Keeping out the Cold

Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm and positive thinking! This was the lesson driven home by our unexpected guests on the evening of Shemini Atzeres, the “gathering of the eighth day” at the end of Sukkos.

Friday evenings often find me at the synagogue founded by my wife’s grandfather, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt”l. A distant relative of my wife was inspired to bring his two teenage sons to the same service, also because of the family connection. They aren’t observant, but were interested to see how we celebrate the holiday.

Of course, this led to an invitation to Friday night dinner, and three unexpected guests in our Sukkah. Given that they hadn’t dressed for an evening in chilly weather, I loaned the two boys a winter jacket and a parka dating back to my college days, and a warm raincoat to the father.

Only at the end of the meal did the father admit to me that his sons were cold! Without going into all the details, Shemini Atzeres is a night when many dine in the Sukkah, but only if they are comfortable. We certainly could have made Kiddush and eaten challah in the Sukkah, and then gone inside for the rest of the meal.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me to do so, because I was entirely comfortable — in merely a sweater, and I’m usually sensitive to cold. How could I be comfortable in a sweater, when two teenagers were uncomfortably cold in winter coats?

This was, as I said, a personal lesson in positive thinking. Every year I look forward to Sukkos — our Sukkah has a somewhat innovative design, and besides the enjoyment of simply “dwelling in the Sukkah,” I find it a special pleasure to show it to guests. I was so warmed (quite literally) by the opportunity that I simply didn’t feel cold. The boys, however, had been in Sukkos before, and felt no particular enthusiasm at this opportunity — and it honestly was chilly that night.

In our lives, we are constantly confronted by opportunities that carry with them a certain degree of sacrifice. Some Mitzvos are easy to do, while others are more difficult. The challenge is to develop within ourselves such a level of enthusiasm that we perceive what might otherwise appear as a sacrifice as a negligible, incidental cost. If we have the fire of Torah inside us, we’ll never feel the cold!

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4 Responses

  1. Barzilai says:

    Reading your post, it struck me that Chazal say precisely what you realized. In Shir Hashirim 2:3 it says “Ketapuach be’atzei hayaar kein dodi bein habonim betzilo chomaditi veyoshavti upiryo masok lechiki,” translated “As an apple tree in the forest, so is my beloved among young men; I desire and sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my palate.” Rashi brings a Medrash that says that nobody likes to sit under an apple tree, because it has no shade, and so the nations refused the Torah when in was offered to them, but I, I desire His shade and sit there. Rav Avrohom Shmuelevitz (in a pamphlet called Siyach Pikudecha) asks, if there is no shade, what shade is it that we desire? He answers, that it is true, the shade is barely perceptible. But if one desires that shade, he does experience it and love it. When the nations were offered the Torah, they said that it is so full of restrictions and interference with worldly pleasures, it has no shade. We, on the other hand, appreciated the Torah for it’s innate greatness, and desired to be in Hashem’s hands, and so we do enjoy the dinim of the Torah. The Gemora in Avodah Zorah says the story that at the end of days, the nations will ask for a mitzvah to earn a place in the World to Come. Hashem will give them succah, and bring out the sun, and they will kick the succah and leave it. This is the same idea. If you do the mitzvos because you want their reward while still enjoying worldly pleasures, then the mitzvos are an annoyance. If you do the mitzvah of succah because you want to be b’tzeil Hashem, in Hashem’s shade, then the shade of the succah is the greatest pleasure.

  2. Micha Berger says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    That first paragraph should conclude “immediately after Sukkos”. No? You wrote something that could reinforce the misimpression of someone who thinks that Shemini Atzeres – Simchas Torah is part of Sukkos.


  3. Jewish Observer says:

    “That first paragraph should conclude “immediately after Sukkos”. No?”

    yes and no. though technically it is a separate holiday, it surely is at the end of succus. moreover, it is not a separate holiday out of the blue. it may be thought of as the closing parenthesis at the end of the succos season. it is none g-d saying hang out with me a little more. it is an encore to succus, so whether it is technically separate or not is very much a matter of semantics.

  4. ja says:

    “Only at the end of the meal did the father admit to me that his sons were cold! Without going into all the details, Shemini Atzeres is a night when many dine in the Sukkah, but only if they are comfortable.”

    do you think shmini atzeres is different than the rest of sukos?
    Ive heard such distinctions as the reason chassidim dont eat in a sukah on shmini atzeres is that it was cold in europe and its drabonon, but I confess that I’ve not heard of anyone who does eat in a sukah on SA make this distinction. Perhaps informed by hisnagdus 🙂

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