JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002 / 14 Tishrei, 5763

On Sukkos, do we throw away the winning lottery ticket?

By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Parable #1: Is this guy nuts, or what? He buys a lottery ticket. In fact, he has been buying lottery tickets for decades. Of course, he has never won. But this time, he compares his ticket with the winning numbers. He is the winner! This is Powerball. The jackpot is over $20 million! So what does this guy do? He tears up the winning ticket and throws it away.

This is a parable. What is its moral, its message? To help clarify the matter, I devise five more parables. They all have the same message. Hint: If you went to the synagogue or temple on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you've either got the answer or glimpsed it.

Parable #2: A baseball team struggles all season long for first place, always changing places with the same team. Finally, on the last day of the season, the two teams end in a tie. The team that wins the playoff game then goes on to win the division championship. This pennant winner is now headed for the World Series. A most unusual team meeting takes place, however.

The team members agree that, at a minimum, they are already the best team in baseball, minus the winner of the other pennant race. Maximally, they are the best team in baseball. Why chance their status? Team members, arguing that no one could ever say that they lost the Series, decide to forfeit it. They'll be known as pennant winners. That's enough.

Parable #3: You know how kids are. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up and you get the strangest answers. Once in a while, however, a child actually knows what he wants to be and sticks to it. Take the case of the child who, at age seven, says he wants to be a doctor. No one pays him much attention. But then, at age 10, he says the same thing. As he enters high school, he takes every biology and anatomy course that is offered, and does well. In college he becomes pre-med and does very well. He gets into the best medical schools and ends up graduating first in his class. The day after graduation, he sees a classified advertisement seeking garbage truck drivers. He says: "I think I'll take this job. Looks interesting." He throws away his medical career to be a garbage truck driver.

Parable #4: Most everyone has in mind a "dream house." Imagine a young husband and wife who struggle for years, then actually get to build their dream house. They have visited the Parade of Homes for years and taken the best idea each house has to offer -- the living room from this house, the kitchen from that one -- and throw in many of their own ideas, too. They spend endless hours with the architects and construction crew. Finally, the house is ready! Standing on the threshold of their dream house, the husband and wife look at each other and say, as if reading each other's mind: "Let's move to a trailer park instead." And so they do. The dream house stands empty, uninhabited, to this day.

Parable #5: A Bar Mitzvah boy is really talented. He can deliver a speech in English, a discourse in Hebrew; he can daven -- pray -- the entire service from beginning to end and read the entire Torah portion. He's got everything. Everyone knows his talent. Finally, the big day arrives. The Bar Mitzvah boy is not nervous. Suddenly, he announces, "I'll think I'll skip everything I've prepared and make do with the bare-minimum one-line blessing over the Torah." That takes about 30 seconds. It is not that he is rebelling. He shows up the next Sunday to put on his tefilin and fully observes the commandments. He's just skipping the Bar Mitzvah he's prepared a couple of years for. All the preparations (and expected "Mazel tovs" and oohs and ahs), down the tubes.

Parable #6: In Denver, my home town, one "picks up" a lulav and esrog. They're prepared, all ready to go. The four species for the festival of Sukkos are put together by the people who sell them. Either that, or one takes a bit of time -- at the most an hour -- picking them out oneself. There's not much more time to take because the selection in a Jewish community Denver's size is small. Not so, Jerusalem. On designated streets in the holy city there are hundreds of vendors lined up. Almost nothing is sorted by quality. To find a high quality esrog is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Same for finding a high quality lulav. One has to search through tens or even hundreds of items to find a good one. Then, once one satisfies himself that he has found a high quality esrog or lulav (or at least as high a quality as his budget will afford), the custom is to show these ritual items to a rabbinic specialist, who knows the fine points about the esrog, the lulav and the accompanying branches. Usually, there's a long line to see the rabbinic specialist. The whole process can take hours or even a few days as a person finds, say, a good esrog one day but cannot find a good lulav until the next day.

Picture, then, someone who has gone through this painstaking and lengthy process. He finally arrives back at the merchant with the items identified as the most fitting, the most beautiful, by the rabbinic specialist. He is ready to buy. Suddenly, he spies on the counter a scrawny esrog, a bent lulav and some unattractive branches. He puts aside the high quality items he has toiled over, points to the bottom-of-the-barrel items and says, "I'll take those."

These are the parables. What is the message? To what may the person who throws away the winning lottery ticket be compared? To what may the team that forfeits the World Series, the student who throws away his medical career, the couple who substitutes a trailer for a dream house, the Bar Mitzvah boy who skips his ceremony, the searcher after the best esrog and lulav who throws away his efforts, be compared?

To a person who observes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but then skips the festival of Sukkos.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the work; Sukkos is the reward.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the path to victory; Sukkos is the victory itself.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the dream; Sukkos is the realization.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the preparation; Sukkos is the celebration.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the prayer; Sukkos is the answer to the prayer. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are prayful hope for Divine presence, mercy and kind destiny; Sukkos is the felt deliverance of Divine presence, mercy and kindness.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the pursuit; Sukkos is the goal.

Turn in your winning lottery ticket! Happy Sukkos!

JWR contributor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News. To comment, please click here.


© Rabbi Hillel Goldberg