Hallel: Succot – Modes of Movement
Make It Practical: The siddur of the Chatam Sofer has two introductory prayers to recite before shaking the Lulav and Etrog:
The Lulav, which represents, the Seven lower Sefirot, the three Hadassim should represent and help us access the merit of the three patriarchs, the two Aravot should represent and allow us to access the merit of Moshe and Aaron, the Lulav, in one hand, and the Etrog in the other, should represent and allow us to access the merit of Joseph and David, The Hadassim, the smallest of the four species, should represent the letter Yud, the smallest of the letters of the aleph bet, and the two Aravot, should represent the letter Hey, the Lulav should represent the letter Vav, as it stands in the shape of a Vav, and the Etrog represents the final Hey – so we have the four letters of God’s Name The numerical value of Chaim Tovim – Good Life – equals the numerical value of Hadas and Lulav and that all these should be included in my shaking of the four species.
The second prayer when you shake your Lulav it should frighten away and evil and destructive spirits. It should bring down an abundance and influence of blessing on me from heaven.
In his commentary, the Chatam Sofer says that we must absolutely NOT recite these two prayers, for we should not trust the symbolisms described, for they limit the depths of the Mitzvah we are about to perform> No matter how insightful, broad or deep will be the symbolisms described by a kabbalist they still limit the infinite wisdom of a mitzvah.
Someone once came to the Chatam Sofer in Pressburg, just before the blowing of the shofar and asked him to teach him all the Kavanot for blowing the shofar. I read in the Magen Avraham, who quotes the Shelah HaKodesh that you are supposed to think about all these matters when blowing the shofar. Please teach them to me. So I can blow the shofar, as I should. So the Chatam Sofer agreed and said that I will teach you all the symbolism, all the Kavanot you need to have when blowing the shofar. He took out an old book from a special bookcase and it was a Chumash, and he pointed to the verse that says, “It shall be a day of shofar blowing for you.” This is the meditation you should have!
The point of understanding the symbolism is to be able to use the symbols to work on yourself and grow. Symbolism alone is not sufficient. It must be practical and usable.
How To Use Body Movement in Your Service of God
A friend once lent a book to me, “Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek”. By Thorleif Boman: One of the major distinctions between Hebrew and Greek is that in Hebrew all the words are dynamic; action filled, while in Greek, all the words are static which reflect two very different philosophies of life: one is static and the other is very active and engaged. “If Israelite thinking is to be characterized, it is obvious first to call it dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes quite explosive in kind; correspondingly Greek thinking is static, peaceful, moderate and harmonious in kind.”
The word “Kam” means – stand –, which is static, but it also means – Arise – which is dynamic. “Nitzav” also means to stand, but it can also mean – To Take A Stand, again, dynamic. “Chazak” can mean strong, which is static, or it can mean “Be Strong!” Hebrew words can always be dynamic.
This is connected with a fundamental idea in Judaism, which is that angels can only stand – they are in one place – whereas human beings are called “Holchim” walkers or movers. A human being can grow. This is why we refer to Jewish law as Halacha – How To Walk.
Succot As A Time of Movement:
All of the Succot laws use movement: We make Hakafot – circles around the Bima – the table on which we read the Torah, during Hoshanot with our Lulav and Etrog, and, of course, on Simchat Torah, when we dance with the Torah around the Bima. We shake the Lulav and Etrog in six directions. We move into the Succah as a form of exile. There is even movement in the Mussaf – Additional Offerings – of Succot: We bring a different number of offerings each day. 13 animals on the first, 12 on the second, 11 on the third and so on for the remainder of the holiday. This is the only holiday on which the Mussaf changes each day of the holyday. During the Temple times they would draw the water they would pour onto the Altar. There is even invisible movement in the walls of the Succah. Nothing is static on Succot. It is the culmination of the Teshuva that begins on Rosh Hashana. Teshuva is also movement – we return to God. The Oral Law plays a more prominent role in the Succot laws than in any other area of Jewish law; the Oral Law is the ultimate movement: It is the constant and active application of God’s will to every detail of life.
Hakafot – Circle Making:
There are two types of Hakafot on Succot: We circle the Bima, which symbolizes the Altar in the Temple, as we recite the Hoshanot. We hold the Four Species as we circle the Bima. The focus is not on the circle, but on the center of the circle, either the Altar, in Temple times, or the Bima in our times. We also circle the Bima on Simchat Torah, but we do not carry the Four Species but a Sefer Torah. The emphasis is not on the center of the circle, but on the circle. The two types of Hakafot emphasize different things.
We will discover that the Hakafot reconnect us with the circles the Children of Israel made around the walls of Jericho, the circles formed by a bride under the Chupah – wedding canopy – the circle drawn by the prophet Habakkuk when he challenged God, and the circles danced at a funeral!
We associate many ideas with circles: protection, cycles, and focus. We use the expression “going around in circles” to mean going nowhere, as in circular reasoning. A circle can enclose, and it also can mean to complete something. Circles are also related to the concept of infinite movement.
I. Circles of Protection: Hoshana Rabbah
It is interesting that a Succah is related to being enclosed as the Clouds of Glory enclosed and protected the Children of Israel.
When Jehoiada restored the young Joash to the throne of Judah he commanded the soldiers to, “You will thus encircle the king all around.” The Hebrew word for encircle is “Vihikaftem” as in Hakafot. The soldiers formed a circle of protection around the boy king.
The verse in Psalms says, “But as for one who trusts in God, kindness surrounds him.” In another verse King David sings, “Jerusalem, mountains enwrap it, and God enwraps His people.”
One of the ideas of bride making circles around her groom under the Chupah is that she will protect the home they intend to build together.
This would imply that one of the ideas of the Hakafot we form around the Bima – Altar is to express our intention to protect the Altar. The Talmud tells a story of the people, who were so incensed by a Cohen’s refusal to obey the Sages on Succot, that they pelted the Cohen with their Etrogim. The people felt that they were protecting the Spiritual integrity of the Altar from a Cohen who refused to pour water on it. Their Etrogim broke one of the horns of the Altar they were trying to protect!
When we form Hakafot we are acting out protecting that which we are circling, in our case, the Bima and what happens on it. We are protecting the community Torah study, which centers on the Bima. We are protecting the spiritual integrity of the Torah we study as a community. We march with our Lulavim, which is actually compared by the Midrash to a weapon, around the Bima, as if to say we will fight in order to protect the Spiritual life of our community. We are reminding ourselves that we must protect the Bima and what it represents in order to spiritually thrive.
Our table is also compared to the Altar. We use our table to entertain guests. We discuss words of Torah over the Shabbat and Holyday table. We have to protect the Altar in our home just as we protect the Altar in the Temple and the Bima in the synagogue. We should be careful not to speak words of Lishon Harah or anger over our table. We should protect the Altar in our home from words of argument. This is why we take our table out of the house and place it into the Succah: the walls and roof of the house do not protect the table. We protect the table with the care we take to preserve its sanctity.
The idea of using a circle to enclose and protect is acted out in the Hakafot of Hoshana Rabbah, the day we make the most circles and when the emphasis is on the center of the circle, that which we want to protect.
This idea is in the first Mishna of Avot: The Men of the Great Assembly taught that we should make a protective fence around the Torah, and everything that is precious to us. What is special to me about my learning? What will I do to protect it?
Apply these ideas to the Hallel of Hoshana Rabbah – Protecting That Which is Precious.
II. Cycles: First Day of Succot
The Shelah Hakodesh teaches that the Hakafot we form around the Bima for Hoshanot correspond to the seven years of the Shemittah cycle, which correspond to the seven days of creation, which correspond to the seven thousand years of this world. The idea of walking around in circles is to map out the cycles of existence.
The Torah refers to the day when we take the Etrog as “Rishon” – the first day. While we can understand that the Torah will refer to the first day of Succot as the first day. However, this is the only time that the Torah refers to the first day of a holyday rather than the day of the month on which the holyday occurs. The Sages understood that the Torah is going out of its way to teach us something about the Etrog: The first day of Succot is called “First” because it is the first say of sin after Yom Kippur. All our sins were cleansed on Yom Kippur, and then we are so busy choosing each of the four species and building a Succah that we have no opportunity to sin. The first day of Succot is the first day of sin because we haven’t had an opportunity to sin since Yom Kippur.
We know that it is very possible to sin between Yom Kippur and Succot, and therefore we can assume that the Sages are teaching us that Succot is called “First” because it is considered a beginning. It is the first step of a new cycle.
Rishon always means the strongest expression of something, its essence or its identity. This is the first expression of everything we have done since the beginning of the year. This is a way of directing everything we have done in a new way. This is why we have a Mitzvah with our Succah of “ta’aseh v’lo min he’asui” – You shall make and not use that which has already been made. For example: If I tied vines that were still connected to the ground over the roof of my Succah as S’chach, it is not kosher since the vines are connected to the ground. If I cut the vines from the ground after they have been spread out over the roof, it is still not kosher, because I am making the Succah from that which is already made: The vines were there in non-kosher form first. The Succah was already made in a non-kosher way. I must shake and move the vines around after I cut them from the ground so I am “making” the succah with kosher s’chach.
The Succah must be “Rishon” – a Beginning – the first expression of everything I have become since the beginning of the year, much as the Torah considers the first born son to be “Rishon” – the strongest expression of the father. Israel is called “Rishon” as they are to be the strongest expression of God’s Presence in the world. Torah is called “Rishon” as the strongest expression of God’s Being. The first day of Succot must be “Rishon” the strongest expression of all that I have become through my work since Rosh Hashana. It is the beginning of a new cycle.
The end of Yom Kippur is not the beginning of a new cycle because it doesn’t offer an opportunity to positively express the accomplishments of the Days of Awe. We want a positive expression of what we have accomplished, and the first day of Succot offers just that opportunity.
When we form the Hakafot and act out the beginning of a cycle, we must pay attention to the way and place we begin the circle. This is why so many people try to enter the circle in front of the ark. They understand that the starting point is the emphasis of this circle.
There are numerous stories of Chassidic masters who wouldn’t go to sleep on the first night of Succot so they could grab the mitzvah of Lulav at the first possible moment. It was not because they were excited about the Mitzvah. Then they would not have gone to sleep before Pesach. They wanted to mark the beginning of their new cycle. The first moment was of utmost importance. They wanted to mark the beginning of this new cycle in their spiritual lives.
The first Hakafah is my opportunity to think about everything that has changed in me? What did I experience? How did I grow? What did I accomplish? What did I learn about myself? Have I chosen a new path or level in my Service of God? The first step of the first Hakafah is my opportunity to reify all I have gained since Rosh Hashana.
We will use the Hakafot of Hoshana Rabbah to protect all that we celebrate with this first step.
In Israel there is an ancient custom at the funeral of a man to take seven stones or broken shards and place them on the stomach of the person they are burying. They then dance seven Hakafot around the body. They sing a song, stop after each circle, then the leader of the group recites a verse, picks up a stone and throws it over his shoulder away from everyone, and then they begin the next Hakafah. This is done to repair any damage caused by spilled or wasted seed. They are acting out the restoration of wasted potential, the broken pottery, and restore it to its source.
This is the only circle that begins from the left. We always begin circles from the right, such as when we turn around during Kabbalat Shabbat. The Cohanim turn to their right when they turn from facing the ark to face the congregation. A bride begins her circles from her right. These circles begin by turning left, because it is acting out a reversal: restoring the wasted potential of spilled seed. These are Hakafot of undoing. They are backwards.
Rabbeinu Bachya teaches that an old Succah is not kosher. I must build my succah within 30 days before the holyday. The building of the Succah represents the idea of God rebuilding the world. God will rebuild the world now that everything has been repaired on Yom Kippur. We have new potential. Therefore we must have a new Succah. Everything in new. We are taking our first steps with all we gained over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
When the first day of Succot falls out on Shabbat, we focus with this approach on the second day, which is the first day we take the Lulav and Etrog.
Apply these ideas to the Hallel of the First Day of Succot: First Steps.
III. A Different Space: Simchat Torah
There are stories in the bible and Talmud of circles being used as part of a prayer: The prophet Habakuk drew a circle on the ground and stepped inside. “I will not step out of this circle until You explain to me why the righteous suffer!”
The Tanna, Choni Hame’agail, Choni the Circle Maker, used the same strategy when praying for rain. He drew a circle on the ground and would not leave until God would send rain.
The Hakafot of Simchat Torah are an expression of an enclosed world that is protected by the Torah.
The Maharal explains that when you go into your Succah you are leaving one level of existence for another. Once a person has succeeded in leaving his physical world and experiencing even just for a few moments, living in a spiritual world, he will never live in this world the way he did before. He has risen to a new level. We are changed when we are able to step into a different level of existence.
This circle is not formed by us, but around us in order to enclose and protect us. The circle of the Succah creates a special space for us. The circles of Simchat Torah create a separate world for us in which we can experience an entirely different perspective on life. We can take that experience with us even when we no longer are within the circle. The circle is a cocoon.
The Midrash teaches that when the verse says, “ His left hand is underneath my head, and his right hand hugs me,” it is alluding to the Succah and Simchat Torah. The left hand is referring to the Succah and the right hand that hugs is Simchat Torah. The circles of Simchat Torah are hugs from God that provide is with a special place.
The first day of Succot is to help us pinpoint what has changed. Simchat Torah is when we remind ourselves to stop over the course of the coming year and remember that we experienced a different level of life, and to reflect on how are we different because of that experience.
Please turn to page to apply these ideas to the Hallel of Simchat Torah: A Different Space.
IV. Circles of Completion: Shabbat Succot
One of the reasons a bride circles her husband under the Chupah is to say, “I have completed my search – our relationship is complete.”
The Sefat Emet compares a Succah to this idea of the Chupah: just as a Chupah completes the formation of the relationship between the man and woman, so too, in the Succot in the desert, God finalized the relationship that began with the exodus.
Rabbeinu Bachya reminds us of an important distinction between a Succah and Chupah: The verse says, “You covered Yourself with a cloud so no prayer could pass.” Jeremiah used a cloud as a symbol of sin and its effect. Our sins created a cloud between God and us, and it is so thick that no prayer can pass. That is why a Succah may not have a solid roof. The original Succot in the desert were Clouds of Glory. Succah and clouds are related. We desire openings in the clouds. There must be open spaces in the s’chach to symbolize the open spaces in the skies that will allow our prayers to rise to heaven. A Chupah, on the other hand, symbolizes God’s Presence in the home the new couple will build together. Although they have yet to put up the walls, God is fully Present.
The Mishna of Succah does not begin with the instruction to build a Succah or how to build a Succah. It begins by teaching that a Succah that is 20 cubits tall is not kosher. The idea of the Succah is that you look up, towards God and you see the openings – the possibilities of relationship with God. Hopefully we leave Yom Kippur inspired and looking upward. There is danger that we are so excited that we will look too high: Set goals that are beyond us. Therefore the Mishna begins by saying, “A Succah that is 20 cubits tall is too high and not kosher.
There is one day of Succot on which we only look up: Shabbat Chol Hamoed, the day on which all is complete, when we do not make Hakafot as we recite the Hoshanot. We do not need to look around us at the world because all is whole. We only look up and focus on our relationship with God. There is one step in every important decision that reflects this circle, which closes off everything and forces us to look up: We must look up to God and wonder, “What does He want me to do?”
Thirty years ago, when I was a Rebbi in Yeshiva, I decided to take a survey during the evening study session – Night Seder – to determine how many people were actually thinking about God while studying Torah. I walked from one pair of study partners to the next with a Tehillim – Psalms – in my hand. I asked each person, “Have you thought about God today?” Every person immediately said, “Yes!” When I pushed them to describe what they had thought about, they reluctantly admitted that perhaps they had not really thought about God that much. I then recited a Psalm with each person so that he could focus on God, even for just a moment while studying His Torah. The spirit of the entire Beit Hamidrash – Study Hall – changed. People were thinking about God. They were looking up, not around them.
Shabbat is always our opportunity to stop marching around in the circles of daily life and focus on God. Shabbat Succot has a special power to help us focus upward. Halacha forces us to stand in one place. We do not march in circles. We focus our attention up, toward God and reflect on our relationship with Him. It is a wonderfully opportune time for such reflection as it follows so soon on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Apply these ideas to the Hallel of Shabbat Succot – Looking Up.
V. Invisible Movement: Intermediate Days
My kosher s’chach must reach the walls of the Succah. If it doesn’t, because there is non-kosher s’chach between the kosher s’chach and the wall, the Succah is kosher because the wall moves! “Dofen Akumah” – the Wall Bends Toward the kosher s’chach.
There should not be large open spaces in the s’chach. As long as the space is not as wide as 3 Tefachim – Fists – the S’chach is Kosher: “Lavud” – the open space magically closes. The S’chach that is there moves! It stretches out, if not in physical fact, in Halachic reality.
My walls must rise at least ten Tefachim – Fists – from the ground. The Succah is kosher if the Succah has two posts as the frame even if the wall is not the required height: “Gud Asik” – the wall moves – it rises all the way to heaven, perhaps not in a visible way, but only through the eyes of Halacha.
These three Halachot are “Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai” – A Law transmitted by Moshe from Sinai. They are an important part of the Oral Law. Perhaps every Succah in the world incorporates one of these laws of invisible movement.
These fey like Halachot, so integral to Succot, demand that we use our imaginations in constructing our Succot. Halacha is reminding us that the only way that we can move forward with all we gained from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is if we are able to imagine ourselves in a different way. We must be able to picture ourselves as different people who can live at a higher level. If we look up, as we understood the message of Shabbat Succot, we must be able to use our imagination to incorporate all we see as we look up.
Rabbeinu Bachya the measurements of the Succah remind us of this world and the next. The Succah must have a doorway, which is shaped like the Hebrew letter “Hey” – the letter that symbolizes this world. The ten tefachim allude to the letter “Yud” – the smallest of the Hebrew letters, and the letter that hints at the World to Come. The letter “Hey” represents this world because its numerical value of five reminds us of the fact that we must engage all five senses when dealing with the world. God created this world for us to use and to have pleasure. God wants us to be engaged. In order to access the spiritual treasures of the World to Come, we must use the Ten Sefirot – ten being the numerical value of “Yud”. We can only access both worlds if we use our 5 senses in combination with our imaginations that allow us to use the Sefirot.
The Intermediate Days of Succot are called Cholo Shel Moed – the Weekday of the Holyday. These days challenge us to strike a balance between the Holyday and the weekday. The Halachot are ill-defined in order to test our ability to connect the Holy and mundane: this world and the World to Come.
Please turn to page to apply these ideas to the Hallel of The Intermediate Days: Invisible Movement.
Shaking the Lulav:
We have to bind the Lulav with rings in addition to binding the Hadassim and Aravot – Myrtle and Willow – to the Lulav.
The Hebrew word for shaking the Lulav is “Na’anu’im” – which derives from the Hebrew word for cloud – “Anan”!
When we move as we pray we are performing “Na’anu’im”. There are Temple Offerings, which we wave with the Cohen. – Tenufa.
The “Na’anu’im” are performed as a circle.