Rabbi Dessler – Strive for Truth 6 – Re’ei
King Shelomo prayed: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; give me my allotted bread. If I am satisfied, I might deny and say ‘Who is God?’ If I am poor, I might steal and take the name of my God [in vain].”
Troubles arouse a person and turn him towards God. If all his needs are satisfied, he may imagine that he can do without God, and from that to denial is not very far. It is clear that human beings have a strong tendency to deny God. If a person whose needs have been satisfied for the moment has this tendency, how much more so a rich man who thinks his prosperity is guaranteed far into the future.
Because this danger was so clear to him, Shelomo HaMelech prayed that he would not have riches nor even the complete satisfaction of his physical needs, but only the essential minimum: “my allotted bread.” The implication is that he would have much preferred to be poor and lack even essentials, were it not that poverty has its own dangers. He might be tempted to steal and lie, and so eventually also come to deny God by taking a false oath.
SUKKA OF PEACE
“You shall make a festival of Sukkot…when you gather your harvest…”2 Everyone is happy when the harvest is in and they feel that their livelihood for the year is assured. The danger of denying God is self-evident. To obviate this danger, the Torah commands us to “dwell in sukkot for seven days.”‘ This is to teach us that safety is not in material things, but in our closeness to God. Our shelter is not the roof, but God’s sukka of peace. We realize that true satisfaction comes only from banishing material ambitions from our hearts and filling our lives with avodat Hashem.4
REJOICING IN THE FESTIVAL
Instead of rejoicing in the harvest, the Torah tells us to “rejoice in your festival.”‘ This means spiritual joy, as another verse says, “You shall rejoice before God, your God.” The Talmud learns from this verse—”and you shall rejoice in your festival”—that one is not allowed to celebrate a marriage during a festival: “Rejoice in your festival and not in your wife.”‘ It is all the more obvious that our joy should not be in our harvest or in our sense of physical security. The joy of the festival is spiritual joy. It is joy in the heartfelt fulfillment that comes from transcending material desires and putting in their place the service of Hashem.
But how is it possible to change one’s joy from joy in the material to joy in the spiritual? There is only one way in which to do this, which we shall now explain.
THE FIELD OF THE HEART
My rebbe told me this in the name of the Vilna Gaon, of blessed memory. It is impossible to sow a field unless it has first been plowed. Similarly, the blockage in our heart—timtum ha-lev prevents spiritual feelings from penetrating it. The hard peel surrounding the heart must first be pierced. Only then can spiritual insights be sown, and only then can fruit be expected to grow, in theform of changed attitudes.
How can the hard soil of the heart be plowed? With strong emotional upheaval. This can come from sudden disaster or from great joy. When a person is in a state of great excitement, for whatever reason, his heart opens. A person can now impress on it whatever he likes. He can say to himself: Now is my chance! The hard casing of my heart has been broken open. Quick! I must sow in it what I want.
The origin of the great joy may have been nothing more than a good harvest. But now that the heart is excited and aroused, its habitual blockage is removed. This provides the opportunity to show one’s heart that the joy of spiritual success far exceeds the joy of material success. Here is the chance to transform one’s joy into another, higher level of joy.
The water-drawing ceremony which took place during the nights of the Sukkot festival was one of the highlights of the service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “One who has never seen the water-drawing ceremony in the Holy Temple has never seen joy in his life.”8 This ceremony and the water libation—nissuch ha-mayim—that followed it were in essence a prayer for rain for the coming year. But our Rabbis transformed it into a celebration of the spirit. “Why is it called ‘the joy of the water-drawing’? Because from it they used to draw the holy spirit.”‘ Prophets used to draw their inspiration from this dramatic and joy-inspiring ceremony.”‘
So we see what the Torah meant by “Make a festival…when you gather…”” Use the physical joy of gathering the harvest as a springboard to reach spiritual joy. Then your joy will be complete. You will experience the supreme happiness of transforming the lower into the higher — the darkness of denial into the great light of faith in God.
With this in mind, we can now understand the custom prevalent among Hassidim to arousc joy and good humor through external means, such as the judicious use of liquor. They use joyous occasions to speak words of Torah and serving Hashem. Whoever instituted this obviously understood the secret of opening the heart and sowing seeds of Torah and chessed — as we discussed above.
It is wonderful to see how all Jewish customs, in every section of Jewry, have the same goal—to further Torah and deepen our avodat Hasbem.
1 Mishlei 30:8-9.
2 Devarim 16:13.
3 Vayikra 23:42.
4 See parasbat Shoftim, end.
5 Devarim 16:14.
6 Vayikra 23:40.
7 Mo`ed Ratan 8b.
8 Sukka 51a.
9 Bereshit Rabba 70:8.
10 Yerushalmi Sukka 5:1.
11 See note 2, above.