Olam Haba.
The answer is if Hashem would have spoken like the Rambam wanted it said, we wouldn’t have any kind of hargasha, any feeling about Hashem at all, and that would be an even bigger danger. It is true – it is a very big peril to portray Hakadosh Baruch Hu with gashmiyus. But there is a bigger peril, and that is, to portray Him without gashmiyus !
Because to have weak pictures in one’s mind about Hakodosh Boruch Hu is worse than to have wrong pictures. To be a frum Jew, a really observant Jew who would never even entertain a picture of Hakadosh Baruch Hu as a physical being, but to have such a faint impression of him that he is nothing but an intellectual concept, a word in a sefer, that is much worse.
The Real Rider
We have to feel the presence of Hashem and therefore it’s very important to feel that Hashem has eyes; עֵינֵי הַשֵּׁם הֵמָּה מְשׁוֹטְטִים בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ – Hashem’s eyes are traveling over all the world and looking everywhere (Zecharia 4:10). That’s how we have to think. We must work hard in order to gain a gashmiyusdike attitude towards Hashem.
Of course, the Rambam adds, you can’t believe that it’s literal – you’re belittling Hakodosh Boruch Hu if you think such things. And yet it’s our chiyuv to live with these ideas all our lives – the attitude of Hashem with eyes and hands must continue. It’s called a dichotomy. There’s a big difference between the actual truth and what we’re supposed to think. The Rambam doesn’t want us to get rid of that attitude; he only wants to explain it to us. We’re supposed to live with these ideas as much as possible.
That’s why we say, “Hashem rides in the heavens to help us.” Because that’s how we are supposed to think! Not merely to be a philosopher who knows there’s Hashem someplace; a word, an idea. Oh no! Hashem is the most real of all realities and we have to do everything we can to gain that attitude while we’re still in this world.
Using The Sky
Now this brings us to one of the very great functions of the shomayim. Hashomayim mesaprim kevod Keil – the skies are a demonstration of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The sky, you have to know, is very important to look at, not just on Sukkos; it’s important all year round. That’s why there’s a din that when you daven you have to have a room where there are windows (Shulchan Oruch O.C. 90:4). And the purpose is you should see the sky. It doesn’t mean you have to look at it all the time, but the sky has to be visible.
Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to know when we look at the clouds, at the skies, we should think of Him. Hashomayim mesaprim; now when you look at the skies it should remind you of Hashem. That’s your ananei hakavod. It’s not Sukkos. It’s Purim, it’s Chanukah, and overhead you see the sky. The sky is your sukkah every day.
Now pay attention. I’m saying a practical statement right now. Practice this when you walk in the street; look for a moment in the sky. It should remind you of Hashem. Don’t disdain what you’re hearing now; don’t think it’s unimportant. It’s very important! The sky overhead is a big opportunity. Look at the sky; it’s there to make you think of Hashem, to remind you that He’s there watching over you.
That’s how you should live your life. Whenever you pass in the street, look up at the sky at the clouds and they will remind you that you’re under the clouds of Hashem’s glory.That’s what the sky is there for! L’maan yeidu – in order to let you know, to remind you about the ananei hakavod.
Sieve in the Sky
Of course the shomayim has other functions too. It’s a wonderful supply of fresh air for us. Two hundred miles straight up of fresh air. We need that. You need that fresh air. There’s carbon dioxide there that causes the plants to grow and produce fruit. There’s nitrogen and there’s other important gases that enter into all the things we need to exist. The air is like a storehouse of all kinds of necessities of life. People don’t realize that food and clothing come mostly from the air.
The sky has so many functions. The sky is like a sieveand it sifts out the harmful effects of the sun’s rays as they come down. As the sun’s rays make their way through the miles and miles of atmosphere and come down to the earth, they come with the qualities that are suited to the necessities of the earth. Everything is done with a purpose. There’s very much to say about the sky.
And yet, the most important function of the sky is hashamayim mesaprim kevod Kel. The sky is there to make us think about Hashem and it’s that most important function that is most neglected by us.
That’s why you say that someone is a “yarei shomayim.”What’s a yarei shomayim? It’s fear of Hashem, not fear of shomayim! The answer is Hashem is symbolized by the shomayim. Because a yarei shomayim, that’s a person who fears Hashem with a physical feeling; he looks up at the sky all the time and he reminds himself that Hashem is in the sky watching over Him.
You remember when Yonah was travelling on the ship and he fell asleep in the bottom of the boat? So the captain came to him and said, “Why are you asleep?” he said. “What are you sleeping for? Arise! קוּם קְרָא אֶל אֱלֹקֶיךָ – Get up and call out to your Elokim.”
And then when he discovered that Yonah was the one who was the cause of the terrible hurricane – they threw lots and it fell on him – and the ship was about to sink only because of Yonah, so they asked him, “Who is your Elokim?”
So what did Yonah answer? He said, Elokei hashomayim ani yarei – I fear the Elokim of the sky.” That’s a tremendous statement! Elokei hashamayim! Now, if you’d be a philosopher so you’d say, “Hashem is everywhere; He’s not in the shomayim.” And yet Yonah was wiser than the philosopher and he said “Elokei hashomayim – My G-d is in the sky. I look up at the shomayim and I think of Elokim.” Yonah knew what the sky is for.
Now Is The Time
Hashem is overhead everywhere. When we look at the sky we think about it lema’aseh. It’s not merely something, a machshavah to hear. Look in the sky once in a while and it should remind you of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That’s the purpose of the sky. And if we live our lives without utilizing that, we should know we are wasting a glorious opportunity.
Now, as much as it’s an attitude that we work to achieve all year long, every Yomtiv has a certain amount of opportunities and the opportunity of Sukkos is especially dedicated to this idea. As much as possible, use the sukkah to gain an awareness of that great fact that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is overhead and He is the one who is guiding us and protecting us forever and ever.No matter what the goyim try to do against us, we are going to exist and we will live longer than the gentiles.
And each person too should think, individually, that Hashem is protecting him all his life. That’s the truth – He’s going to be our sukkah forever and He’s going to be your sukkah forever. As you enter the sukkah, you’re doing all the good things; Jewish minhagim, very good. Ushpizin, noi sukkah, zemiros, everything; simchas Yomtiv, very good! But don’t neglect the opportunity of thinking that the sukkah now is a lesson to you that Hashem protects our nation forever and ever.
And in the zechus of the mitzvah that you’re performing now by looking at the schach and understanding that He protects us overhead in every generation like He did in the midbar, commensurate with your emunah, that’s how much He’s going to watch over you forever and ever.
Have A Wonderful Yom Tov
Making Use of The Sukkah
This year, I will use every day of the Yom Tov to learn the lessons that the sukkah is trying to teach me.
While eating in the sukkah I will look at the schach and spend one minute straight picturing the flimsy sukkos that our forefathers sat in for forty years in the wilderness and all the dangers there, and how they were protected from all the dangers only because of the ananei hakavod that were overhead.
I will also make sure to go into the sukkah once a day specifically for the purpose of reminding myself about the ananei hakavod that protect us even today; I will walk into the sukkah just for the purpose of spending one minute thinking about the sukkah that is spread over the Am Yisroel forever, and about how I’ve merited to see that protection throughout my own life.