Having come through Rosh Hashana, the ten days of repentance and Yom Kippur, we busy ourselves with preparations for Sukkot. If we recall that the first Yom Kippur following the Exodus was the day we received the second set of tablets, and was the day we received complete forgiveness and the day we sort of remarried G-d after we messed up with the golden calf, then in many ways Sukkot celebrates our honeymoon with the Creator. This is the holiday of faith and the holiday of joy. It’s us and G-d. We step out of the daily routine and move into the Sukkah which is likened to dwelling within the Shechina.
The rabbis teach us that each of the seven days of Sukkot has the potential to repair what was damaged on the corresponding day of the week during the whole of the year. Each day is a powerful gift for us to take advantage of. For Jews, the honeymoon is really an extension of the wedding. Seven days of festivities. We celebrate seven days of seven blessings – sheva berachot–from friends, family and even strangers, infusing the bride and groom with a spiritual energy to take them through their lives.
In the same way the spiritual energy of our Sukkot honeymoon infuses us with strength for the entire year helping us to reach our potential. And whats a Sheva Berachot celebration without guests? Sukkot is a holiday of guests. We open our Succah and its incumbent upon us to share with others. We have physical guests and then we have the Ushpizin, the spiritual guests who come each night and reside with us. There are seven; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Each brings a unique blessing and an opportunity to focus on that midah or attribute which that forefather represents.
For example, Abraham represents the aspect of Chesed which we typically translate as loving kindness in English. But Chesed is so much more. The Gemarah teaches us that the Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed. We see where G-d creates man in an act of chesed and as the Torah concludes buries Moses, an ultimate act of chesed. Some understand that the entire Torah is characterized by G-d’s chesed and it is our Job to emulate that Chesed. In Tomer Devorah, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero suggests we can do this always through our actions by loving God so completely that one will never forsake His service for any reason. As parents, we do this by providing a child with all the necessities of his sustenance, loving the child and bringing the child into the Covenant with Hashem. Each day we have the opportunity to do chesed when visiting and healing the sick, giving charity to the poor, offering hospitality to strangers, attending to the dead, bringing a bride to the chuppah marriage ceremony and making peace between a man and his fellow.
Our forefather Isaac represents the aspect of Gevurah or Self Control. Isaac’s gevurah was expressed in his great awe of G-d and his exacting self-discipline. Chesed run amok is dangerous. The self-control or restriction represented by Gevurah allows us to receive the spiritual light, to gather the light and properly use the light. Its possible that all the laws of the Torah serve to teach us personal self control, because only when one is in complete control is one truly free and not a slave to his habits or faults.
And so through each of the seven days, we have a guest bearing gifts; gifts of introspection and self-improvement. We should endeavor each day to discuss the life of that guest, discuss their attributes, discuss their actions and reactions and consider how we might emulate them.
As we were about to say Neilah, the final prayer of Yom Kippur, I looked into the hechal, the ark and a thought struck me from the book Tana D’Bei Eliyahu. I looked across the top shelf of the ark which holds many Torah scrolls and my eye rested on one dating to Baghdad circa 1850 another dating back to 1900; both with magnificent silver work. Then to the last one my father designed and made which is truly a work of art. And finally to one dating to the depression that was damaged last year in a flood in a safe in Brooklyn and which we are contemplating repairing. That last one is not made from silver and seems to be metals brought together with the supports for the rimonim from what appears to be antenna, but the hand chasing on that case with the entire Berich Sheme written into the opposing panels at the front is worthy of a museum. The depression era Torah was probably the work of my grandfather Reuben Bibi, the one from 1900 could have been the work of his father Joseph A Bibi and the one from 1850 could have been the work of my great, great grandfather Ovadia Bibi. This was their trade and they were renowned for it, literally around the world.
And as I looked at the cases representing the four generations preceeding me I thought, Matai YaGia Ma’Asay LeMaaseh Avotai? “When will my actions reach the level of those of my forefathers?”
I wasn’t complaining that they were all artists and I can’t draw two lines. I wasn’t complaining that they had magical hands capable of creating and fixing nearly anything and I can barely change a light bulb. I wasn’t even thinking that I could ever come close to accomplishing what they accomplished,
I thought that each of them, father, grandfather, great grandfather and great-great grandfather came to this world with a set of challenges and demands. Each had a potential to reach based on the raw materials they were given, a potential spiritually, communally, family and personally to achieve. And I pondered their greatness and their achievements.
And then I thought to myself, what about me? Look at the gifts I was given? Look at the effort my parents placed within me, the time they invested in me and everything they gave me. Look at my own potential and how far I am from being everything I can be. It was an eye opening moment. It was a moment each of us needs to take and examine and ask ourselves, who am I? Who can I be? How will I get there?
I often think of the angel calling to Abraham at the Akeydah, the binding of Isaac. The angel calls Abraham, (pause) Abraham. Why twice? Why the pause?
There is the potential in us which we are born to be. The image of the potential me is standing in heaven and looking down. The image is rooting me on. The image above wants the image below to achieve that potential.
At that moment of the Akeydah, after ten grueling tests, I believe that the angel announced to Abraham that the Abraham below had achieved the potential and was now one with the Abraham above. This is our challenge to raise our presence below to our presence above.
Sukkot is the holiday where we get extra help doing this. It’s a special week where if we can feel the energy and feel the power of the blessings of our guests from above we can be infused by them and we can rise from below to above; to heights unimagined.
May we all be worthy to rise to the levels of our fathers. Tizku LeShanim Rabot.
By: Rabbi David Bibi