Succot and Shemini Atzeret: The Spirit of the Sukkah and Iran, The Final Redemption

hero image
25 Sep 2007

Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret 5768

Part One: Yehoshua bin Nun and Shemini Atzeret

The Gemara in Pesachim relates that “at the end of days” Hashem will make a great seudah (feast) for the righteous of His nation. At the close of the great feast, a cup of wine will be passed to Avraham Avienu to recite the birkat ha zeemun.

Avraham will refuse on the grounds that he is not worthy, because he brought the evil Yishmael into the world.

The cup will be passed to Yitzchak. He too will refuse because he begot the evil Aysav.

Yaakov will receive the cup. He too will refuse because he married two sisters, which was destined to be prohibited by the Torah.

The cup will then be passed to Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe will declare that he does not merit the honor because he did not enter Eretz Yisrael.

It will then be passed to Yehoshua, who will decline because he did not merit having male offspring to whom he could convey the mesora (tradition) of the Torah.

Finally, the cup of the mitzva will be passed to King David, who will welcome it and declare that he is worthy of the mitzva.

From here we see that Yehoshua bin Nun ranks fifth among the leaders of our people. At the great feast Yehoshua is privileged to be asked to bless before King David! If so, why is Yehoshua excluded from being one of the ushpizim (guests) who is invited to our succot?

The Torah declares regarding Shemini Atzeret (Bamidbar 29,35)

“On the eight day there shall be an assembly (atzeret), all melacha (productive work) is prohibited”

The targum (translation) of Rabbi Yehonatan ben Uziel states that the word “atzeret” (assembly) means “coming together”, and refers to the command that at the beginning of this day after Succot we may leave the temporary dwelling of the succah “to come together” into our permanent homes.

Shemini Atzeret brings down the curtain on the seven days of Succot.

In Vayikra 23, 42 the Torah explains the reason for dwelling in a temporary abode (succah)

“That your generations will know that I housed the Children of Israel in succot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.”

The succah is the eternal reminder of our wanderings in the oppressive desert.

Shemini Atzeret marks our departure from the temporary period of our desert sojourn when we emerged from a nomadic existence to enter the promised, permanent, land of Eretz Yisrael.

The head of the Jewish nation who led us into Eretz Yisrael was Yehoshua bin Nun, the same Yehoshua who will take his place at the great feast, but who is excluded from being one of the ushpizim.

And rightfully so!

All the seven ushpizim are identified with the galut in one way or another. Avraham was born in Ur Kasdiem.

Yitzchak’s life was precarious and nomadic even in Eretz Yisrael when he was constantly persecuted by the Philistines.

Yaakov spent many years in the home of Lavan and ended his years in the galut of Egypt.

Yosef lived and died in Egypt.

Moshe and Aharon never entered the holy land.

David bemoans the fact that he was sent into galut (Shmuel 1 26, 19):

Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, `Go, serve other gods.

David was expressing here his profound distress as the gemara in Ketubot 110b explains based on the above verse, “for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, `Go, serve other gods” that one who lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is tantamount to worshipping avoda zara – idolatry.

In contrast to the galut spirit of the succah and the ushpizin, Yehoshua bin Nun is the negation of the spirit of the succah – the flimsy, unprotected, unstable, weak, shaky, rickety, precarious booth, whose halachic dimensions are so minimal and can be made from the weakest of material.

Yehoshua is the spirit of Shemini Atzeret of Eretz Yisrael; the day which proclaims the presence of the Jewish nation in the Land which Hashem has chosen as his permanent dwelling place in this world.

Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters live the spirit of Succot every day, as they prefer the weak and precarious existence in the temporary lands of galut. In the short time of a year or two from now, the majority of our nation will have emerged from the 2000 year old succah and will have, as in the spirit of Shemini Atzeret, returned to our permanent home of Eretz Yisrael.

This is the reason that the haftarah of Shemini Atzeret is the first chapter of the book of Yehoshua.

Part Two: Iran, The Final Redemption

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says in Megillah 13b, that Hashem foresaw that Haman will in the future offer shekalim to Achashverosh, King of Persia and Media, so that he would order the “eradication” of the Jewish people. So Hashem declared the mitzva of machatzit hashekel (half shekel) to pre-empt Haman’s offer.

This Shemini Atzeret, as is our custom every year, hundreds of Jews will dance with the Torah from bet knesset Chazon Yechezkel, along the main street of the so-called “Moslem Quarter” of the Old City, to the Kotel. It will again be a spectacular sight. We will walk, sing and dance unperturbed in the midst of the most radical Islamics.

At this time, the President of Iran is attending a United Nations session, in New York. This is the same man who has declared his intention to “erase the State of Israel from the map of the world.”

Mr. President, permit me to remind you and your people what happened to the former leaders of Persia (today’s Iran) and what came of their plans to “erase” the Jewish nation.

In the spirit of the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Hashem saw that in the future there would again arise another leader of the Persians, enforced by tens of millions of his people.

But just as the modest half shekels of the Jewish people preempted the 10,000 shekels of Haman, so too will the songs and dances of the few hundred Jews in Yerushalayim this year pre-empt the vicious attempts of modern Persia to “erase the State of Israel.”

I want to bring to the attention of the would-be Haman something which obviously has skipped his mind.

Yalkut Shimoni at the end of the book of Yeshayahu (#499) quotes the tana Rabbi Yitzchak, who states that in time Paras (Persia-Iran) will be the fear of the entire world. The world leaders will go back and forth trying to reduce the damage, to no avail. And Am Yisrael will also be petrified by the impending danger. And Hashem says to us, “Why are you afraid. All of this I have done in order to bring you the awaited redemption. And this redemption will not be like the redemption from Egypt which was followed by suffering. This redemption will be absolute, followed with peace.

Chag Sameach, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.