Every aspect of Avrohom Ovinu’s hospitality was repaid to his children. Avrohom ran to prepare meat for his guests; Hashem later gave us the slav. He gave them butter and milk; we received the mon. He gave them water; we received water from the rock. (Bobo Metziah 86b). He told them to rest under the tree, we later received the mitzvah of succah. (Bereishis Rabboh). We can easily understand the first few examples, but what has resting under a tree to do the mitzvah of succah? The fact that a succah under a tree is not kosher only adds to the difficulty. And Chazal say in Yalkut Emor that a person who performs the mitzvah of succah will be protected from mazikim. Why?
Last week we showed how the high point of our Shemoneh Esrei is the last line Oseh sholom bimromov..When we bow down three times during that line with the emuna that Ein od milvado – there is no power besides Hashem – we express our humility and emuna that nothing besides Hashem has any power, then indeed everything else loses its power. This provides tremendous protection from those who seek to harm us. And humility, in different forms is the central theme of Elokai netzor. Netzor leshoni mero … speaking badly of others is a sign of arrogance. Nafshi ke’ofor lakol tiheye… we highlight the qualities of others whilst being mindful of our shortcomings. P’sach libi besorosecho; humility is the key to learning Torah and our acceptance of the mitzvos. Admitting our inability to shape our destiny or control our lives, rejecting kochi ve’otzem yodi – that “the strength of my hand has achieved for me this wealth,” our belief in ein od milvado – that there is no power besides Hashem, leads us to hope that indeed chol hachoshvim olai ro meheira hofeir atzosom vekalkel machshevosom. Hashem will destroy the plans of our enemies. Asei leman shemecho … even if our emuna is not perfect, He should still destroy our enemies to protect His Name, to protect the reputation of his “right hand,” to uphold sanctity and for the sake of His Torah. Lemaan yecholtzun yedidecho…You have said that You love us; please save us for this reason. Yiheyu lerotzon imrei fi – please, Hashem accept our tefilos and hegyon libi – this could refer to those heartfelt desires which we didn’t succeed in verbalising but could also refer to the emuna in our hearts.
Now we take the obligatory three steps back. Without them, according to Yuma 53b, “there is no point in one’s whole tefila.” Why are they crucial? Because these steps backward reflect our subservience to Hashem. We are not just finishing a chat with our friend. The Creator of the World deigned to allow us to speak to Him. “Oseh Sholom..” with its three bows indicates again our complete subservience to Hashem, as we said earlier.
Now comes the final part of our tefila – a plea for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash. If, at Oseh sholom we were already mentally on our way out of shul, by sheyibone Beis Hamikdash we will certainly be already down the road, checking the time or nodding to a neighbor. What a wasted opportunity! Why do we ask Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash at this point? Perhaps it because whenever the Nevi’im speak about the Beis Hamikdash they speak about Hashem’s greatness. “The Heavens are My Throne and the Earth my footstool” (Yeshaya 66:1). “The Heavens in all their vastness cannot contain Hashem.” (Melochim 1. 8:27). If we can’t appreciate the greatness of Hashem, His limitless power, His awesome wisdom, we will not be able to serve Him with yiras Shoma’im in the Beis Hamikdash. If we do not live with the emuna sheleima that He is a living G-d Who, even though He is magbihi losheves, is also mashpili liros bashomayim uvo’oretz and has a relationship with every single person, our avodas Hashem will be perfunctory, superficial and something we do merely out of habit. And we would not deserve a Beis Hamikdash. We would still be behaving in the way Yeshaya (29:13) criticized when he prophesied the imminent destruction of the Beis Hamikdash –“They honour Me with their mouth and lips but their heart is far from Me.”.
However if we have been concentrating on davening as we should, we can show at this point that we are capable of truly serving Hashem and are worthy again of a Beis Hamikdash. We now say that we are ready to serve Hashem “beyir’a” – with the appropriate humility, awe and emuna. If so, this is an opportune moment to plead to Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash. It is certainly not a moment to squander.
Avrohom Ovinu was not merely telling his guests to rest in the shade but hisho’anu tachas ho’eitz, they should note the amazing miracle of a tree which only recently might have a been a mere seed but now, thanks to chasdei Hashem produces fruit in abundance and shade for our convenience during the heat of summer. This understanding of Hashem’s greatness and showing our subservience to Him is the main purpose of the mitzvah of Succah. Thus Avrohom Ovinu’s invitation to his guests to “Rest under the tree” made us worthy of the mitzvah of Succah which echoes the same theme. And if we enter our Succah with the correct kavono that ein od milvado – nothing has any power besides Hashem, all the mazikim who try to harm us will automatically lose their power and we will continue to survive in the shade of Hashem’s protection.
To be continued.