Actions Speak Loudly (2021)

RABBI WAGENSBERG ON SUKKOS
Tishrei 15 – 21 5782; September 21 – 27, 2021
“Actions Speak Loudly”

The Torah says, "You shall make [literally, "make for yourself"] the holiday of Sukkos for seven days" (Parshas Re’eh, 16:13). The Talmud (Sukkah, chap.1, "Sukkah", pg. 11b) explains the phrase "make for yourself" to mean that every person must consciously, actively make their own sukkah, rather than having their sukkah accidentally come into being as a result of some other action.

For example, the material that forms the roof of a sukkah ("sechach") must fulfill two conditions in order to be kosher: it must have originally grown from the ground and it must be currently detached from the ground. Imagine that I have four walls forming an enclosed space in my backyard. All summer long, I let the grass grow, until the weeds are so tall that they reach the top of the walls and droop over the edges, forming a roof. Obviously, these weeds are not kosher sechach, because they are still rooted in the ground. But a week before Sukkos, I finally mow the lawn, and the tall weeds - which are now detached from the ground can serve as sechach.

Now, is my sukkah kosher? The answer is no! The reason is because there is a third condition for kosher sechach; namely, that I do the action of placing it on top of the sukkah walls. In the scenario we just described above, I did not make the sukkah; it just came into being as an accidental result of my mowing the lawn. In order to transform my weed-covered hut into a sukkah, I would need to lift the weeds off of the walls and actively place them on top of the walls again for the sake of the mitzvah of sukkah.

This halachik aspect of the mitzvah teaches us a powerful lesson. If we want to accomplish anything in life, we must take action! This is just as true in the spiritual world as it is in the physical one. Of the four kabbalistic worlds, Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (Atzilus - next to God, Beriah - creation, Yetzirah - formation, and Asiyah - action) we live in the world of action.

This does not only mean that this is the only world in which we can accomplish, but it also means that in order to achieve anything, we must take action.

This teaching does not negate the importance of prayer. We must pray and ask Hashem for His assistance in every endeavor we undertake. Prayer helps us realize that our abilities and talents were given to us by God. Prayer reminds us that the result is also up to Hashem. However, it all depends on one condition and that is that we try to achieve by taking action. This is the system that God chose to create.

By taking action, we reach a certain level of maturity. By taking action, we learn about the benefits of earning our way. By taking action, we can begin to appreciate other people's actions. The responsibility and gratitude that we obtain by working for something is by far much more beneficial than having things come to us easily, served on a silver platter. Such people are more likely to become spoiled and unappreciative.

The sukkah represents the balance between taking action and believing in God. On the one hand, we had to take action in order to build the sukkah, on the other hand, dwelling under the sechach in the sukkah is meant to remind us that Hashem is constantly with us, protecting us and helping us in every step of the way.

Let us share one example of something that we must invest in if we are to reap its fruits.

The Vilna Gaon (cited in Sefer Kol HaTor 1:7) states that the entire body is involved in only two mitzvos: the mitzvah of sukkah and the mitzvah to dwell in the Land of Israel. (Mikvah, however, is considered to be a preparation for other mitzvos and not an actual mitzvah in and of itself).

The GR"A suggests that these sister mitzvos teach us that just as we must consciously, actively make a sukkah, we must also be consciously involved in building the Land of Israel to the point where everything is ready for Moshiach to come. According to the GR"A, we must not only long for Moshiach and pray for his arrival, but we must take an active role in order to create positive change.

There is a verse that we say every day in davening that supports this notion. It says, "And a redeemer will come to Zion" (Yeshaya, 59:20). Rashi explains this verse to mean that the redeemer - Moshiach - will come only to a built Zion. Only after we have laid the infrastructure into place, will Moshiach come and place the "icing on the cake" with the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Yuma, chap. 3, "Amar Lahem Hamemunah", halachah 2, pg. 40b) elaborates further, saying that redemption will take place in small, gradual steps, like the sunrise. Our redemption is a process and we must be active participants in making it come about. If we want to benefit from Eretz Yisrael, we must invest in it.

The sukkah and Eretz Yisrael encompass our entire bodies which consist of 248 limbs and 365 sinews. Those parts of our bodies correspond to the 248 positive commandments and to the 365 negative commandments. As such, the mitzvos of sukkah and Eretz Yisrael are equal to fulfilling all 613 commandments.

Therefore, during this holiday, let us think of a way of taking the holiday with us into the upcoming year. Let us choose at least one mitzvah that we are going to invest in even more. Let us ask Hashem for His assistance in accomplishing our goal. Then, let us take the action necessary in order to make it happen.

So, may we all be blessed with a solid faith in Hashem and may we be blessed with the resolve and with the strength to take the necessary actions in order to reap the fruits of our labor.