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Thought for the Day: Conquest of the Spiritual Over the Physical

We don't say tachanun between Yom Kippur and Sukkos.  The medrash gives a mashal for this: a king was coming to visit one of his lands because of some unsavory business that had been going on.  The people decided to change their ways and sent the head of state to greet, praise, and exalt the king while he was just starting his journey.  As the king got closer, the important officials go out to greet, praise, and exalt the king.  Finally, when the king gets to the border, the entire populace -- men, women, children -- all go out to greet, praise, and exalt the king.  The king announces, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start fresh today."   The medrash concludes that so is the situation for us.  On Rosh HaShanah only the most pious fast, during the next seven days individuals fast, on Yom Kippur the entire klal yisrael -- men, women, and children -- all fast.  HaShem says, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start counting from today."  Then HaShem sees everyone busy with them mitzvos of sukkah and lulav, so on the first day of Sukkos, HaShem again says, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start counting from today."

There are (at least) two striking problems with understanding what Chazal want to teach us.  First, what is special about sukka and arba minim that can bring about a reset of our aveira count?  Second, and quite perplexing is the fact that the starting point of the medrash (why we don't say tachanun between Yom Kippur and Sukkos) is not even addressed in the mashal!

In order to tackle the these issues, we need to note the schizophrenic nature of Sukkos.  On the one hand the sukkah uses every kind of leniency imaginable.  Besides the schach -- which is made explicitly from junk, we need four walls.  Did I say four walls?  You can use three.  Did I say three?  You can use two and a little bit.  Don't have even that?  Put up two supports and a string over it; we'll call it "form of a door" and use that?  Still a problem?  Make the schach a little thicker and we'll say the edge goes down and makes a wall.  Don't have quite enough shach?  That's ok, we'll consider the pasul schach (and even some air) as a "bent wall".  But then there is the lulav and esrog.  People spend hours looking for the best esrog.  Usually "ze keili v'an'vei'hu" (this is my G-d and I shall beautify Him [with my mitzvos]) is invoked for "hidur mitzvah".  When it comes to the arba minim, they are actually pasul unless they are beautiful!

So why is Sukkos schizophrenic?  Because the sukka itself represents the physical world, while the arba minim represent our spirituality.  On Sukkos we demonstrate -- by deed and thought -- that when it comes to the physical needs we will get by with whatever is expedient, but when it comes to spirituality we are going for broke to make everything as beautiful as possible.  When HaShem sees His Klal Yisrael really getting the point of this world, what can He do but smile and say, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start counting from today."

Why is there no parallel in the mashal?  Because putting the spiritual and physical together transcends understanding.  The Rema in Shulchan Aruch says that the last two words "asher yatzar" -- "mafli la'asos" (who acts wonderously) -- refers to the body and soul (two opposites) being connected.  Only HaShem can do that.  And only His nation, klal yisrael can do that.


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