Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sukkot - The First Day of Accounting

Rav Ari Waxman

A new, clean, fresh start. 

Following the thorough efforts of introspection and purification during the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we enter the first day of Sukkot with a clean slate. "Ulakachtem lachem b'yom harishon" (Vayikra 23, 40) - "Rishon hu l'cheshbon avonot" (Midrash Tanchuma).

But what about the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot? Why does the new accounting of our failures only begin on the first day of Sukkot? 

The Midrash (above) describes the different stages of the process of kapara and refers to the taking of the arba minim as the final stage in this process. While the King grants amnesty on Yom Kippur, He isn't fully appeased until His subjects come forward with their lulavim in their hands and praise Him. From this perspective, the first day of Sukkot is the final step in the kapara process and therefore it is on this day that we have finally cleared our account of avonot. 

The Kli Yakar (Dvarim 31, 12) addresses the question and explains that the new accounting of aveirot only begins on the first day of Sukkot because after Yom Kippur we are extremely busy with all of the mitzvot of Sukkot. Mitzva goreret mitzva, we stay out of trouble during these days, and therefore the first day of Sukkot is "Rishon hu l'cheshbon avonot". 


A similar explanation is given based on the words of the Vilna Gaon who draws a distinction between "din" and "cheshbon." The Gra explains that "din" refers to accountability for wrongdoings, while "cheshbon" refers to our accountability for time that was lost while we were involved in avonot  which could have been utilized for productive activity. While it is true that we sometimes are over an aveira during these days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, since we are so busy preparing for Sukkot we aren't involved in avonot that take up time. Therefore, Sukkot, the first day that we actually do have time, is "Rishon l'cheshbon avonot". Sukkot is the first day after Yom Kippur that we are held accountable for lost time and lost opportunities that were taken up by avanot. 

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev (Kedushat Levi P' Vayelech) offers a novel explanation to the words in question, "Rishon hu l'cheshbon avonot". Rav Levi Yitzchak explains that during the intense teshuva process until Yom Kippur, the awe is so great that we are prone towards a teshuva emanating from yirah, as opposed to teshuva m'ahavah. It isn't until Sukkot when we take the arba minim and enter our sukka that our hearts are filled with joy and then we completely return to Hashem, now with the deepest love. Rav Levi Yitzchak continues to explain that we know that the level of teshuva emanating from love is so great that not only does it cancel one's aveirot, it goes even further and transforms the previous failures into a force of greater bonding with Hashem. Therefore, explains Rav Levi Yitzchak, with His great mercy the Master of the World holds off and waits until the first day of Sukkot before he makes an accounting of our aveirot.  "Rishon hu l'cheshbon avonot", and at this time our avanot  turn into zechuyot. 

The Radomsker (Tiferet Shlomo) offers a creative explanation as well. During the court hearings that take place in heaven on the days of judgement, the defense attorney for the Jewish people pleads our case by telling the prosecution that our sins are actually not reflective of who we really are. We were lured, we were gullible, when the satan/yetzer hara convinced us that that there was no problem with the actions that he encouraged us to do. And, therefore, the Jewish People should be forgiven. When the prosecutor hears this claim he responds by asking why the Jew's naivet√© is limited to the realm of Torah observance and yet in their business dealings the Jews are quite sharp, they aren't taken for a ride so easily. By way of compromise the heavenly court decides to wait a few more days and examine the Jews' behavior. Are they only gullible when the yeitzer hara tries to convince them that there's no problem with the act that he's "selling" them, or are they in fact gullible in their business dealings as well? Here the investigation committee goes down to the market place and sees the Jews paying exorbitant prices for a fruit and palm branch. We have proven that we are a gullible people, both towards the salesman in the marketplace and towards the satan/yeitzer hara. However, as Jews, we want nothing more than to do what our Creator want us to do and therefore we are forgiven. "Rishon hu l'cheshbon avonot". 

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