13
Oct

Meriting Many Years....with Sukkot as the model

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Members of the Sephardic community greet one another with the expression תזכו לשנים רבות - "may you merit many years" from Rosh Hashana to Yom Hakippurim.


Rav Hayim David HaLevy, late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was asked to identify the original source of this greeting. In the course of his response in his book, "Aseh Leha Rav", Rav HaLevy cites Rav Hayim Palagi, who identifies the source as the verse in Devarim 16:13
ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days.


The verse uses the future tense, "you shall celebrate"; and so we wish our fellow Jews, "If you celebrated Sukkot this year, may you merit doing so for many years to come…."


This source is perplexing: Even if we see the hint in the language, what is there about Sukkot that makes it fit to be the basis of this greeting? And why did Sephardic custom develop along different lines, namely, to greet others with תזכו לשנים רבות until the end of Yom Kippur, but "Moadim Lesimcha" –on Sukkot?


I would like to propose an answer based on an excerpt from Rav Shlomo Aviner's book, עם כלביא. Rav Aviner notes the odd phenomenon of two opposite themes during the month of Tishri: both the High Holydays, the "Days of Awe", and Sukkot, "Zeman Simhatenu - the time of our joy"! The Rishonim also note that there seems to be no intrinsic connection between Sukkot and the month of Tishri; after all, Sukkot recalls the divine protection afforded the Children of Israel the entire stretch of 40 years in the desert!


Rav Aviner quotes Peleh Yo'etz, who explains: "[Sukkot is right after the Days of Awe] to cause us to rejoice from our anguish and sadness of the days of repentance." Sefat Emet notes: "…After the Days of Awe, there is a special need for joy, because a person is not complete if he is only exposed to awe and fear."


In other words, we need to be emotionally "healed" from the impact of the High Holydays. During Elul, we gradually detach more and more from this world, and turn our attention to spiritual pursuits – with the climax – Yom Kippur. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook says that, of necessity, this process triggers a "disconnect" with the sanctity of this world. "But, in truth, this world and the next hug each other; they are intertwined, and the cultivation of one serves as the basis for elevation in the next. True, during the days of repentance, we need to intensify our spiritual pursuits; that is why the days of joy arrive – to return ourselves to (normative) life."


Unfortunately, many American Jews, including our own congregations, make the most concerted effort to attend services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Often, their last Jewish religious experience for the year is the exhausting 25-hour Yom Kippur fast.


With this in mind, let us return to the source of תזכו לשנים רבות – may you merit many years, the verse in Devarim Ch. 16 mandating the observance of Sukkot:
ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days


When we wish someone תזכו לשנים רבות, we are not just wishing him a long life; quality of life is also important! We want our fellow Jews to live long, happy, fulfilled lives. As Sefat Emet notes, one whose relationship with G-d is built only on awe and fear, does not become spiritually whole. With the verse in Devarim as the backdrop, we can be understood as wishing another a long, quality life of joy and closeness to the Creator!
True, the custom is to issue תזכו לשנים רבות as a greeting between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because that is when our lives are literally hanging in the balance; embedded in our good wishes is a beracha for a joyous fulfilling life, the kind of life we begin to taste from with the arrival of Sukkot, זמן שמחתינו.

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