Although it is difficult to perceive as new something that is repeated each year, nevertheless, when a year has elapsed since the same subject was spoken about, forgetfulness on the part of the listeners makes it seem as new. In our case, regarding the custom to speak about Simchas Bais Hashoevah on the nights of Sukkos, it is seemingly unnecessary to repeat those themes common to all years; and even those themes peculiar to this year's calendar were addressed last year, when the calendar was identical to this year. Yet, since people may have forgotten what was said last year, an address on the subject will be like new.
Moreover, the intervening year between Sukkos this year and Sukkos last year was a leap year, comprising 13 months. The Talmud says (Berachos 58b) that forgetfulness is particularly strong after 12 months; and in an ordinary year, such as 5743, there are not 12 whole months from the second night of Sukkos, 5743, to the first night of Sukkos, 5744. But in a leap year, such as 5744, more than twelve months have passed even from the last day of Sukkos, 5744, to Sukkos, 5745. Thus forgetfulness is automatically present.
Although what was said last year has already been published -- and therefore seemingly it makes no difference when the address was said, but only when it was published -- nevertheless, it is possible that because people have been busy, they have not had the time to study the published works.
We shall therefore give a short summary of what was said last year; and also explain those concepts which are new this year -- especially in those matters which openly express joy. First and foremost, there is joy associated with the assembling of so many Jews together, with brotherly love. Still greater joy accrues from the fact that this assembly is being held in a sacred place, and at a time auspicious for joy -- the festival of Sukkos, "the Season of our Rejoicing." This year (and last year also) is extra special, for the first day of Sukkos is Thursday, and an eruv tavshilin must be made. We explained last year that the idea of an "eruv tavshilin" is that all one's food needs for three days (two days Yom-Tov and Shabbos) are already provided for on erev Yom Tov. This produces great joy -- both because one's food needs for three days are taken care of beforehand, and also concerning one's spiritual service, since all material matters are a reflection of and derive from their spiritual counterpart.
An "eruv tavshilin" is made on other festivals (when Shabbos immediately follows them), but it is special in regards to the festival of Sukkos. Sukkos is graced by the presence of the "Ushpizin" -- "Guests" (Avraham, Yitzchok, Ya'akov, etc. and the "Chassidic Guests" -- Baal Shem Tov, Maggid, Alter Rebbe, etc.), a concept connected with regular guests. That is, having guests on Yom-Tov is the "vessel" whereby the "Guests" are revealed. The special quality of eruv tavshilin on Sukkos, then, is that although one's food needs are that much greater because one must also provide for his guests, those needs for three days are nevertheless already provided for on erev Yom-Tov.
In addition to all of the above, which applies also to Sukkos last year, this year is special in that although it is a regular year, unlike last year which was a leap year, all of the above special aspects are still relevant -- although a regular year does not possess the distinction of a leap year.
As noted above, Sukkos is graced by the presence of the "Guests." There are two sets of these guests: 1) those mentioned in the Zohar -- Avraham, Yitzchok, Ya'akov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef (or, in chronological order, Yosef, Moshe and Aharon) and Dovid (and occasionally Shlomo is also counted); 2) the "Chassidic Guests" -- the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and the Rebbe Rashab. The Guests of tonight, the first night of Sukkos, are the Patriarch Avraham and the Baal Shem Tov.
We have said on previous occasions that the pair of guests of each night are really one and the same concept, like the body and soul which are united into one entity. We explained last year that the theme common to Avraham and the Baal Shem Tov was that their service consisted of revealing G-dliness in the world. Of Avraham it is written, "He called there in the name of the L-rd, eternal G-d," and the Baal Shem Tov was used to traveling to Jewish settlements and speaking to the simple people about G-d.
This concept is associated also with today's Torah portion, the fifth section of parshas Berachah, in which it is stated (Devorim 33:22): "Regarding Dan he said...." The special function of the tribe of Dan was to be "gatherer for all the camps": this tribe travelled last, behind the other tribes, and would return lost articles to their owners. Its spiritual equivalent is the same concept as the theme common to tonight's Guests -- the dissemination of G-dliness, Torah and Judaism in every place, ensuring that no Jew's light of sanctity should be lost. This is particularly relevant to our generation, that of the "footsteps of Moshiach," the last generation of exile, the function of which is to be "gatherer for all the camps" concerning all generations.Simply put, when one meets a Jew who has "lost" holiness, his function is to return it to its owner, by bringing him close to Judaism, Torah and mitzvos. And because this generation is the "gatherer for all the camps," no one else can do it.
Although the two Guests of each night are one concept, sharing a common theme, the very fact that there are two separate Guests indicates that each also possesses aspects not owned by the other; together, they complement one another. Thus, in addition to the above lesson derived from the theme common to tonight's guests, there is also a lesson to be learned from the differences that exist between them. Those differences may be found by examining their lives, particularly those occurrences known to all Jews, even the simplest. And their lives were different indeed, to the point of being opposites.
Avraham's life was filled with difficulties and tests, as the Mishnah notes (Avos 5:3), "With ten tests was our father Avraham tested." In his early years, he had to oppose his father, his family, his townsmen and the king, to the extent that he was imprisoned for 10 years. For most of his life he had no children, which caused him so much anguish that when G-d promised him that "Your reward is very great," he answered, "What will you give me if I remain childless" -- i.e., everything is worthless without children.
The Baal Shem Tov's life, in contrast, was filled with miracles, to the extent that a supranatural event is termed by people, "a Baal Shemsque act." His material life, it is true, was one of poverty, but it got progressively better. Avraham's material life, however, progressively worsened: He was born to Terach, a top minister to the monarch who then ruled the world; afterwards, his material position worsened. In sum, Avraham's material life was on a down cycle, while the Baal Shem Tov's was on an up cycle.
Before we concentrate on the lesson to be derived from this difference between Avraham's and the Baal Shem Tov's lives, let us first analyze Avraham's above quoted words, "What will you give me if I remain childless." This emphasizes the great necessity in bringing Jews close to their heritage (the common theme between Avraham's and the Baal Shem Tov's service), for the spiritual counterpart of having children is to "produce another Jew" -- i.e., to bring a Jew close to Torah and Judaism.
If a Jew says that he doesn't want to engage in the work of bringing Jews close to Judaism, but instead wants to concentrate on lofty, spiritual pursuits -- Avraham's words, "What will you give me if I remain childless" teach that the loftiest matters are worthless if one doesn't "produce another Jew." G-d had promised Avraham, "Your reward is very great," -- in general, the loftiest of matters -- and yet Avraham answered, "What will You give me?" Avraham loved and feared G-d, and certainly spoke respectfully to Him. Yet, instead of thanking G-d for giving him the loftiest of matters, he retorted "What will You give me?" -- teaching how vitally important it is to "produce another Jew."
Let us now proceed to analyze the lesson from the difference between Avraham and the Baal Shem Tov, regarding how they complement one another. It teaches that one must spread G-dliness throughout the world in both the situation of difficulty and hardship (similar to Avraham's service) and one of wellbeing and transcendence of nature (similar to the Baal Shem Tov's service). This applies not only to the one who is spreading G-dliness, but also to the one to whom it is spread: Whether the recipient is in a situation of distress or wellbeing, he should be brought close to Judaism, Torah and its mitzvos.
When one does so, then, even if there are difficulties at first, eventually they will disappear -- as happened to Avraham, who eventually became very wealthy and was told by the surrounding gentile kings that "You are a prince of G-d in our midst."
If the above is true of Avraham, who lived before Mattan Torah, it certainly applies in greater measure after Mattan Torah, when Torah, which is master of the world, provides the strength to perform the above service.
The above described difference between Avraham and the Baal Shem Tov may be linked to the advantage possessed by Sukkos this year over last year. Last year, on the first day of Sukkos, it rained (analogous to a distressing situation); this year, we see that it isn't raining (analogous to a good situation). When rain does not fall, Simchas Bais Hashoevah can be celebrated with full force, in the street, to the extent that the street itself participates in the joy and dancing of Simchas Bais Hashoevah.
Another advantage to this year is alluded to in its name -- 5745. In Hebrew letters, this is Heh, Tof, Shin, Mem, Heh, which are the beginning letters of HaShanah Tehey Shenas Melech HaMoshiach -- This Year Shall Be The Year of Moshiach the King.
Another new aspect to this year is the daily study of Rambam. The lesson for the first day of Sukkos (Laws of the Daily Offerings, chs. 3-5) deals with the mitzvah to burn incense. The ultimate in the service of burning incense took place on Yom Kippur -- and Chassidus explains that from the cloud of incense on Yom Kippur there was formed the covering for the sukkah.
The purpose of all of the above words is that these matters be utilized to mightily increase in the joy of Simchas Bais Hashoevah.