Our Table Welcome to Our Shabbos Table
Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Succos/ Doing a Mitzvah Lishmah
“For seven days you shall dwell in booths; every resident among the Israelites shall dwell in
booths” (Vayikra 23:42).
Although this pasuk limits the observance of Sukkos to Jews, Chazal tell us that even non-Jews want to get in on the act.
At the end of days, says the Gemara, the nations of the world will envy the reward awaiting the Jews for cleaving to Hashem and His Torah through thick and thin. “Just give us a mitzvah,” they’ll beg Hashem, “and we too will do it!” Hashem will then assign them what He calls an “easy” mitzvah: that of dwelling in a sukkah. Every non-Jew will immediately build a sukkah on his roof, but Hashem will unleash a heatwave, driving them all from their sukkos. (Avodah Zarah 3a)
On closer examination, this story reveals the essence not just of Sukkos but of all mitzvos.
An “Easy” Mitzvah
Of all mitzvos, why will Hashem give the non-Jews the chance to prove themselves via the sukkah?
The Toras Chaim (ibid.) suggests that the nations will want to be rewarded as if they’ve observed the entire Torah, just like the Jews. Hashem will therefore choose the mitzvah of sukkah, which is equivalent to all other mitzvos combined.
Yet sukkah isn’t the only such “supermitzvah.” Shabbos also bears that distinction. So do bris milah and tzitzis. So why not test the non-Jews with one of those?
The Toras Chaim explains that Hashem will seek an “easy” mitzvah, whereas the other three involve hardship. Shabbos, for instance, requires financial loss, since one misses a day of work. Likewise, the techeles dye used for tzitzis is expensive and difficult to produce. And circumcision is very painful.
So the “winning” mitzvah will be that of sukkah, which is both “equivalent” and easy. High and Mighty
Why will the non-Jews build their sukkos specifically on their roofs?
Daf al HaDaf (ibid.) quotes the Imrei Emes: When the non-Jews perform even this easy mitzvah, they will immediately grow haughty. Hence the symbolism of the rooftop. In contrast, when a Jew does a mitzvah, it makes him humble.
Here Comes the Sun
The Gemara then states that Hashem will unleash the heatwave by “removing the sun from its holster.” Explains Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa: The unsheathing of the sun alludes to how Hashem will reveal the inner dimension of all our mitzvos. Then the nations will see that even their good deeds were devoid of content, for they acted only out of self-interest, whereas the Jews acted for the sake of Heaven.
One gauge of sincerity in mitzvos is how we feel if we can’t fulfill them.
The Meiri (Avodah Zarah 3b) writes that even though one who is uncomfortable in the sukkah is exempt from the mitzvah, he shouldn’t exit with indifference. Rather, he should be deeply and visibly disappointed.
Aharon recalls: When I was about eight, I was the youngest member of the shul choir; all my friends were in the youth group instead. On Sukkos, during hakafos, I was proud to be with all the grownups and older boys, holding my own lulav and esrog. As we circled the bimah, I saw the shul youth director at the shul door. He handed me a candy (since I’d missed out on the treats distributed to the youth group). When I reached out to take it, the sleeve of my choir robe snagged my esrog, snapping off the pitum! It was heartrending. I was so embarrassed to continue the hakafos without a kosher esrog.
One who truly loves Hashem’s mitzvos, says Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, will seek some connection to a mitzvah even when he cannot actually fulfill it. For example, someone who for health reasons cannot eat the requisite amount of maror on Pesach should at least taste it. Similarly, one who can’t sit in a sukkah should share in building one(Reb Moshe, by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, p. 390). He certainly shouldn’t kick the sukkah. Yet this, say Chazal, is exactly what the nations will do when they flee their hot sukkos in disgust.
The non-Jews will fail the test of self-sacrifice, humility, and sincerity. May we pass it – on Sukkos and all year round.
Question for Discussion:
When were you unable to fulfill a mitzvah, and how did you feel about it?
Uri Aguilar writes:
It was Rosh HaShanah during the second Intifada. I was serving in the IDF and stationed in Kalkilya, an Arab town six kilometers from Tel Aviv.
We were told that a shofar would be provided for us. But it never came.
I harnessed my feelings of frustration and despair, then redirected them toward yearning for mitzvos.
That year I davened with inspirational fervor. There is something powerful to be learned from the cliché “you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone.”
This past year I broke my leg and spent three and a half months in a cast. I couldn’t help out at home with cooking, taking care of my younger siblings, or serving on Shabbos. I couldn’t go to shul… The list goes on and on. Being unable to do so many mitzvos was extremely hard for me. Seeing others doing mitzvos made it even worse.
I frequently have coffee at a nearby mall. At the bottom of the down escalator, someone’s usually collecting tzedakah from everyone exiting the mall from the top. I always prepare money to give on my way out. One time, however, the tzedakah collector was there when I walked in but not when I left. Having missed the opportunity to give, I now do so upon entering the mall, rather than waiting until I exit.
By Rabbi Ari Wasserman