More on Finance and Bitachon

In an earlier post, I mentioned R’ Elchanan Wasserman’s essay on the Great Depression. ) Despite the past couple of days looking promising, it is still too early to rest comfortably. The markets are still volatile, meaning there is too much uncertainty. A 10% one day jump isn’t meaningful — people’s opinion of what the typical US company is worth didn’t increase by 10% in one day. People are still lost, and looking for what things should be valued. I recommend watching the VIX, a measure of the volatility of the S&P 500 as implies by options on it traded at CBOE. Until it goes back down to usual levels, people still aren’t really operating on their usual levels of trust, and it ain’t over yet.

As Rav Elchanan wrote, it’s all about trust. No actual wealth was lost in the Great Depression, and none now. What was lost was a false belief in wealth that didn’t really exist. The lesson of a depression, he writes is “אַל־תִּבְטְח֥וּ בִנְדִיבִ֑ים בְּבֶן־אָדָ֓ם ׀ שֶׁ֤אֵ֖ין ל֥וֹ תְשׁוּעָֽה׃ … אַשְׁרֵ֗י שֶׁ֤אֵ֣-ל יַֽעֲקֹ֣ב בְּעֶזְר֑וֹ שִׂ֝בְר֗וֹ עַל־ה’ אֱ-לֹהָֽיו׃ — Do not rely on generous people, in humans who have no salvation… Enriched is he whose help is the G-d of Yaakov, whose dependency is on Hashem his G-d.” (Tehillim 146:3, 5) And, “ט֗וֹב לַֽחֲס֥וֹת בַּ֑ה’ מִ֝בְּטֹ֗חַ בָּֽאָדָֽם׃ ט֗וֹב לַֽחֲס֥וֹת בַּ֑ה’ מִ֝בְּטֹ֗חַ בִּנְדִיבִֽים׃ — Better to rely on G-d than to rely on man. Better to rely on G-d than to rely on generous people.” (118:8-9, and said in Hallel, such as on this morning, Roch Chodesh).

Perhaps a key to getting through this is to say the following words of
bentching and think about what one is saying:

וְנָא אַל תַּצְרִיכֵנוּAnd Please, do not make us require,
ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּHashem our G-d,
לֹא לִידֵי מַתְּנַת בָּשָׂר וָדָםnot the power of the the gifts of flesh and blood
וְלֹא לִיֵדי הַלְוַאָתָםnor the power of their loans,
כִּי אִםrather only
לְיָדְךָYour Power (lit: “Hand”)
הַמְּלֵאָהWhich is full,
הַפְתוּחָהopen,
הַקְּדוֹשָׁהholy,
וְהָרְחָבָהand broad.
שֶׁלֹּא נֵבוֹשׁ וְלֹא נִכָּלֵםSo that we will not be shamed, and we will not be extinguished
לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.until the end of time.

Notice we asked to be freed from “the power” or authority — literally, the “hand” — of people’s loans. Not the loans themselves. Having a loan and trusting in Hashem to have the means to repay it is very different than being under the control of the loan.

And in that is all the difference.

Mitzvos of Sukkos

(Copied from Sukkos 5766. -micha)

There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several names: In tefillah it is called Chag HaSuccos and Z’man Simchaseinu (the time of our joy), in Talmud it is simply Chag, “Festival”, and in a more agricultural vein it is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif – the Harvest Festival. One would like to have an understanding of how this diverse jumble of facts combine to make one holiday, and what this festival is supposed to represent.

The Mishna (Pirke Avos 4:1) states “Who is rich? One who is “sameiach” with his lot.” It seems from here that Rabbinically “simcha” is contentment, satisfaction. Not just joy, as one would feel at particular occasions, but happiness as a general state of mind. We say in davening “Yismichu Hashamayim Visagel Haaretz”, “the Heaven will be ‘sameiach’ and the earth will ‘gilah'”. Simcha is reserved for the immutable heavens, whereas gilah refers to the transitory earth, even though both words are normally translated as happiness.

Using this we can understand a couple of the references we listed above. Succos is called “Z’man Simchaseinu” a time to feel simcha, contentment with our lot. Succos is to celebrate how Hashem protected us and fed us during our journey in the desert (Mishna Berura 625:1). It is thus a symbol of how He sustains us throughout all time. This is our lot, with this we should be happy. The Holiday is simply “Chag”, “Festival”, as its existence as a time for rejoicing is significant.

Succos is also Chag HaAsiph – the time for gathering the grain. Winter is beginning, and we thank Hashem for giving us the food to survive it. Thus Succos had to be in the Winter, when we feel the need for Divine aid more.

This is the joy of Simchas Beis Hashoevah. Rav S. R. Hirsch, in his commentary on Chumash (Bamidbar 29:19) describes Nissuch HaMayim, the special water libations as “pouring every drop of his joy in life into the foundations of the Altar of G-d’s Torah, signifying it as coming from Him”. Again, the key to Succos is found to be Simcha in the portion G-d has allotted us.

We remarked that over Succos and Shemini Atseres seventy Musaph offerings were brought. We are told that these 70 sacrifices correspond to the seventy nations of the world. “Poseiach es Yadecha, umasbiah lichol chai ratson” – “You open Your Hand, and feed every living thing what it desires” (Tehillim 145:16). In contrast to the message of Pesach, Divine Aid in sustenance is a universal theme, and all seventy nations must give thanks.


The special mitsvos of Succos are limited today to the taking of the Four Species, and the living in the Succah. These mitsvos are awesome in scope, the span the extremes of history. According to one opinion in the talmud when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge he picked an esrog. After the final battle before the reign of the Mashiach, the War of Gog and Magog, Yechezkel tells us that the nations of the world will demand to receive the Torah, so that they to can receive Israels lot. The prophet tells that Hashem will present them with the mitsvah of Succah, and that the one mitsvah alone will be to much for them.

There is another connection between the esrog and creation of the world. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 5:2) relates that in the original plans for the creation of the world the wood of each tree would taste like its fruit. The angels in charge of each tree refused to obey, as they were afraid that animals would eat the wood along with the fruit, and lead to the extinction of the species. One type of tree did obey Hashem’s wishes. The Gemara (Succah 35a) explains that when the pasuk asks for a “Pri etz hadar”, “A beautiful fruit of a tree” it means the esrog, for it is a fruit that is of the tree, the tree and the fruit have the same taste. It trusted in Hashem for its existence. Hashem protected it by prohibiting even the eating of the fruit of tree. It was the “Tree of knowledge of good and evil” it knew that trusting in G-d was good. Thus, when we are told to celebrate Hashem’s Sustenance, we honor the Esrog as a simple of simcha with what Hashem gives us.

There are two reasons one would need a building: for privacy, and for protection from the elements. The Succah has no restrictions on building its walls, only one the sichach, the ceiling. We move into the Succah not to diminish our privacy, but rather to diminish the man made protection from the elements. Only things fit to be utensils can become tamei. Thus, the sichach must not be of things that can become tamei. Those are things which are man’s making, the goal of the succah is to show we trust in Hashem for sustenance. Thus, the mitsvah of Succah is meaningful only in winter, when it is not the norm to be sustained in a hut.

In contrast, the final enemy is called Gog and Magog. Rabbiner Hirsch likens the conjugation of Magog to that of ma’or, lumniary. Magog is that which spreads the idea of “roof-ness”, that “my strength and the might of my hand gained for me this victory.” For them the only challenge could be succah. It is a universal theme: sustenance comes from Hashem.

At the end of days, the mighty nations will be faced with a test; can they rely on Hashem for their existence. This mitsvah is a fair test, as we said above Divine Sustenance is universal. At the first discomfort, they will fail. Without this key principle, they can not be a Chosen Nation. The giving of the Torah is likened to a marriage, with G-d The Groom presenting His bride Israel, with His ring, the Torah. A marriage requires mutual trust. Gog and Magog, without the ability to trust in the Lord, can not hope to maintain the special relationship the Jewish people have with the Almighty.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

Simchas Beis haSho’eivah

(Copied from Sukkos 5764. -micha)

I

There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several names: In tefillah it is called Chag HaSuccos and Z’man Simchaseinu (the time of our joy),

R’ JB Soloveitchik frames his Jewish thought and his perspective on mitzvos about tensions between various dialectics inherent in the human condition. Conflicting truths about man that are somehow both true.

For example, people construct a society in order to better serve their needs. And yet, man’s highest calling is to serve the society, rather than themselves.

Perhaps the most classical such dialectic is the distinction Rabbi Soloveitchik draws between Adam as he is portrayed in the creation story in Genesis 1 and Adam as portrayed in Genesis 2. Adam I is at the culmination of creation. All builds up to him. He is charged “to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth and master it.” Man the engineer and technologist, forming the world to serve his needs. Majestic Man.

In Genesis 2, we’re given a different view. From the time of his creation, Adam is in communication is G-d. “It is not good for man to be alone”, so Hashem creates a woman “therefore man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife.” This is a person as relying on his relationships and brings value to his life and the world through them. Adam II is Covenantal Man, who seeks redemption.

Succos is very much Adam II’s holiday. The farmer, having just brought in his crop, has a propensity to credit himself for his success. Succos re-addresses that, by reminding him that it’s not his mastery alone that brings food to the table. The succah teaches that it’s not his fine house and the engineering it represents that bring security to his life.

II

There is a dispute between R’ Eliezer and R’ Akiva (Succah 11b) as to the nature of the succos in the desert that the mitzvah actually commemorates. According to R’ Eliezer (and Unkelus Vayikra 23:42, as well as the Shulchan Aruch O”Ch 625″1, Gr”a ad loc), the original succos were clouds of glory. According to R’ Akiva, they were actual huts.

Perhaps they’re basing themselves on different ideas about the significance of the succah. In R’ Eliezer’s opinion, the succah is commemorating Hashem’s gifts to us. It’s to remind us that there is a Covenantal Partner in our efforts. R’ Akiva has the original succah being the product of a partnership. Man builds, but it’s Hashem who insures the success of that building. R’ Eliezer focuses on our Partner, R’ Akiva on our willingness to join the Convenantal relationship. (See Aruch haShulchan O”Ch 625.)

Each speaks to the farmer celebrating his harvest as he gathers it at the end of the year. One speaks of the role of bitachon, trust in G-d, which may otherwise be forgotten. The other speaks of the appropriate end-state, of the synthesis of bitachon and hishtadlus, personal effort.

III

“And a mist came up from the ground, and gave moisture to the whole face of the earth.” – Genesis 2:6

“‘And a mist came up from the ground': For the topic of the creation of man. He raised the tehom [groundwater?] and gave moisture to clouds to wet the earth and to make man. Like one who kneads bread, who adds water and after that kneads the dough. So too here, ‘He gave moisture’ and then ‘He formed’.” – Rashi ad loc

“And Hashem E-lokim formed the man, dust from the ground, and He breathed in his nose a living soul; and the man was a living spirit.” – Genesis, ibid v. 7

“‘Dust from the ground': He collected dust from the whole earth, all four directions… Another opinion, He took his dust from the place about which it says ‘an altar of earth you shall make for Me.’ He said, ‘If only the dirt would be an atonement for him, and he would be able to stand.'” – Rashi ad loc

In his work “Pachad Yitzchak”, R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes the steps of creation of man, according to this second opinion in Rashi. First, G-d adds water to the earth to make clay, then He forms man and breathes a soul into him.

R’ Hutner writes that this is exactly what we recreate during the nisuch hamayim (water libation on the altar). The kohein pours water on the very spot Hashem did. This is accompanied by the simchas beis hasho’eivah, celebration and singing. Music is the most spiritual of the seven wisdoms. It speaks and moves the soul on a fundamental level. Through the Simchas Beis haSho’ievah we imitate G-d’s breathing a soul into Adam.

We just came from Yom Kippur and teshuvah. When Hashem fulfills His promise “And I will give you a new heart, and place a new spirit within you.” (Yechezkel 36:26) Simchas Beis haSho’eivah is a celebration of man’s ability to recreate himself, and therefore follows the steps of our original creation.

IV

To continue R’ Hutner’s thought with a couple of my own, in light of the above: Repentance too can be seen in both R’ Eliezer’s and R’ Akiva’s perspectives. One can seek atonement from Hashem, and thereby realize the need to have a partnership with Him. Or, one can seek atonement from the partnership itself. As the same R’ Akiva says, “Praised are you Israel. Before Whom do you atone, and Who atones you.” Atonement is both done by man through the Divine Presence, and is a gift from Him. A dialectic.

I would like to suggest one additional point. This description is from the second chapter of Genesis, it’s the telling of the creation of Adam II. It’s not merely the celebration of our recent re-creation, it’s the celebration of our creation as beings in a covenantal partnership with the A-lmighty. And therefore, it’s not only on Succos as a postscript to Yom Kippur, it is a fundamental part of the message of the holiday.

© 2003 The AishDas Society