“You shall rejoice on your festival,” (Devarim 16:14) is the commandment of the Torah concerning the holiday of Sukkos. It includes the independent concept of rejoicing, as well as the aspect of “festivals for rejoicing.”

Among the festivals, Sukkos is singled out as the “Season of Our Rejoicing,” while Pesach and Shavuos also are “festivals for rejoicing,” but are called the “Season of Our Freedom” and the “Season of The Giving of Our Torah,” respectively.

On Sukkos there is an additional emphasis on happiness in the evening, because that was the time of the celebration of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah,” of which the Gemara tells us:

He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life. (Sukkah 51a)

Consequently, on this first night of Sukkos we should appreciate the great multiple joys of “festivals for rejoicing,” plus the “Season of Our Rejoicing” and the “rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing,” — the apex of happiness.

It would appear from the language of the above quoted Mishnah, that once someone did see the “rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing” then he would be able to see true joy. The impact of the experience of the joy of “Bais HaShoeivah” was so intense that it could sensitize him so that his previous observations of joy and his future experiences of joy would be enhanced.

This point is further emphasized by the use of the term “saw” — for seeing something, even more than hearing something, establishes its veracity. So too, with the impact of happiness; seeing the rejoicing of the place of the water-drawing gives you the sensitivity to see and know joy for the rest of your life.

The joy of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah” was associated with the libation of water on the Altar in the Holy Temple during Sukkos, and although we no longer have the Bais HaMikdash, we still can celebrate the joy of “Bais HaShoeivah” in its fullness.

Regarding the sacrifices in the Temple our sages accept the principle that our prayers today serve as substitutes for the missed burnt offerings:

We will render the prayer of our lips in place of the sacrifice of bullocks. (Hoshea 14:3 — See Siddur, Morning Prayer)

Similarly, and even more so, in the joy of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah.” After all, the animal sacrifices were independent creatures that were physically offered on the altar, while our joy is a personal, spiritual and emotional feeling and attribute. Now, if the physical sacrifices can be replaced by our prayers and it is considered as a legitimate replacement — how much more so in the case of our joy of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah” and the rejoicing on Sukkos. It is just the same, and it means the same, as at the time of the Bais HaMikdash!

In discussing the attribute of joy, we know that true happiness and exuberance is usually reached as a result of some new experience or revelation. Even sustained joy must constantly be nurtured by a continuous increase in benevolence or some other source of joy.

In Likkutei Torah the joy of the “Season of Our Rejoicing” is explained to mean the combination of the two joys, the supernal delight of “May the L‑rd find delight in His works,” (Tehillim 104:24) and the temporal joy of “The Jews should rejoice in their Maker.” (Ibid 149:2) Chassidus explains the detailed meditation involved in evoking the true joy, and how through the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov — that at every moment the Creator renews His creative force and gives us life — we can appreciate the quality and newness of being created, human, Jewish and capable of fulfilling mitzvos, especially the “Season of Our Rejoicing” and “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah.”

This brings us to the special qualities of the first night of Sukkos, which acts as the “entrance” into the joys of Simchas Bais HaShoeivah, and since one of the themes of joy is, that it breaches the walls of restriction, clearly the moment of “entrance” adds an additional expression of joy.

So let us look to the Torah section of the day and the Rambam portion and also connect it with the “Ushpizin — the guests” of the Sukkah: Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, Dovid as described in Zohar, as well as the Chassidic “guests” mentioned by the Previous Rebbe: the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Maharash and the Rashab.

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The “guests” of the first night of Sukkos are Avraham Avinu and the Baal Shem Tov.

The section of VeZos HaBerachah which we study on the first day of Sukkos relates to us Moshe’s words of blessing to the tribe of Levi and Binyamin — [of course by extension this also applies to all the Jewish people]. To Levi the Torah says:

They shall teach Your law to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael. (Devarim 33:10)

The lesson for all the Jewish people is that we must all be involved in the Divine service of teaching the law (Torah) to Yaakov and the Torah to Yisrael.

It is here that we find the association with today’s “Ushpizin,” Avraham Avinu and the Baal Shem Tov. The Torah tells us about Avraham.

I love (give special attention to) him, because he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep G‑d’s way.... (Bereishis 18:19)

This is the same concept as teaching the law to Yaakov.

Similarly the Baal Shem Tov put great effort into teaching all Jews, including the simple folk. He personally spent time with them and taught them to thank G‑d and say “Boruch Hashem.” Even his name, “Yisrael,” conveyed his universal care and concern for all Jews, even those who could just barely be called by the name “Israelite.”

Let us now study the blessing Moshe gave to Binyamin:

[G‑d] protects him all day long and dwells among his slopes. (Ibid.:12)

Rashi explains that this refers to the Bais HaMikdash which stood in the territory of Binyamin, hence G‑d “overshadows” or “hovers” over Binyamin all the time; forever. Even when the city of Yerushalayim is in ruins the Shechinah dwells nowhere else!

We learn from this blessing the idea of eternity, that the holiness of certain places and times will never cease, “all day long — forever.”

When we take these two thoughts together, the blessing of Levi and Binyamin, we evolve the thought that our efforts of teaching G‑d’s Torah must be continuous and everlasting, which also connects us to the “Ushpizin,” for they taught the way of G‑d in an everlasting manner, so that when we walk in their path we become part of that eternal continuity.

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In today’s Rambam section we learn about the Mitzvah to eat the meat of the Korban Pesach:

To eat the flesh of the Passover offering during the night of the fifteenth (of Nissan) is a positive commandment, for it is said: (Shmos 12:8) “And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs shall they eat it.” (Laws of Passover Offering 8:1)

The korban Pesach actually differs from all other sacrifices in this point. Whereas in the case of all other sacrifices, eating the meat is a detail of the general commandment to offer the sacrifice, in the case of the korban Pesach, eating the meat is the main aspect of the sacrifice and it is counted as a separate mitzvah.

We can find an explanation for this phenomenon, that the eating is primary in the case of the Passover sacrifice. The korban Pesach expresses the freedom of the Jewish people. The bondage that they suffered was primarily physical, as the Torah relates:

The Egyptians started to make the Israelites do labor designated to break their bodies ... with harsh labor involving mortar and bricks as well as all kinds of work in the field. (Shmos 1:13,14)

Backbreaking work!

Consequently the exodus was a liberation from physical torture and had to reach the opposite extreme; they had to leave Egypt with great riches, silver and golden utensils and rich garments, etc.

In other words, at the time of the Exodus the Jews had to carry away physical riches from Egypt. In this manner they accomplished the transformation of darkness to light — for the Egyptians gave the Jews the utensils of their own free will!

The Talmud goes on to relate that although the Jews would have been happy to leave with their bodies intact, G‑d begged Moshe to tell the people to obtain all the gold and silver from the Egyptians, so that the promise made to Avraham would be fulfilled; that they would be enslaved and tortured, but would later leave with great riches! Thus the great wealth was an integral part of the Exodus.

Similarly, the korban Pesach also places the emphasis on the actual eating of the meat. Even more so, the Rambam explains that it must be roasted, because that is the manner in which royalty eats meat. So too the aspect of the “upraised hand” experienced at the exodus was expressed in the eating of the meat-roasted!

This may all be connected to Avraham Avinu and the Baal Shem Tov — who both placed importance on simple physicalmatters. Avraham Avinu put a lot of work into caring for guests and wayfarers, giving food and drink even to people who seemed to be lowly Arabs. At the same time he even forced the angels to “eat” physical food out of courtesy to him.

The Baal Shem Tov, too, was constantly occupied with the needs of the simple people, and he always made a point of first being concerned with helping them in their physical needs and only then attending to their spiritual needs.

This point applies to us. The general goal of our Divine service is “to bring a revelation of the infinite Ein Sof into this physical world.” (see Tanya ch. 37) We constantly strive for this during our years of toil throughout the galus; clearly this must take place in the physical dimension. Thus when we speak of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah” it cannot be a joy that is felt only in the emotions of the heart, and not only in the song of the lips, but it must also burst forth in the clapping of hands and dancing feet.

See how the Rambam describes it:

Others stamped their feet, slapped their thighs, clapped their hands, leaped [gyrated] and danced ... as it is said: King David leaping and dancing before the L‑rd. (Laws of the Palm Branch 8:13,15)

The physical conduct must influence the corporeal world — the dancing must be in a public domain, in the common place — so that the street itself should pulsate with dance and even the nations of the world should see:

All the nations of the world will realize that G‑d’s Name is associated with you and they will be in awe of you. (Devarim 28:10)

Go out and rejoice and dance with the joy of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah,” take the energy from the House of Prayer and Study and draw it into the street in a greater measure than last year — for there is a new revelation this year. In proportion to the increased joy will the coming of Mashiach be speeded up! So that we will merit to see King Dovid the Mashiach leap and dance before the L‑rd in our Holy Land, in the Holy City Yerushalayim, in the Bais HaMikdash, speedily and truly in our days.

We should start by saying “Good Yom Tov” three times, as the Gemara says: “That a presumption is established when it occurs three times.” (B. Metzia 106b) No need to wait for me to say “Good Yom Tov,” rather it should be said by everyone — “In the multitude of people.” (Mishlei 14:28) All of you together should proclaim “Good Yom Tov” three times. (The assembled promptly said “Good Yom Tov” three times.)

The Alter Rebbe said that when many Jews gather it engenders joy in the heavens. When Jews gather on the first night of Sukkos this joy is increased manifold. For tonight we have the joy of “festivals for rejoicing” plus the joy of the “Season of Our Rejoicing,” and being it is at night we must add the joy of “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah” of which the Gemara said, “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.” Thus our joy tonight should be much greater than anticipated and certainly the Holy One, Blessed Be He, has given everyone the means to feel that joy.

There is an additional degree of rejoicing when Jews gather together from distant places and have not seen each other for long periods of time — or maybe have never met. Even the travails of the travel and the problems of the trip, or the inconvenience of the sojourn, are overshadowed by the joy of being united with loved ones. This intense happiness should be extended throughout the coming year.

Speaking of guests relates directly with the holiday of Sukkos — which has its own “Ushpizin — Guests,” as mentioned in Zohar: Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and Dovid the King Mashiach. There are also the Chassidic “Ushpizin”: the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Maharash, the Rashab — and the “guest” of Shemini Atzeres, the Previous Rebbe.

The Sukkos “guests” visit every Sukkah, but their visit to a Sukkah which houses many people, who themselves are guests, is certainly more enjoyable for them, and consequently evokes a greater blessing from the Ushpizin for those who are in the Sukkah.

Tonight’s “Ushpizin” are Avraham Avinu and the Baal Shem Tov. Avraham devoted his life to caring for guests, even when he saw lowly desert wanderers he ran towards them, invited them to his home and offered them food and drink. He even served them. All this was done with the friendliest of countenance, with joy and a glad heart, and when he saw they were satisfied it made him happy.

The Baal Shem Tov used to wander from village to village in the guise of a “guest.” Wherever he went he raised the level of Jewish consciousness and when he was successful in encouraging Jewish observance and reaffirmed faith — he was happy.

In today’s Rambam section we learn the laws of the “Korban Pesach” in which we find the rule that no uncircumcised male may eat it, this is a connection with the “Covenant of Avraham.”

The Rambam rules that if any of a man’s sons or servants are not circumcised, he (the father) may also not offer the korban Pesach, or eat from it. (See laws of Passover Offering 5:5 and 9:9) This emphasizes the aspect of Ahavas Yisrael — love, consideration and responsibility for all Jews — the theme of the Baal Shem Tov. Your perfection depends first on the perfection of another! This idea of love for fellow Jews is also expressed in the hospitality of Avraham, just as the concept of unity is expressed in gathering many Jews in one Sukkah.

And may this unity bring us to the unity of being all together in the “Sukkah of Skin of the Leviathan.” (cf. B. Basra 75a)

Our joy should pierce the restrictions of the galus. The singing and dancing should be in the public domain, so that all may see it, which will bring a sanctification of G‑d’s name among the nations and they will give more honor and assistance to the Jewish people in matters of livelihood, Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos.

Increasing our joy in galus will also speed up our eventual rejoicing in the “Simchas Bais HaShoeivah” in our Holy Land, in the Holy City of Yerushalayim and in the Bais HaMikdash where, although it may appear to be crowded — our hearts know that we bow down to G‑d in comfort.

So may it be, that here in the last days of galus we should have G‑d’s blessings for children, length of life and sustenance, all with abundance. And then we will merit to leave the diaspora and go to our Holy Land, where everything will be in abundance and expanded. Simply, may Dovid, Melech Mashiach come and redeem us and we will merit to the “day of complete good” in a revealed way, physically and spiritually; the true and complete redemption through Dovid, Melech Mashiach, truly in our days.

Good Yom Tov, and may we hear good tidings always, at all times.