By Yisroel Feldman, Novato, Ca.
As ma’aminim in Hashem’s Hashgacha Protis, we fully know and realize that everything that happens, happens for a reason, and that we thus have an obligation — to the best of our very limited abilities — to try to understand the lessons that Hashem is teaching us with these events. The four yearly cycle of the American presidential elections is obviously quite a major happening in the world. As such, it is certainly an occurrence that is conveying many messages that we should try to contemplate on.
It is noteworthy that the period of the key part of the election process always takes place over the time of the Yomim Noraim. The two main conventions are usually held around the end of Chodesh Av and the beginning of Chodesh Elul, the subsequent final stage of the campaign goes through Chodesh Elul and the Yomim Noraim, and the election itself, set on the first Tuesday of the English month of November, comes shortly after Shabbos B’reishes and Rosh Chodesh Cheshvon. Therefore, with such a consequential event in the general secular world occurring parallel to the most momentous points of Kedusha and Avodas Hashem on our Torah calendar, we need to try to discover what are the connections between these episodes that we need to learn from.
B’Ezras Hashem, I would like to now bring out and elaborate on one of these connections. When we follow the election season in the general secular media, we can immediately notice an obvious characteristic. This is an extremely intensive feeling of speculation, anticipation, and excitement. It is present already from the early beginnings of the election process, which usually develop as much as a year or even more before the end of summer conventions.
Part One — Review of the Election Process
Let us look at some of the highlights with a little detail.
When a prominent official expresses even the slightest interest in the possibility of a presidential run, it is picked up and magnified a thousandfold in the media. There will be a virtual endless stream of news commentary about this “Mr. ‘A’s” presidential bid: “Is he going to run, or is he not going to run?” “What are his chances of winning?” “What are his opinions?” Etc., etc.
Quick enough, his opinions become very well known. At a fund raising breakfast, at a gathering of elderly veterans, or at a meeting of labor leaders, the conversion mentions a major serious issue. Very calmly, he casually remarks a sweeping proposal that he believes will finally solve the problem.
His statement hits the media like a bolt of lightening; news reporters are aghast that he could express such ideas: “Mr. ‘A’ actually says that we should . . . ?” Political leaders in even his own party are taken aback at such an extreme position.
The moment that he actually makes it official that he is running is quite a special event. “Mr. ‘A’ enters the race” is the day’s top news story. As he exclaims “I hereby declare that I am a candidate for President of the United States of America,” a wave of euphoric cheers erupts from the thousands of gathered supporters.
The campaign and the news coverage intensifies as more candidates come on the scene and the Party “1” primaries begin: “Mr. ‘A’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘B’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘C’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘A’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘C’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘A’ wins . . . !” “Mr. ‘A’ has now locked up the Party “1” nomination!”
Then, comes the convention. At each cycle, a different site is chosen in a main arena of one of the major US cities. (In recent years, the famous “Madison Square Garden” in Manhattan was used a number of times.) Into the convention center arena come many tens of thousands people — all exultant at what is going to soon transpire. Lively music is continually playing, and many people are standing and clapping and swaying in little in place dances.
Speaker after speaker emphatically exclaims that Mr. “A” is the man who will rise up to the daunting challenges that the country will be faced with. The party directors speak; the other contenders speak; the vice presidential nominee speaks.
Then, on the final night, comes the climax of the convention: the time for the presidential nominee — Mr. “A” himself — to speak. Even before the speech, there will be endless media analysis: “What is he going to say?” “How is he going to say it?” “What will the impact be?” This address is the highpoint of not only the convention, but of the entire election campaign. Four years ago, in the campaign of 2008, one of the parties held the mammoth event at the stadium of one of the nation’s leading football teams, with 84,000 people plus in attendance.
As the big night opens, a number of small introductory speeches are given. Then, there is quiet. On the giant screen unfolds a movie depicting the lives of a dedicated hard working man and woman — Mr. “A’s” parents. The film displays photographs of the infant/child/teenage Mr. “A”; it relates how he was a top player on his high school’s football team, how he held three part time jobs to himself pay for his college education, and how he somehow always had the time to help fellow classmates with difficult school assignments.
The story continues with his military service, where in the midst of the most harrowing combat, he constantly risked his own life to secure the lives of his comrades.
And then, comes his career in public service . . .
And then, the screen goes blank, and again, there is silence — that leads into slow emotional music. With it comes a loud wave of steady roaring cheers; Mr. “A” himself is walking onto the platform stage. With a big beaming smile and waving to everyone he comes up to the podium. “Thank you!” “Thank you!” He tries to announce, but the cheering roar just gets even louder. The intense applause continues on for several minutes; “Thank you!” “Thank you!” He repeats, and soon enough, the arena is quiet.
He begins to speak: ” . . . with deep humility, I accept your nomination for President of the United States . . . ” He proceeds to explain in depth his analysis of the current problems that the country is facing and what must be done to alleviate them. With bold confidence, he forcefully declares his proposal that had been so extremely controversial throughout the campaign: ” . . . and therefore, it is urgent that we absolutely must . . . !!” At this, the entire assemblage in the arena jumps up with a screaming cheering applause that lasts for many minutes.*
Mr. “A” continues with an emotional description of the G-D given courage and strength and talent that lies within the American people and the great potential of the country. He thus leads up to his hope for a wonderful future for the nation as he strongly exclaims:
“G-D BLESS YOU ALL!” and
“G-D BLESS AMERICA!!”
Again, at this everyone jumps up with an even louder screaming cheering applause that goes on and on and on. A beaming Mr. “A” is now joined by the vice-presidential candidate and together they triumphantly put up their arms for the classic photograph. They are then joined by their wives for that classic photograph.
Confetti is flying all over, and then, the levers in the ceiling open and thousands of colored balloons descend on the hall. [At the session that was held at an open air stadium (and there was thus no ceiling to drop balloons from), the absence of balloons was more than compensated for by heavy confetti that was shot up from spouts in the platform floor and by fireworks behind the stadium.]
Parallel to all of this, the other major political party runs a campaign process of primaries and a convention that is virtually identical to this one. We will call its nominee Mr. “D.” So now the campaign begins earnest: between the candidate of party “1,” Mr. “A,” and the candidate of party “2,” Mr. “D.”
Almost every day now, there is a campaign rally for each side. Before hundreds of cheering supporters in one city, Mr. “A” is telling the large crowd about his vision for America, repeating and elaborating on what he said at the convention. In another city, Mr. “D” is doing the same. In another city, Mr. “A’s” vice-presidential nominee is relating about how good Mr. “A” is, repeating and elaborating on what he said at the convention. In another city, Mr. “D’s” vice-presidential nominee is doing the same.
And then there are the polls. Every day, even three or four new polls are out, onto which the media analysts go into super overdrive. “An ABC poll shows Mr. ‘D’ ahead of Mr. ‘A’ by five points!” “A new NBC poll shows Mr. ‘D’ ahead of Mr. ‘A’ by seven points!” “Today, a new CBS poll shows Mr. ‘A’ beginning to close the gap as Mr. ‘D’ is ahead by only three points!” “A CNN poll now shows Mr. ‘A’ and Mr. ‘D’ are virtually neck and neck!” “A new ABC poll shows Mr. ‘A’ edging out Mr. ‘D’ by one point!” ” . . . an election that could go down to the wire!” *
Then, comes election day itself. In the evening, the regular programs are canceled as all the major networks go into full gear for “election night coverage.” As the time in the Eastern US reaches eight o’clock, the action begins.
“The polls have just closed in New York; just 13 percent of the precincts are reporting; with 13 percent of the precincts reporting, the numbers are 56 percent for Mr. ‘A’ and 41 percent for Mr. ‘D.'”
“In Pennsylvania, 21 percent of the precincts are reporting with 21 percent of the precincts reporting, the numbers are 51 percent for Mr. ‘A’ and 46 percent for Mr. ‘D.'”
“In Vermont, with 29 percent of the precincts reporting, the numbers are 55 percent for Mr. ‘D’ and 42 percent for Mr. ‘A.'”
“In New York; 38 percent of the precincts are now reporting; the numbers are 58 percent for Mr. ‘A’ and 39 percent for Mr. ‘D.'” “CBS is predicting Mr. ‘A’ the winner in New York.”
“In Connecticut . . . ” “In New Jersey . . . ” “In Florida . . . ” “In Virginia . . . ” “In Georgia . . . ” “In Alabama . . . ”
“Mr. ‘A’ wins in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri.” “Mr. ‘D’ wins in Michigan and Arkansas.”
“There seems to be a sweep down the great plains as Mr. ‘A’ takes both Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma!”
“Mr. ‘A’ is the winner in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho.”
“92 percent of the precincts in California have now reported.” “With the numbers 62 percent Mr. ‘A’ and 36 percent Mr. ‘D,’ this is a huge landslide for Mr. ‘A’!”
“We now go live to Mr. ‘D’ headquarters in . . . ; Mr. ‘D’ is already at the podium; smiling to a packed hall of cheering supporters.”
“Thank you!” “Thank you!” “I just called Mr. ‘A’ and gave him my deepest congratulations on his brilliant victory.” “He is our president and we must work with him . . . ”
“We now go live to Mr. ‘A’ headquarters in . . . ; Mr. ‘A’ has just entered the hall; the euphoric crowd has erupted into a deafening roar; he is now approaching the podium . . . ”
“Thank you!” “Thank you!” “Our greatest appreciation to those who made this possible . . . ”
There are more balloons, more confetti, and more fireworks.
In the election of 2008, long before the winning candidate actually came out on the stage, the euphoric crowds were going full blast in one of the most extreme expressions of emotion ever. For many hours, the town plazas of several major cities were filled with countless supporters. In Washington, DC, massive numbers crowded before the White House. In New York City, the world renown Times Square was packed wall to wall with people witnessing history being made and history being reported on the broadcast screens on the glass walls of the media networks’ office towers. The expressions of hope on the people’s faces were that of as if this President Elect were (L’Havdil) Moshiach Tzidkaynu himself! Yes, they looked at him like he was “The Savior”!
At the headquarters of the city of Chicago, more than one million strong flowed into Grant Park for the moment of their lives. When the calculation of the Electoral College count went over the top at the 270 number, there came an emotional screaming burst of cheering that was probably unprecedented in the annals of the world. Within the endless cheers was intense weeping for the time that finally came. The photograph that was taken of the leading civil rights activist Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face will certainly be one of the most famous pictures in American history.
Following this was the transition process, the pre-inauguration parties, the inauguration ceremony itself, the inauguration parades from the Capitol Building to the White House, and the inaugural celebration balls.
Part Two — Analysis of the Excitement
All of this is totally understandable and appropriate. After all, this is the procedure by which we are selecting and installing the person who is going to be the “king” of our country. [I put the word “king” in apostrophes because, of course, he is not a “king.”* However, even though he is not technically a “king,” being the leader and director of the country, he is certainly standing in the position of a king and functioning in the role of a king. So in a wider conceptual sense, a contemporary president or prime minister could be thought of as modern-day democratically elected type of “king.”]
This task of setting up a new king over any country is obviously something that is extremely important, and certainly when it is for the major world power country of the United States of America, it is obviously something that is very extremely important. Likewise, the person who is set to be the king, and even all the people who are the candidates for possibly being selected to be the king, are all very important special people. Therefore, all of the excitement and cheering and balloons and fireworks, etc. are all totally appropriate.
Of course though, to, Chalila, make any leader, no matter how beloved or how brilliant or how inspiring, into any kind of a god-like figure* — and, as I noted above, I am afraid that many people were beginning to do this with the president who was elected in the 2008 election — is an extremely terrible perversion of outright Avoda Zara!
This clarification leads us to the next point that we need to analyze. We must realize: this presidential candidate/president elect/president/”king” who is under all the confetti and applause — who is he? A Y’lud Isha! He is simply a human being. Forty or fifty or sixty or whatever years ago, he was a tiny infant not more than eighteen inches long having to be carried around by his mother and father. He was certainly then “Even Moasu Habonim . . . ” “The stone that the builders rejected . . . ” for he was totally unable to do anything then. That forty or fifty or sixty or whatever years latter he is now ” . . . Hayisa L’Rosh Pina” ” . . . became a cornerstone” he is now a full grown very smart talented man who is the presidential candidate/president elect/president/king, is all obviously only “Mayays Hashem Hayisa Zos, Hee Niflaos B’Aynaynu.” “This was from Hashem; it is wondrous in our eyes.” (Tehillim, chapter 118, verses 22, 23) (Translation from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/16339/jewish/Chapter-118.htm).
So again, especially as Torah minded people, we certainly realize that no matter how super great of a man a leader is, we always do remember that he is merely a creation of Hashem; he is, of course, not any kind of a god himself. So that this realization is ever more deeply engraved in ourselves, Chazal were M’sakein for us to say certain B’rachos on such occasions: When seeing a governmental ruler ” . . . Shenasan Michvodo L’Basar V’Dam.” * When seeing, L’Havdil, a leading Gadol B’Torah ” . . . Shechalak Maychachmaso Ley’rayov.” *
Furthermore, at any moment, this standing tall full grown man could very easily be not standing; as a human being, he is susceptible to all the same problems of illnesses, accidents, and even violence that plague the human race. On the contrary, he may be even more susceptible to wicked designs. We must realize that he is making decisions and issuing directives that affect countless people, and very many of these people may vehemently detest these affects. So being at the top of the world in full view of everyone, can be an extremely unsafe place for a person to be. Tragic assassinations of major leaders is not an uncommon occurrence; very unfortunately, we have been witness to quite a few in our own time.
This observation about the frailty of a person was actually a key issue in the 2008 campaign. One of the candidates (not the candidate who won) had an excellent strong point in his background: his exemplary battle heroism. Not only did he serve in the country’s armed forces in a major war, but he was also a POW. While in air combat over North Vietnam, his aircraft was shot down, he was taken prisoner, was held in captivity for many years, and was forced to endure repeated whippings of cruel torture. Despite the suffering though, he was not fazed by the vicious thugs who injured him, and instead, boosted the moral of other captives.
Now the truth is, that such a extraordinary dedicated citizen, should have, upon his release, been given a good couple of ticker-tape parades and been made king of the country a long time ago!
Now this awesome accomplishment of Senator John Sidney McCain that certainly helped him become a major candidate for the presidency, is though at the same time, the most brightly clear open demonstration of his complete absolute frailty!!
He was a well trained professional pilot flying one of the most advanced top quality military aircraft. Yet, it was shot down, he was captured, and for the next several years, he laid flat on the ground, severely injured, and totally unable to stop the painful blows being shoved at him.
And in his acceptance speech, Mr. McCain at great length related this. And in relating this, Mr. McCain declared that he actually has a debt of gratitude to his North Vietnamese captors — for they taught him this humility.
This is completely Mabul Al Haraiyon! Here is the wicked country of North Vietnam. Its founding leaders took its country’s justified demand for independence and channeled it into the formation of a communist outpost in Southeast Asia. It broke its 1954 agreement to stay in the north and continually attempted to force its southern brother to be under its rule. It thus dragged the United States through an endless disgusting war, in which it massacred over 58,000 American soldiers, brought on the death of many countless thousands of its own soldiers and civilians, and upon its final victory, massacred millions more of its southern countrymen.
And yet, Mr. McCain says that we must have Hakores Hatov to the North Vietnamese! Why? Because they taught him this humility!
Again, here is an elderly man with many years of military and political service; he is now at the pinnacle of his political career, the moment of his life — he is delivering his speech of acceptance as one of the major candidates for President of the United States. Now at this point of success, he points out that we must have Hakores Hatov to his North Vietnamese tormentors.
BECAUSE WHEN THEY BLEW HIS PLANE OUT OF THE AIR AND LOCKED HIM IN THEIR JAIL AND BASHED HIM TO THE GROUND, THEY TAUGHT HIM THIS LESSON OF ABSOLUTE HUMILITY!!
He thus learned that every person, no matter how talented and strong and successful he or she is, is only talented, strong, and successful, yeah, is only existing, because of Chesed Hashem, and at any moment, Hashem can decide to withdraw His Chesed, and the person will not exist.
Part Three — The Proper Placement of Excitement
We have just related a little bit of the excitement that is in the election of a new president and how this excitement is appropriate. We further qualified though how we must always remember that these leaders are purely creations of Hashem, are in their positions only because of Hashem, and, at any moment, Hashem can remove them from these positions and even from life itself.
So if there is this intense emotional excitement for a created king, then — we students of our Torah Hakdosha know that the term for it is a “Kal V’Chomer” — certainly, certainly, certainly infinitely more so must we have extremely intense emotional excitement for the Creator of the kings — the “Hamamlich M’lachim, V’Lo Hamlucha” — “The One Who crowns kings, but to Him is the real Kingship” (from the Piyut “V’Chol Maaminim” that we say on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur).
Now, of course, Hashem does not need any of our votes or any elections or any inaugurations to be our King. However, what we do need to do is to fully realize this fact of Hashem being the Creator and Owner and Master and King of the world; and of course, we have to do this all of the time. At the same time though, our Torah literature explains that the Z’man of the Yamim Noraim is the period for especially strengthening in ourselves this realization of Hashem being our King. Then with this strengthening of this realization of Hashem being our King comes a strengthening of our acceptance of His rule over us. Then with this strengthening of this realization of Hashem being our King and a strengthening of our acceptance of His rule over us comes a strengthening of our resolve to more carefully adhere to His directives for us. This is the process of T’shuva that we do especially during the Yamim Noraim.
Therefore, in a certain sense, Rosh Hashana can be viewed as being a kind of an “election.” Again, we do not need to “elect” Hashem, but what we do do is that we make that decision (which is an election type of action) to realize that Hashem is the One Who is our King. In a similar way, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur can be viewed as being a kind of an “inauguration.” Again, we do not need to “inaugurate” Hashem, but what we do do is what an inauguration would accomplish: We implement our realization of Hashem’s sovereignty to accept His rule upon ourselves, we express regret for when we disobeyed His rules, and we make a commitment to follow His instructions in the future.
Our Torah literature further explains that the Yom Tov of Sukkos that comes right after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is our celebration of our successfully completing the T’shuva process and regaining Hashem’s favor. We related above how our Torah literature explains that a key aspect of this T’shuva process is our recognizing and accepting Hashem as our King. It follows then that a key aspect of our celebration of the Yom Tov of Sukkos is our celebration of our acceptance of Hashem being our King. We just showed how the recognizing and accepting Hashem as our King that we do on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is like an “election” and an “inauguration.” As we just pointed out that Sukkos is the celebration of our acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship, Sukkos then can be viewed as being like the celebrations that come after the inauguration: the inaugural parade, the inaugural balls, etc.
Just like the campaign/election/inauguration process of a human president/king is done with very great enthusiasm and excitement, so, Kal V’Chomer, Ben B’no Shel Kal V’Chomer, the “election”/”inauguration” process that we do of Hashem — i.e. the process of our realization and acceptance of Hashem as our King and our commitment to be loyal to His rules — that we (especially) do on the Yomim Noraim, must certainly be done with the very greatest most extreme enthusiasm and excitement.
We see this in the term that defines the Yom Tov of Sukkos: Z’man Simchosaynu — the time of our happiness. The time of Sukkos, when we celebrate our having accepted Hashem as our King, must be a time for us of exceptional happiness.
We see this even more pointedly in the very name of the Yom Tov that concludes the Yom Tov of Sukkos and the whole Yomim Noraim period: Simchas Torah — happiness of the Torah. We must be happy that we have the Torah. This means that we must be happy that Hashem is our King; we must be happy that we are His servants; we must be happy that He gives us this Torah that we must study; we must be happy that He gives us the instructions of this Torah that we must follow.
On Simchas Torah, on Chag Hasukkos, and throughout the whole year, this Simcha — this happiness and enthusiasm and excitement for Hashem our King — must rise up in us to expression of the greatest shouts of joy. “Yismach Yisroel B’Osav, B’nay Tziyon Yagilu B’Malkam.” “Israel will rejoice with its Maker; the children of Zion will exult with their King.” “Y’hal’lu Shmo B’Machol, B’Sof V’Kinor Y’zamru Lo.” “They will praise His name in dance; with timbrel and harp they will play music to Him.” (Tehillim, 149, verses 2 and 3) (Translation from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/16370/jewish/Chapter-149.htm)
The well known world famous phrase “Hallalu-ka” that we say numerous times each day in our davening, is translated as “Praise Hashem.” Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT’L explains that the meaning though is much deeper. The word “Hallel” (which is translated as “praise”) is a form of the word “Yallel” (which is translated as “to wail”). Obviously, this Lashon Hakodesh word “Yallel” is the same word as the modern English word “Yell”; they mean exactly the same thing: to wail, to shout, to scream, to — “yell”!
Rav Miller points out that when we think about this meaning of these words, we realize that a lot of people are saying “Hallel”: fans cheering at a sports game, a bunch of drunks brawling in a bar, an angry housewife screaming at her husband, the examples are countless. Of course, what they are saying is not the Hallel in Tehillim 113 – 118, but they are enthusiastically shouting and screaming about issues that are extremely important to them.
So Rav Miller explains that when we say the real Hallel to Hashem, we cannot say it as if we were mumbling some meaningless words; rather, with the greatest and deepest feelings of enthusiasm and excitement, we must shout out our praise of Hashem:
HA! LA! LU! KA!!
Part Four – The Necessity of Excitement
This happiness and enthusiasm in our service of Hashem is obviously a fundamental requirement to serving Hashem at all. It goes without saying that people are only going to continue doing what they really like to do; if they do not really like doing it, they will sooner than latter stop doing it.
The Gadol Hador of the last dor, Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT’L, stated that this negative attitude toward Torah is what destroyed Yiddishkeit in our era. Many of our brethren who still adhered to Mitzvos and Halacha nevertheless continually remarked “Tzu Shver Tzu Zein a Yid!” — “It is hard to be a Jew!” So their children understandably thought “if it is so hard, then why do it at all?” and thus sharply cut down on their observance of Mitzvos. Therefore Rav Moshe stressed that it is crucial for us to constantly realize and state the exact opposite: “No! No! No! On the contrary, it is easy to be a Jew! It is wonderful to be a Jew!”
The Continuation to Chanuka
Rav Moshe Wolfson, Sh’lita, related at a N’elas Hachag on Simchas Torah, that one of the great rebbes, Reb Yochanan of Stolin, ZT’L, (the grandfather of, Y’badel L’chaiyim Tovim, the current Stoliner Rebbe, Sh’lita) at his N’elas Hachag on Simchas Torah, would have the Chanuka Menorah brought out and placed on the Yom Tov table. He would explain that this was not just a simple act of getting ready for the next holiday. Rather, the Gemora at the end of Masecta Sukka (daf 56b) relates an episode with the Chashmonoim. So we see that there is a connection with the end of Sukkos and Chanuka.
What exactly is this connection with the end of Sukkos and Chanuka? In order to figure this out, we obviously need to examine this episode that the Gemara relates at the end of Mesecta Sukka.
Here is the episode. One of the Mishmars, family groups of Cohanim that served in the Beis Hamikdash, was called Bilga. One of the daughters of this family, named Miriam, shmaded and married one of the Greek royal officers. In the wave of Syrian-Greek persecutions that came during the life of the Chashmonoim’s father Matisyahu, the following occurred. When the Syrian-Greek forces came in to occupy and wreak the Beis Hamikdash, this woman Miriam was present. She went over to the Mizbayach, began kicking it, and screamed at it: “Lukas! Lukas! (Greek for ‘wolf,’ Rashi) — You wolf! You wolf! For how long will you use up the money of Israel, but you will not stand up for them when they are in trouble!” (In a deeper sense she was implying to the Mizbayach: “You wolf! You wolf! For how long will you — like a wolf — devour the sheep of Israel with the Korbonos . . . ” see the Maharsha.)
Latter, the Chashmonoi family led their revolt against the wicked rulers and regained control over the Beis Hamikdash and the wider Jewish community. In response to Miriam’s horrific public desecration, the Torah sages of that time decreed a number of embarrassing penalties upon the Mishmar of Bilga.
The Gemara questions this punishment of the whole mishmar, that just because of this one bad girl Miriam, why should other people, even her own father (see Rashi), have to suffer? The Gemara answers that the punishment is appropriate; it explains in the name of Abaiye that it is a well known fact of life that a child says outside in the street what he or she hears his or her father or mother say at home. So regarding this incident, Rashi explains that Miriam would have never shouted such extreme insults at the Mizbayach unless she had heard her father make disgracing remarks about the Avoda.
Once it is established that the father was corrupt, the entire Mishmar is viewed in a negative light with the rule of “Oy L’Rasha, Oy L’Shkeino” — “Woe to the wicked man, woe to his neighbor.” The neighbor of a wicked man gets influenced by him in one way or another, so he bears some of the wicked man’s guilt.
The Gemara has another view that states that the penalties upon the Mishmar of Bilga were for a different problem. When the day came for Bilga to do its turn of service in the Beis Hamikdash, its men were often not present. In order that there should not be a break in the sacred service, the Mishmar who had the previous shift, called Y’sheivav, would stay and continue doing the needed work until the men of Bilga would finally arrive. Rashi explains that this coming late by Bilga showed “Sheayn Ha’avoda Chaviva Aleha” — “That the Service was not beloved by it.”
This episode about Bilga that the Gemara in Sukka relates is clearly part of the Greek persecution/Chashmonoim revolt history that led to up to the formation of Chanuka. However, it is obviously not a well known incident. When most of us think about the stories of Chanuka, we think about, for example, the famous event of Matisyahu standing up to the wicked Greek police as they attempted to force Avoda Zara on his town of Modin. We also think about the famous narratives of Judah Maccabee leading his small group into battle against the large Greek army. And, of course, we always think about the very famous miracle of the finding of the tiny jar of pure oil and that tiny bit of oil lasting for eight days. But, unless we have had the opportunity to learn Mesecta Sukka, this affair with the Mishmar of Bilga is something that most of us are not even aware of.
So why is the narrative of this “obscure” incident used to complete the Mesecta of Sukka? How does it relate to the end of the Yom Tov of Sukkos and how does form a connection to Chanuka?
According to our earlier discussions though, the issue is glaring clearly right at us.
The task of the Yom Tov of Sukkos, the Z’man Simchasaynu, is for us to be happy that Hashem is our King. This task is greatly intensified with the Yom Tov that concludes the Yom Tov of Sukkos, the Yom Tov of Simchas Torah, which by its name, Simchas Torah, shows that its very essence is, well yes, Simchas Torah — that we are happy that we have the service of the Torah.
Unfortunately, the Mishmar of Bilga was quite the opposite of this. The father of the family spoke derisively about the Avoda; the sons and grandsons did not think it was important for them to even be there when it was their time to serve. And very tragically, one of the daughters took this disdain of serving Hashem to its most bizarre extreme: she totally renounced her Judaism, married a Greek official, and, in full public view, angrily denounced Hashem’s alter with the accusation that it wasted the Jewish nation’s resources.
So this narrative of Bilga mentioned at the close of Mesecta Sukka tells about people who did the opposite of what the end of Sukkos teaches us. Now, that this paticular narrative closes Mesecta Sukka and the Yom Tov of Sukkos and is thus the lead that connects to the next Yom Tov of Chanuka, means further that this not so well known story of Bilga is really the key to the whole story of Chanuka!
For it was this negative attitude of not being happy that we have to serve Hashem of the group of Bilga and others like them that caused very many of B’nei Yisroel to neglect their Torah for the ruling Greek culture and thereby bring on the anti-Torah persecutions that eventually developed into the episode of Chanuka.
When, Boruch Hashem, the Chashmonoim successfully revolted, the Chazal of that time realized that it was crucial to undo this negative attitude to Avodas Hashem that had been personified by the Bilga family, and so they enacted the penalties on the Bilga Mishmar.
In just a few days, the leading nation of the world, our great country of the United States of America, will perform its election of the person who will be its leader/president/”king.” A bit latter will be the extensive massive ceremonies and celebrations of the historic inauguration of the newly elected leader/president/”king.” These certainly are major events that require our utmost respect and support.
At the same time though — and we can be sure that all the presidents of the United States would fully agree — our main job has to be, and the very best contribution that we can make to our country of the United States and to the whole world, is that we must have infinitely more so excitement and enthusiasm and happy celebration for our service to the Real King, the Melech Malchei Ham’lachim, Hakodesh Baruch Hu!
“Yismach Yisroel B’Osav, B’nay Tziyon Yagilu B’Malkam.”
And with that, may we be zoche to the full Geloui K’vod Malchuso with Be’as Hamoshiach in the Geula Sh’layma, Bimhayra B’yamaynu, Amein!
* Here is one example of this. For the 1964 election, the presidental candidate of the Republican party was Senator Barry Moses Goldwater. His political position and theme of his campaign was a very strong conservative line. His political rivals, including many officials in his own Republican party, branded him with his arch conservative views as being extreme and even dangerous. He thus lost the election very badly to the Democratic candidate, President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Anyway, at the beginning of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he defiantly stood by his “extreme” opinions. To an assemblage of roaring cheering supporters he proudly declared: “I will remind you, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!!”
* This was the actual words of the newscaster, Walter Cronkite, in the advertisement for CBS’s election coverage programs of the 1980 election.
* This is one of the fundamental principles of the democratic governments of the modern world: We do not have a dictatorial king for a leader; rather, we have a democratically elected official for a leader. In the United States and a number of other countries, this official is called “The President”; in several countries he or she is called “The Prime Minister.”
The Royal Monarchy that exists today in Great Britain is now termed to be just a “figurehead.” In other words, it is like a museum piece that is kept active for its sentimental nostalgic value. Its function is thus in the realm of pageantry: projecting the honor and dignity of the country, hosting state dinners and receptions, making royal visits to other countries, etc. The legal governmental ruling authority though is done by the Prime Minister and the Parliament.
* Very unfortunately, when former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, in the massive wave of super sympathy and super hero worship and super propaganda that ensued over him, a young girl openly said to the dead “Saint Yitzchak” ” . . . are you perhaps ‘God’?”
In Communist China, the former wicked ruler, Chairman Mao Tzi Tung, was revered and virtually worshiped almost like a god. See The 1968 World Book Year Book, Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, “Mao’s Last Revolution,” by Mark Gayn, pages 110 – 125, see the several photographs therein.
* Since, as explained above, our modern day governmental leaders are not technically kings, the Poskim have an issue about whether this B’racha is appropriate for the contemporary heads of state. Therefore, when seeing a president or a prime minister, the Poskim recommend to do one of the following: To either say the B’racha without the Shem U’Malcus, or, to have on hand a copy of the Gemora or the Shulchan Aruch and — as if he is studying the Gemora or the Shulchan Auch — read out loud the entire B’racha. (Related to me by Rav Yaakov Ephraim Forcheimer, Sh’lita.)