Rav Hirsch is not easy to read. His language is beautiful but sophisticated and can be enjoyed by everyone who appreciates the brilliance of putting the human mind into words. Rav Hirsch mastered this art like no one else. Like only few of the Jewish writers and rabbis, he was able to express the transcendent in way that could be understood. His writing is hard to read not only because of the sophistication of his language, but, I believe, rather due to our natural opposition to be corrected, to challenge our beliefs and feelings.
Above that, we are not interested in the transcendent; we find millions of ways to defend our mind and our conscience from the awareness of the One Above and what He requires of us.
We can tolerate the thought of some god in relation to our needs, but our relation to G-d and what He requires of us, that is harder.
This is true of humanity in general, but what about G-d’s chosen children – the children of
? Sadly to say but when comes to this we are no different from the rest of humanity. We may be on a much different level, but still … Our prophets and rabbis have warned us about this for more than three thousand years. Israel
The Holocaust caused a tremendous teshuvah movement – Jews have returned to their heritage of Torah like almost never before. Thousands of people recognize the greatness of Torah and the necessity of serving our Creator. This movement has been going on already for more than sixty years and people from all walks of life and backgrounds are participating in this progress. Thousands of Jews have found new areas of their lives that can be improved by applying the teachings of the Torah and its broad explanation by the true leaders of our nation.
One hundred and fifty years ago we had this great writer and leader — Rav Hirsch — whose words ring true today as much as they did then, maybe even more today.
As large a teshuvah movement as we have, there are record numbers of our brothers who are detached from the Source of life, like never before in history.
Infected by the strange ideas and philosophies of the secular world, most of us have little or no awareness of our Jewish mission in the world and what is supposed to make us different from the other nations. For hundred of years there has been tremendous pressure for us to become just like the other nations of the world. In all of galus (exile), when external enemies as well as foes from within, attempted to get us to be like the gentiles, one by one or even in larger numbers, they failed due to spiritual strength of the previous Jewish generations. Then servants of the sitra achra (the other, evil, side) began to fulfill their most treacherous mission to make all the Jewish people just like the other nations and Jewish peoplehood just like other nationalisms of the world.
They are succeeding.
How much are they succeeding you may learn by reading fragments of Rav’s Hirsch’s writing about two opposite modes of existence, ours and theirs — dwelling in the succah or within solid borders and under the roof and being aware of the temporariness of this reality, or investing our strength in building destructible things; fighting spiritual battles or wasting our time, talents, and potential to build something never intended by The One Who chose us.
I’m still trying to understand what helped me to understand the temporal character life. Is my being ger what is decisive in this matter? The very word “ger” expresses temporariness and detachment from the “solid” ground, but is it enough?
We read in selichos just few days ago that the first ger tzedek was no one other than Avraham Avinu. Is it only because he was first to convert from paganism to belief in One G-d, or maybe also because he was first to realize that this world is only a battlefield where morality must prevail over injustice and humility must overcome pride? But after the victory day of our departure from this world we are going to our true home.
A number of descendants of Yisro, Moshe Rabeini’s (Moses’s) father-in-law, refused to live in solid buildings and cities for over 500 years. Why did their ancestor Rechab ask them to sacrifice so much and why did they comply? Was it a matter of simple recognition of evil lurking on the streets and in the houses of the city, or, again, was living in tents as the nomads did an expression of the awareness of life being transitory by this group of devoted geirim?
What drove thousands, if not millions, of Yidden to give up their lives al kiddush Hashem without hesitation? Was it only a strong attachment to their heritage or did they know that with this expression of ultimate love for their Creator they would be transferred to a higher reality?
What was feeling Garff Valentyn Potocki when he was burned on the stalk for changing his faith? Was the hate directed to his body, which sinned for many years, or rather was his higher soul’s desire to be released from its body so it could ascend to a higher, better world?
All of the selichos that we have been reading every morning for the past days made us more aware about the fact of us being “dwellers of clay structures.” The conclusion of these days of return was Yom HaKadosh¸Yom Kippur. Now we are entering days where we are again in a different mode, we have to learn about how temporary our life is and how dependent on our Creator our existence is.
To appreciate and get more from the coming days of Succos, I decided one more time to share with you a small explanation of what we are fighting for, written by Rav Hirsch. After you read this, please do yourself a favor and go back to the months of counting the Omer, where I posted more of the Rav’s elucidations of how to return to the path of faith in G-d and loyalty to Him — how we should understand our assignment in the cosmic struggle to bring mankind back to peace with its Creator.
I know Rav Hirsch’s writings are not easy to read, but even if you have to read it again and again in order to comprehend, it is worthy to learn more about our people — people of G-d — and our national mission as it was prescribed for us in the Torah and Prophets.
Last Shabbos, Shabbos Shuvah, in my hometown of Monsey, a story was told in the middle of the customary Shabbos drashah (Shabbos sermon). Rav Chaim Shea Halberstam of Satmar brought down a known chassidic tale about the Rebbe Reb Shmelke from Nikolsburg. The story goes as follow:
The Rebbe was going through a financially very difficult period in his life, but he was known to give tzedakah — his share of money given to the poor— even giving from his own household items when he didn’t have money. One time, when he had already run out of money for a while and there was almost nothing at home to give out, came to him a person asking for help and describing his severely dire situation. The Rebbe looked around and the only valuable item he could find was his wife’s shterntichel (head cover decorated with some precious stones, which his Rebbetzin wore only on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim). The Rebbetzin was not home at that moment and with feeling of great compassion for his fellow Jew the Rebbe took the shterntichel and gave it to the needy person. The Yid departed with amazement and joy, for he saw at least some of his problems being solved. In the courtyard the Rebbetzin passed him as she returned home. She noticed excitement on the stranger’s face and as she entered her home she had already had a feeling of what had just happened.
“You gave him my shterntichel, right?” asked the Rebbetzin.
“Yes,” answered Reb Shmelke.
“Well,” said the Rebbetzin, “he will probably sell it for 10 talars and it was worth at least three hundred talars …”
“What!?” gasped the Rebbe with astonishment. “I didn’t know it was so valuable.”
Then he ran out, looking for the stranger and caught up to him few streets away.
“Reb Yid! Reb Yid!” he screamed. “What I just gave you is worth at least three hundred talars. Please don’t sell it for less!”
The story itself is beautiful as it teaches us about the moral heights of our teachers and ancestors, but no less beautiful was Rav Halberstam’s explanation.
We are passing a special time of opportunity to come back and connect to Hashem that which we don’t have at other periods of the year. We must not sell it short. We must take most of what is given to us.
This is what I wish for myself, my family, my friends and readers, and the gantze Klal Yisrael, the whole community of the Children of Israel.
Gog and Magog
by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch from “Collected Writings” V3 p121
Our dwelling in the "hut" should deliver us from the "deification" of all those forces that tend to ensnare our hearts and to alienate us from our trust in God and in His guidance. We are referring to the forces of nature and of human ingenuity, both of which have been elevated to god-like stature by the Jewish world. Both these elements are symbolically negated by the roof of our succah, which must be neither mechuber nor kli, neither still a part of nature imprinted with the stamp of human intelligence. The mechitzos — walls — those units that separate his personal domain of independent existence and creativity, may be fashioned by us as we please from the products of nature and human industry, The degree of sophistication evident in the construction of our dwelling places on earth may reflect our social position in its many nuances — from marble palaces to tiny huts that have only two complete walls and the beginning of third.
However these differences can have effect and meaning only in relationships between men, in the various circumstances of social living, in the mechitza that “defines the succah (domain) of each individual. But with regard to that element which shelters us all, which can bestow protection, happiness, permanence, and prosperity upon both palace and hovel, all of us, prince or pauper, arc equal.
This is what separates Judaism from the non-Jewish world. The non-Jewish world labors under the illusion that, in order to ensure his survival and prosperity on earth, man must obtain the help of nature and use his own intelligence to obtain dominion over nature through his skill and science. In the non-Jewish view, the supreme goal of both individual and society is to secure a prosperous existence on earth, to which all else, from the most material to the most spiritual, must be subordinated.
The non-Jewish individual and non-Jewish society do not consider their task to be accomplished until, through the use of nature and human ingenuity, they have built the elaborate structure of their existence and prosperity on earth and fortified it against all possible dangers. Those who labor under this delusion expect to derive not only their mechitzos, but also the succah itself, the element that covers and protects them, entirely from the powers of man and nature. They regard a sturdy rooftop for their life's structure as the ultimate all-important objective. They surround power with the halo of divine majesty and teach the weak to cower before the strong, the individual to bend the knee before the state, all this for the sake of expediency and survival and for the gratification of their selfish desires. This mentality seeks to build the protective covering for the lives of men and nations under the aegis and with the help of nature and human ingenuity. This notion has become the motivating ideal of men and nations and has demoralized them both.
The theme of the great drama that we call world history is in reality the struggle between the "roof” and the "hut." The ideal represented by the hut is incompatible with the ideal symbolized by the roof. But the hut will prevail, and in the final act of world history we shall witness succah shel Leviyason, all mankind united beneath the shelter of God's grace. The history of nations begins with a tower that strives to reach up to heaven and ends beneath the roof of a hut. It is not mere coincidence that the political force which does battle against the hut, this goal of human salvation, is called "Gog and Magog." (gag – roof) is the antithesis of succah, and magog, according to its grammatical form, symbolizes the realization of the principle of gog and would then denote the political force that upholds the principle of gog. Magog in the form of a political entity, a "state," contradicts the ideological concept of succah (Just as oz —ayin, vov, zayin — power) relates to meoz (fortress) and/or meor — alef, vov, reish — (light bearer).