On Motza’ei Shabbos, October 15, Chazaq hosted all-night learning for Hoshana Rabbah at Yeshiva Ohel Simcha. Speakers included Rabbi Mordechai BenHaim, Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov, Rabbi Yaakov Rahimi, Rabbi Uri Lati, Rabbi Igal Haimoff, Rabbi Eliyahu Maksumov, Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, and Rabbi Meir Gabriel Elbaz.
The following are some excerpts from this incredible night of learning and chizuk.
Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov, COO of Chazak NYC at the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, and formerly COO and innovator of RAJE-NY, shared the following powerful shiur. He pointed out that Hoshana Rabbah and Sukkos are the end of a series of holidays that started in Nisan. Pesach represented the Jews coming out of Egypt and gaining freedom. Am Yisrael walked through the midbar, and Moshe was greeted with the sin of the golden calf. He then obliterated the tablets he brought down. That day was the 17th of Tamuz, which was supposed to be Rosh HaShanah. Every month should have a unique chag. The Tenth of Av was supposed to be Yom Kippur and the first day of Elul was supposed to be Sukkos. Due to our poor choices as a nation, instead the holidays come out the way they do.
On Rosh HaShanah, we crown Hashem as King. On Yom Kippur, we are forgiven and Sukkos is different. We move out of our house into a sukkah, and this is a form of rehabilitation. We could get lost in physicality if we stay in our house too long in the winter and think that physicality defines the world. Jews reject this idea that salvation comes from physical things. “We know the reality that our salvation comes from the Borei Olam.” The sukkah has a broken roof because it is not meant to protect us from the elements. The idea is that the world we are in is dictated by Hashem’s will. We have no control over it. We see moonlight and sun light trickle through the s’chach, which teaches us that we have to squint to see greatness. It shows that we need to spend more time clarifying why we are where we are.
We spend seven days in the sukkah, saturated with the Sh’chinah. Sitting all day in the sukkah is like sitting in a mikvah all day or like Shabbos. We are freed from the idea that earthly things are important.
He pointed out that often, when we make choices, we are influenced by convenience. We know, though, that all things that are meaningful require a lot of effort. Before we wake up, we need to have a clear idea of what we plan to do in the morning. This helps us wake up with enthusiasm. We are supposed to wake up like a lion ready to serve Hashem. The nature of the body is that it wants to do what is easy and convenient. Our soul needs clarity and direction. If we believe we are just a body, then the body is in control. “We need to know we are souls with bodies, not bodies with souls.”
Just as we constantly worry and take care of our body, we need to have the same concern for taking care of our soul. He shared that the Hebrew word for habit is “hergeil” and the root is “regel,” which means “foot.” The feet are the farthest from the mind. Habits come automatically without thinking about them. “Oleh regel” means that three times a year Jews break out of habituated life and go up to Yerushalayim. The sukkah is a constant reminder of this. We are recognizing that there is more to life.
He then spoke about a circular pattern in life. Why do we circle in Hoshanos? Why does the chasan dance in a circle, and why does the kallah circle her chasan seven times? He shared that the seven times around the chasan is symbolic of the seven times that Hashem commanded Yehoshua to circle Yericho until the walls tumbled down. He taught that life is all about those walls or habits. We are stuck. How do we make our life different? How do we, for example, make our marriage better? Being in a circle means that things don’t change. The nature of a year is that it is repetitive. What makes this day different from this day last year? He shared the quote from Koheles that there is nothing new under the sun.
So, how do we move out of the space of being stuck in habit? He taught that the first mitzvah was Rosh Chodesh. Why was that the first mitzvah? Judaism thinks of time with both a lunar and a solar perspective. Why do we use the moon to measure time? There is something profound about the moon. The moon symbolizes the power of renewal, and innovation is tied into chodesh. The moon teaches us to innovate, and the sun teaches us about commitment. We can lose ourselves in the world of the sun because it is easier to repeat than to innovate. “All growth comes from repetitive experiences.” He shared how you do the same exercises at the gym over and over to gain strength.
“Greatness comes from repetition.” Learning Gemara requires going over and over it. This is refinement, and excellence comes from that. The sukkah reminds us that we are physical beings and that our material world has an impact on us. The aravah grows near water, and it reminds us that every person wants to grow. At the core, we want to grow. The Arizal says that the aravah has the same gematria as zera (seed). There is potential for life. We are spiritual beings and we want to connect to Greatness and to the Infinite. We have to fight for it and work hard for it.
When we circle the bimah on Simchas Torah with the Torahs, we are undoing the sin of the golden calf. We have to innovate and we have to repeat. Rabbi Ibragimov concluded with an important question for us to ponder: “How are you breaking old habits and getting ready for new habits?”
Another speaker, Rabbi Uri Lati, well-known speaker, shared that we have a long list of what we want, and Hashem then asks us what we need things for. We need to reply that we want life to serve You. We have a natural instinct to forget, just as we have a gift of remembering. We tend to forget Hashem. Forgetfulness is a gift that allows us to continue living after the loss of a loved one. However, we can’t use that gift to forget Hashem. It’s like using a gift someone gave you against that person. “The meaning of life is to use everything Hashem gave us to serve Him.”
When we focus on the physical, this makes us forget Hashem. The sukkah is a simple structure. To attain true happiness, we need to have a strong relationship with Hashem. This is the only thing that makes us happy. People run after material desires and luxuries, but the real happiness is clinging to Hashem. He taught that “if I have Hashem in my life, then I have everything.”
These shiurim and the rest of the program can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.
By Susie Garber