Shake Yourself

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A renowned Rabbi once did a favor for the Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simcha, which the Rebbe remembered for many years.  Each year, on Erev Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe would call the man to check in on him and to wish him a kesiva v’chasima tova.


One year, the Rabbi asked the Rebbe if he could have the honor of visiting on Chol HaMoed Sukkos.  The Rebbe was more than happy to agree and they set up a time.  Chol HaMoed came and the Rabbi was welcomed into the Rebbe’s sukka where they began a joyous discussion of Divrei Torah about Sukkos. 


The Rebbe, in his classic style, pointed out something amazing about the way we perform the mitzvah of ד׳ מינים.  He said, “Did you notice that the number of times we shake the Arba Minim equals the gematria of the two sheimos, the two names of Hashem?” The Rabbi, who was a very quick thinker, remarked, “Rebbe, I’m sorry but I don’t think the math works out.  We shake five times all together.  Once when we make the ברכה, twice when we say הודו, and twice when we say אנא.  Each time there are 18 total waves or shakes, 3 in each of the 6 directions. That makes the sum total 90, whereas the gematria of the two names of Hashem is 91.” [The four-letter name of Hashem is written with letters that add up to 26 and pronounced with letters that add up to 65.]


The Lev Simcha smiled. “True, but you forgot to include one more shake, perhaps the most important one.”  The Rabbi was confused, which of the נענועים did he leave out?  The Rebbe explained, “A yid must also give himself a shake, we shake the lulav and we shake up our lives.”


We are familiar with many of the laws of לולב and אתרוג but these laws also have a deeper meaning, a פנימיות  to them.  We are meant to not only take and shake the לולב and אתרוג externally but to have it impact us internally as well. The Zohar tells us that the word לולב comes from a combination of the world “לו” (to him) and “לב” (heart), meaning our hearts must be our own, in our personal jurisdiction, and under our control.  Our hearts should not be swayed by peer pressure or the temptation to imitate the hearts of others. 

When the Torah commands the mitzvah of לולב
it says, ולקחתם לכם, take for yourself.  Chazal learn from here that we must own our own לולב the first day that we take it. We must take personal ownership over our Avodas Hashem and over our lives, and not serve Hashem by comparing, competing, or copying those around us.


This insight can provide deeper understandings behind some fundamental Halachos of lulav. A לולב הגזול is disqualified because we cannot steal or copy others, we need to find our own voice, fulfill our own unique mission in this world. A לולב היבש is pasul, a dried out לולב is invalid, because it lacks vitality, חיות.  It is simply going through motions bereft of vitality.  The לולב of an אשרה of עבודה זרה is invalid. Our heart cannot be led astray, can’t be influenced from foreign sources, ideals and ideas. It must be genuine, authentic, and true. 


The לולב must be shaken דרך גידולו , in the way that it grew, pointing upwards.  Our heart was born to strive upwards, we are positioned to grow, to stretch and to actualize our spiritual potential. 


The לולב requires נענועים.  When shake in every direction; when we interact with those all around us, we cannot simply be an imitation, a copy of someone else.  לולב, לו לב, we have to take our unique energy, talents, skills and apply them in every direction, spread them all around us.


The Gemara in Sukka (53a) teaches:

תַּנְיָא: אָמְרוּ עָלָיו עַל הִלֵּל הַזָּקֵן כְּשֶׁהָיָה שָׂמֵחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, אָמַר כֵּן: אִם אֲנִי כָּאן — הַכֹּל כָּאן, וְאִם אֵינִי כָּאן — מִי כָּאן

They said about Hillel that when he was rejoicing at the Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeiva he said this: If I am here, everyone is here; and if I am not here, who is here?


Could Hillel be so arrogant, so self-centered to make such a pompous and bombastic statement about himself? The Talmud is replete with examples of Hillel’s paradigmatic humility. What was Hillel actually saying?


The Kotzker Rebbe famously said: “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.”


Knowing who you are requires an awareness and realistic measure of your capabilities. Without self-understanding, you may rely on others to determine your identity and potential. Am I one person at work, another person at shul, another at home, and someone entirely different when I’m on vacation? If I am only defined by others or by the context in which I find myself then I have no true identity of my own. The Kotzker Rebbe was teaching that identity is built from within.


Perhaps Hillel was echoing the message of the Kotzker: If I am here, the true me, the real me, the genuine and authentic me, if each of us are true to ourselves and our missions, הכל כאן, we are all really here. But if we are just imitating one another, if we are just blending together and copying each other, nobody is actually here. Hillel’s humility didn’t contradict his self-awareness.


Rav Dessler explains that this is the meaning of another famous statement by Hillel, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי If I am not for me, who will be for me?  If I am just a copy, an imitation of others, who will represent and express the real me?  

According to the Zohar we take the לולב and we remember לו לב, be yourself, be true to your heart, don’t lose sight of the unique gifts Hashem has entrusted you with and the mission that only you can fulfill.  So you don’t have the same job, spouse, children, talents, skills or opportunities as others you know.  Your job is not to be them, it is to be you.  To know your heart and be true to it, to shake your lulav and shake yourself up until the real you comes out. 

Oscar Wilde put it well when he said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Perhaps this is why Sukkos specifically is זמן שמחתנו.  The biggest source of happiness is being true to ourselves, feeling genuine and authentic.

Several years ago, a group was travelling through Iceland on a tour bus and stopped near a volcanic canyon in the southern highlands. Soon, there was word of a missing passenger. A search and rescue operation was initiated involving 50 people on foot and in vehicles. As the night wore on in Iceland’s Eldgja Canyon, a description of the missing person was offered – Asian female in dark clothing and speaks English well. It was close to 3:00 a.m. and the Coast Guard readied a helicopter to help find a missing woman. But the search was called off when it became clear the missing woman was actually part of the search party. She had left to change her clothes. When she came back, her party didn't recognize her and started the search. It turns out that all night the woman was searching… for herself.

This Sukkos, let’s not only shake the physical לולב, let’s shake ourselves us and go searching for our לו לב, who we are and the unique energy we can wave in every direction