Vehoyisa ach same’ach (Devarim 15:15) is an explicit source in the Torah for the obligation to be b’simcha throughout Succos. The Vilna Gaon famously described this as the hardest mitzva of Succos – to rejoice constantly throughout the eight days of Yom Tov. How can we fulfill this mitzva?
Of course, sitting in our succa is always a delight, assuming that we could build it close to home and the weather is reasonable. Our nashim tzidkanios prepare delicious seudos and if the rest of the family co-operate, everyone can enjoy them. But we are still looking for other reasons to be b’simcha. There are many, of course, but in this particular essay, I am looking for a path to simcha which we can learn from the final parsha of the year, Vezos Habracha, always read at the end of the week of Succos. I can already tell you that our source will be the very first letter of the parsha – the letter vav and why Moshe is called an Ish Ho’Elokim, a man of G-d, in the first posuk.
There is a non-Jewish song (and I am now giving my age away) made famous by Harry Secombe, which starts with the line, “If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of Spring.” If we ruled the world, what day would we want every day to be?
In “L’Dovid Hashem Ori”, which we are still saying twice daily, Dovid Hamelech asserts, “Though an army would besiege me, my heart would not fear; though war would arise against me, bezos, in this I trust. The commentators grapple with what bezos refers to.
If you’ll excuse the intrusion, may I ask what you were thinking about a few days ago when you prostrated yourself on the floor three times during Musaf of Yom Kippur. If you were mainly concerned about how to avoid getting your kittel or skirt dusty, that is not an acceptable answer.
I will tell you what I was thinking about. The first time, it was about the amazing miracle which took place in the Beis Hamikdash when, despite the fact that people were standing shoulder to shoulder, there was suddenly ample room when everyone prostrated themselves. I was imagining myself being in the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash when this was happening. It must have been a mind boggling, unforgettable experience.
The second time, I was aware of my face being close to the dust of the ground and I thought of the posuk in Hallel, “Mekimi me’ofor dol – Hashem raises a poor man from the dust.” How Hashem has provided us all with whatever we own today. Our health, our family, our possessions, any achievements are all due to Hashem’s kindness. Without Him we would be utterly destitute.
The third time, I concentrated on the words we were saying, “Boruch shem kevod malchuso l’om vo’ed – Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever.” I pondered on the words, “for ever.” Of the people who lived a few generations ago, how many have we heard of? Maybe a few very famous people. The rest are no longer. We manage without them. And in a few years (120 iyH), we’ll also be gone and the world will carry on without us. What are we? Like a “passing shadow, a dissipating cloud and fleeting dream.” We are like “clay in the hand of the potter, curtain in the hand of the embroidered and silver in the hand of the silversmith.” Hashem is forever. The world is His.
Parshas Ha’azinu ends with what appears to be a great blow to Moshe Rabbeinu on the last day of his life. Hashem tells him, “Go up to Har Nevo and see the Land of Canaan which I am giving to the Children of Israel as a possession. You will die on the mountain…because you didn’t sanctify My Name amongst the Children of Israel. You will see the Land but you will not enter the Land which I am giving to the Children of Israel.” For forty years Moshe Rabbeinu gave his life to the Jewish People. On one occasion the people provoked him into a momentary lapse, he made a mistake, whatever it was, failed to sanctify Hashem’s Name as he could have. His punishment was that he would not be allowed to complete his life’s mission of leading the People into the future Eretz Yisroel. It seems to be a great tragedy. And Hashem reminds Moshe of this on his final day. What a sad end to forty years of leadership. They’ll be going in; he won’t. We would feel shattered; decades of superhuman effort coming to a humiliating end. We might entertain thoughts of unfairness, injustice and certainly great sadness. But Moshe Rabbeinu accepted everything, even this last message from Hashem, with simcha. How could he do that? Because he was an Ish Ho’Elokim. He recognized that Hashem is the fairest Judge and ultimate Merciful One. Whatever He decides is for the best. Moshe Rabbeinu knew that he was a mere mortal, fulfilling a certain role for a few years until others take over after him.
The letter vav of Vezos Habracha combines the last posuk of Ha’azinu with the first posuk of Vezos Habracha, as the Ohr Hachaim points out. This realization that Hashem rules the world, and we do not, is a blessing and a source of simcha. Confusion, filling our minds with what, in our opinion, could have happened and should have happened, leads to depression. Instead we should have full trust that Hashem, whose world it is, knows exactly what He is doing and it is all for the best. We are a mere passing shadow and a fleeting dream, as I was thinking on Yom Kippur, prostrated on my shul floor.
Perhaps this was what Dovid Hamelech was referring to when he said “Bezos ani vote’ach.” Facing battles, wars, sudden danger or potential disappointment, he put his trust in the “Zos” of Vezos Habracha that we don’t rule the world and it is pointless and indeed heretical, to consider what, in our opinion, should be changed for the better. The world is Hashem’s; we can rely on Him to do the right thing.
With this in our minds throughout Succos we can increase our simchas Yom Tov. We earned exactly what we were supposed to have earned last year. Our health is exactly as it should be. Every frustration was in exactly the measure our great and kind Judge decided was appropriate for us. Vezos Habracha – this understanding and belief is our blessing and the key to our simchas Yom Tov. Enjoy!