In the world of Judaism, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is well-known for his insightful talks that combine chassidic teachings, philosophy, and practical advice for leading a better life. Today, we have gathered some valuable pearls of wisdom from his teachings that are directly applicable to our daily lives. In this particular discussion, Rabbi Pinto shares his insights on the holiday of Sukkot.
In the Mishnah (Sukkah 3:9), Rabbi Akiva shares an interesting observation: “I would watch Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua, and noticed that while everyone swayed their palm branches, they only did so when reciting the verse ‘Please, God, please save!’ from the Hallel prayer.” Let’s delve into what Rabbi Akiva meant by saying “I would watch” and explore the significance behind this practice. Another question arises from the Gemara (Sukkah 53a), where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah states, “Our eyes saw no sleep when we were rejoicing during the Beit HaShoeva jubilation.” What does he mean by saying “our eyes saw no sleep”? To better comprehend this, we need to understand that there are two types of people who “sleep.” The first type simply rests and sleeps as required by their physical body. However, the second type spends their life idling away, accomplishing nothing of significance. These individuals are also considered to be “sleeping.” Thus, when Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah says “our eyes saw no sleep,” he implies that they were not idle or lazy, but constantly striving for holiness and purity. According to our sources, righteous individuals would experience divine inspiration during the Beit HaShoeva jubilation. In the Gemara (Yerushalmi Sukkah 5:1), it is mentioned that Jonah, the son of Amitai, was one of the pilgrims visiting the Temple who experienced this divine inspiration. Remarkably, Jonah didn’t have any exceptional qualifications that made him deserving of such inspiration. It was merely his participation in the Beit HaShoeva jubilation, his dancing, and the overwhelming ecstasy he felt that empowered him to attain this divine connection.
The following excerpt discusses the narrative involving Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamaliel, who were not contemporaries of Rabbi Akiva. While Rabbi Akiva was active just before the destruction of the Temple and its aftermath, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamaliel belonged to the generation preceding the Temple’s demise. When Rabbi Akiva mentioned that he would observe, it implied that during the Beit HaShoeva festivities, he experienced a surge of divine inspiration, envisioning how Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua would sway their palm branches and etrogs while beseeching God for salvation. Those who partake in the holiness and joy of the Beit HaShoeva celebration can attain divine inspiration. This insight imparts a profound life lesson. A person’s spiritual state can decline when they associate with individuals who mock or hold trivial beliefs, even if they themselves are genuinely virtuous. Thoughts resemble birds that traverse from one garden to another. When two individuals sit together, one filled with sacred thoughts, even if they remain unspoken, those thoughts will traverse like a bird to the other person. The same applies to individuals with negative thoughts; their thoughts can transfer from their minds to yours. Hence, the Sages recommend in Avot 1:7 to avoid evil companions and not to associate with the wicked. When one finds themselves in an environment of frivolity and scorn, they risk sabotaging their own virtues. This principle also pertains to the Sukkah. The Sukkah represents a haven of faith and sanctity. By entering the Sukkah with holiness and purity, and committing oneself to further spiritual growth, one can ascend to the loftiest and holiest levels.
During the era of Rabbi Akiva, when the Temple had been destroyed, he found genuine joy in the celebration of the Beit HaShoeva festivities. This joy stemmed from a deep sense of holiness and purity, a happiness solely for the sake of heaven. As a result, he was able to observe Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamliel, and through divine inspiration, perceive their movements as they swayed the palm branch and the etrog. On Sukkot, individuals can experience profound holiness and draw inspiration from a similar source, just like Jonah ben Amitai. The verse in Deuteronomy 16:10, which repeats three times during the festival, “Rejoice in your holiday, you and your son and your daughter and your servant and your maidservant and the Levite and the convert and the orphan and the widow who are in your gates,” corresponds to the three patriarchs and the three walls of the Sukkah. The joy one experiences during Sukkot has the potential to inspire them for the entire year, akin to the lasting happiness of a newlywed couple during their initial week of marriage. By rejoicing with the bride and groom, we are fulfilling the commandment to support their lifelong happiness. Just as the Sheva Brachot week follows a wedding, Sukkot lasts for seven days. If one can find complete happiness during this time, the joy will remain with them throughout the entire year.
The Sukkah teaches us that life is impermanent and not everlasting. According to the Gemara (Sukkah 2a), the Torah instructs us to leave our permanent homes and reside in temporary dwellings for seven days. Throughout the year, we live in our permanent homes. However, by spending time in the sukkah, we are reminded that our existence in this world is only temporary, and we should not presume that our lives are guaranteed. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur serve as periods of introspection and growth, bringing us closer to God. Following these holidays, the Torah commands us to observe Sukkot. By entering the sukkah, we learn to let go of our sense of permanence, recognize that our lives are not solely in our control, and embrace the notion that life is fleeting, while This World serves as a mere corridor. As stated in the Mishnah (Avot 4:16), “Rectify yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the palace.” Another Mishnah (Avot 3:1) states that Akavya ben Mahalalel advised us to consider three things, which can prevent us from sinning: knowing where we came from, where we are going, and being mindful of the ultimate reckoning before God. By constantly bearing in mind our origins, destinations, and the accountability we will face, we can live a life that acknowledges its temporary nature and avoid the mistaken belief that we are the sole masters of our fate.