JOIN THE FAMILY IN THE SUKKAH AND VANQUISH YOUR DRAGON
By: Rabbi Moishe Schnerb
“Every Jew who commits any sin creates within himself a formidable opposition, comprised of 70 elements which become our antagonists.”
“We take our weapons and praise our Creator that He has given us the intellect to defeat all the evil on this earth.”
The greatest secret of our lives is life itself. The one question that we would love to have an answer to, but never will is, for how long are we going to live? King David wanted to know the duration of his life so that he could prepare and ready himself for that inevitable day. Imagine if we could know our ultimate tenure on this earth. We would be able to schedule and plan what we want to accomplish, when and how we were going to prioritise all the items on a proverbial bucket list to make sure that we don’t leave this world without having achieved what we wanted and need to have accomplished. Or would we?
Would knowing our ultimate day of demise actually spur us to greater diligence and effort in achieving spiritually significant life goals, or would we fritter away our valuable time dabbling in all the wonderful sensational and experiential thrills that society proffers to us? King David, in Tehillim (90-10) writes, “The span of our years on this earth is 70 years,” and in the prayer we customarily say before reciting Tehillim we ask Hashem not to take us from this world before our time, before we fill our allotted lifespan of seventy years. The Mishnah Berurah writes (OC 58-1) that we should actually skip the words “70 years”. His source for this is Matei Ephraim who explains that maybe Hashem will have mercy on us and add to our lives so that we may possibly reach the age of 80 or even more.
There are various other places in our hallowed literature where the number seventy relates to the number of years that is normally prescribed for the life of a human being. For example, there is a Gemara in Shabbos [89B] where our Patriarch Yitzchok “goes to bat” to try to save the Jewish nation from impending punishment. He begins to negotiate with Hashem in mitigation of sentence. He begins his argument by stating, “How long does a person live on average? Seventy years!” He continues to whittle away at the severity of the Jews crimes by noting that, in Hashem’s world, liability for punishment is not applied until the age of 20, so that leaves only 50 years. Of those 50 years, deduct 25 for sleeping and taking care of all our personal requirements. Therefore, the allotted time for accountability is only 25 years, which Yitzchok suggests that he and Hashem could accept joint responsibility, or Yitzchok could take responsibility for all of that time. But again, we see that seventy years is the standard formula for a normal lifetime.
If this is so, maybe it makes sense to overlook the comments of the Mishnah Berurah above, and reinstate the phrase “until you complete our seventy years of life”. The rationale for this is a statement by Rav Menachem Mendel from Riminov that Adam Harishon was responsible for the creation of the 70 nations of the world and whom, had he not erred by committing a sin, all those seventy sovereignties would never have existed. He continues by teaching us that we have absolutely no understanding of the greatness of Adam. Believe me, when I say that the radiance of his fingernail was more bedazzling than anything in our entire world. However, what happened, happened and as a result of his severe mistake, and seventy nations were created. This pattern became a foreboder for every Jew who commits any sin; he creates within himself a formidable opposition, comprised of 70 elements which become our antagonists, and do not allow us the breadth of mind or spirit to rise and bring about the rebuilding of Hashem’s Order, which was destroyed because of our numerous sins.
He continues by saying that we must not doubt or question the veracity of this reality, because “I have seen with my own eyes, how people struggle because of the existence of these personal demons”. Our primary function in this world is to subdue these formidable foes. This is why we take this Four Species and we use these as our weapons to fight against our virulent enemies. By shaking them backwards and forwards, up and down, we signify that in every place where there is any accuser or seducer against the Jewish nation, all of them should be rooted out, fall at our feet, and be unable to rise again. This is really the basis of our great joy on this holiday of Sukkot where we take our weapons and praise our Creator that He has given us the intellect to defeat all the evil on this earth.
We can embellish this concept by explaining that the neshomos of all Jews were centralised in Adam at the time of his sin, and the sentence of death that was passed against Adam applies to all of mankind. The Arizal posits that it may have been the conglomerate of neshomos, some of whom were righteous and some not, some thieves and some gluttons, that created the desire for Adam to eat from the Tree of knowledge. Therefore, the trespass that occurred cannot be entirely blamed on Adam, but on the influence of these wayward souls. Nevertheless, Adam did Teshuva, because at the end of the day, what occurred transformed him from a person that would have lived eternally to an individual with a very limited lifespan.
As a result of this understanding, every Jew played a role in the very first infraction that ever occurred and, as a result, all of those 70 nations exist both on a global level and within each individual person, and it is only through my personal Teshuva and perfection of my soul that I can banish these life foes from the world. Therefore, every person receives 70 years, because that is actually the time that is allotted to a person in order to remove the 70 enemies that exist as a result of our participation in the sin of Adam Harishon, and the truth is if someone lives more than seventy years, it’s because the amount of time and investment he personally needs to overcome his internal enemies is longer. Another person who is allocated less than 70 years, it’s because he needed to do much less work to eradicate the 70 nations that were assigned to him.
We can even go so far as to say that if a person lives beyond the age of 70, he has entered a “zone” where he is completely liberated from all these oppositional forces and lives a life where all his energy can be utilised to serve Hashem in an unfettered and unhindered way. He has indeed “vanquished the dragon”. This may be why the Bris Milah is performed specifically on the eighth day of a child’s life, because the concept of the eight is perfection, beyond the realm of challenge, or possible entrapment by any oppositional forces. That is why we cut off the foreskin and, so to speak, throw it to the Satan because in the zone of eight, we are completely out of his clutches.
We find the number 70 also in connection with the Torah. We are told there are 70 “faces” to the Torah. If one understands that this means that there are 70 different ways to understand every concept and every law in the Torah, then one is unduly limiting the scope of the Torah. In fact, Torah can be understood in virtually infinite different ways because the words “70 faces” is actually just an expression that denotes a great number, and what we are being told is that no matter how hard we work and how much effort we invest, we will never be able to understand the Torah in its full array of percipience.
The Chida maintains that every day of the holiday of Sukkot corresponds to 10 years, meaning that the seven days of the holiday of Sukkot equals seventy years of a person’s life. It is therefore possible that the power of the holiday of Sukkot is that during the seven days, one has the ability to neutralise the power of all the 70 oppositional forces that have been assigned to deter each individual from his designated portion of service of Hashem. This is because the Gemora says that the reason for the institution of the holiday of Sukkot is to commemorate the Ananei Kavod, the clouds of glory which provided protection and a safe, nurturing, and secure environment for the entire Jewish nation. These clouds were brought in by the merit of Aharon Hakohain who loved peace and pursued peace and therefore Sukkot has the ability to unite all of the Jewish nation, as the Gemora says, “If such a thing were physically possible, all of the Jewish nation should sit together in one Sukkah.” It is this unity which we can mobilise to repair not only our individual piece of Avodas Hashem, but can help our friends and colleagues perfect themselves also, and therefore in the space of a week, we can eradicate all of the 70 challenges that face every person, if we can only unite as a nation.
This idea is amplified by what the Vilma Gaon says about a posuk in Mishlei: “Many daughters have achieved valour, but you have surpassed all of them.” He explains that there are 48 components to truly acquire Torah [Pirkei Avos 6-6]. The more of those qualities that a person acquires, the greater is their affinity to an understanding of the Holy Torah. However, it is impossible for any human being to by themselves acquire all 48 middot. It is realistic that each individual perfect a few of the qualities until, when we combine all the members of the Jewish nation, we will, as a unit, be able to acquire all 48, and thus as a nation we will have acquired the entire Torah. This is the way he understands the posuk “many daughters have achieved valour,” which means many great people have mastered large amounts of the 48 attributes, but never all of them. “You have surpassed them all” means that the Torah has been elevated by the combination of all their efforts together to achieve the totality of Torah knowledge and character.
The same concept pertains to the submission of the seventy nations that were created because of each person’s contribution to the sin of Adam Harishon. Contemporaneous to the unity we achieve on Sukkot, where we all try not only to perfect ourselves, but also to help our fellow man with his perfection, we vanquish not only our 70 challenges, but help others to be able to dominate their awesome challenges.
It is interesting that specifically by the Mitzvah of Sukkah, part of the fulfilment of the Mitzvah is actually sleeping in the Sukkah as the Shulchan Aruch [O.C. 639-2] says, we eat, drink, and sleep in a Sukkah for seven days, both by day and night. One is not allowed to have even a cat nap outside the Sukkah. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach has a very unique and novel interpretation of this Halacha. He maintains that the obligation is only to fall asleep in the Sukkah. Once a person is already asleep, he’s no longer considered aware of what he’s doing, and is no longer obligated to be sleeping in the Sukkah. The practical application of this opinion is that once a person is asleep outside of the Sukkah, there is no obligation to wake him and make him move. Secondly, in a situation of a very small Sukkah, people could go to sleep in the Sukkah, and then be transported out of the Sukkah, so that someone else could have his time to fall asleep there.
The Ben Ish Chai and the Maharil Diskin disagree with Rav Shlomo Zaman and bring down that if you see someone sleeping outside the Sukkah, you must wake him up because the Mitzvah of sleeping in the Sukkah means that the person must do all his sleeping in the Sukkah, and although he is not aware of what he’s doing when he is asleep, he is still fulfilling a Mitzvah and you may not remove him from the Sukkah. What we can derive from this opinion is the uniqueness of the Mitzvah of Sukkah, in that even if you are asleep, completely unaware of what you are doing, the very fact that you are in the Sukkah counts.
The upshot of this is very compelling. In the same way as we can sleep in the Sukkah and fulfil a Mitzvah without consciously even being aware that anything is happening, this is equally true for the main and ultimate goal of the holiday of Sukkot. If we sit in the Sukkah with friends and family, socialising in unity and peace, we are together as a family and as a cohesive entity called Klal Yisroel, we accomplish the mammoth task of freeing ourselves, and all of our fellow Jews from the grips of those evil forces, who want nothing more than to subvert our every step towards closeness to Hashem. With this in mind, there are even some who are of the opinion that the right of admission to a Sukkah should be restricted to members of this affiliation.
Let us now return to where we started, with the words of Rav Menachem Mendel of Riminov, that the power of the four species is to help remove the influence and presence of the 70 nations. Based on what we are saying, the concept of the arba minim is the unification of the righteous with the as yet not righteous. By putting them together, they merit that each one can repair, not only his own shortcomings, but can help his friend to deal with his battle royals, and together reach a complete rectification.
In conclusion, the Gemora in Shabbos [33B] brings famously that Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai and his son hid in a cave for 12 years, and a miracle occurred and a carob tree and a spring were created for them. We need to understand why Hashem specifically created a carob tree and not some other fruit? Perhaps the answer might be that in Bechoros [8A] it says that normally it takes seventy years for carob trees to produce fruit and here, in one moment, the fruit grew for them. This is perhaps to teach us that the purpose of their entry into the cave was in order to perfect themselves and deal with their own cadre of 70 antagonists, the 70 nations. This laid the foundation for the rest of the Jewish nation to be energised to overcome all 70 types of challenges that every person faces.
May this holiday of Sukkot bring forth the final rectification of all our own challenges, and may we then merit to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah, the eighth day, completely purged of any of their influences, and ready to dance the ultimate dance of reunification as we greet the Melech Hamashiach.