He was one of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the country, and his fame seemed to grow as quickly as his profits. He was the envy of his acquaintances, the bane of his competition. So when the accusations were leveled against him, it was an absolute shock. He was accused of murdering a seventeen-year-old girl and the evidence against him was incriminating.
He hired the best defense lawyer, perhaps in the world. The introductory fees alone were upward of five million dollars. But it was pocket change for the defendant and the lawyer was surely worth it.
The prosecution knew it would be hard pressed to defeat the defense lawyer. To date, he had never lost a case. A young DA took up the challenge.
He did a masterful job interrogating and proving the prosecution’s case. When the defense lawyer rose to present his defense, he shocked the court with the seemingly ridiculous questions he asked the witnesses. “How do you know the murder took place at 3 pm? You wore a watch. What kind of watch was it? What color? How do you know the battery wasn’t dying and the time was off?”
The prosecution objected to the defense lawyer’s questions on grounds of irrelevance, and the judge was quick to sustain the objection. The judge repeatedly demanded that the lawyer explain the logic behind his inane questions.
This continued for weeks with the same pattern. The DA would present a well thought out case and the defense lawyer would ask trivial questions. The defendant himself was convinced he was going to prison.
Finally, it was time for the closing remarks. The D.A.: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the face you are looking at is the face of a murderer. We have offered conclusive and undeniable proof that he has committed this heinous crime. But he did not just murder a seventeen-year-old girl. He also murdered her children and her children’s children, and all of the lives she could have touched, but now never will.”
The defense attorney: “Your honor and distinguished members of the jury, it is hardly a secret that for the duration of this case I have made a mockery of the trial. That’s because this is a mockery. The victim in question is alive and will be here in 10 minutes.”
A collective gasp escaped the room as the defendant smugly sat down. They all waited with bated breath as the minutes ticked by. But then ten minutes turned into twenty, and then thirty, and then an hour. Finally, the judge ordered the defense to present some proof or he would be held in contempt of court.
The defense lawyer arose again. “Your honor, the prosecution needs to be prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, by virtue of the fact that you have all been staring at the courtroom door for the last hour proves that you all have a reasonable doubt. Therefore, you must vote not guilty.”
The jury returned after a mere five-minute deliberation. “We find the defendant… GUILTY… of first degree murder.”
When the judge asked the jury for an explanation, an elderly juror who rose and said, “Your honor, the defense indeed presented a most convincing argument based on the virtue of the fact that we were all watching the back door. But you see, while everyone else was staring at the door I was staring at the defendant. I noticed that he did not even glance at the door once. Do you know why? Because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young woman was not going to walk through that door. He knew that because he himself must have killed her!”
Since Rosh Chodesh Elul we have spent our time in a long process of introspection and preparation. We scrutinized our actions and pondered how we could improve in a lasting manner during the coming year. During the week of Rosh Hashanah, we commenced the recitation of selichos pleading with the Almighty that He not judge us harshly for our foibles and that He exercise His attribute of mercy.
On Rosh Hashanah we reaccepted upon ourselves an unyielding allegiance to G-d’s eternal Kingship, replete with the blowing of the shofar, as the first step of our repentance. During the subsequent Days of Penitence, we prepared for the awesome and holy day of Yom Kippur, begging our Father and King to grant us a tabula rasa, so that we can begin anew.
The conclusion of Yom Kippur immediately segues into an exciting four days of preparation for the holiday of Sukkos. The sukkah itself must be built according to halachic parameters, then furbished, and decorated. The Four Species must be painstakingly analyzed for perfection and then purchased. This is all in addition to the other Yom Tov preparations.
Sukkos is called “Z’man Simchasaynu – The season of our joy.” Although there is an obligation to be in a state of joy during every festival, there is no explicit commandment to feel joy on Pesach. The obligation is written once in regards to Shavuos. However, in regards to Sukkos, the Torah states three times that one must rejoice during the festival!
The commentators explain that the joy of Sukkos is inextricably bound to the blissful delight of having achieved atonement and forgiveness on Yom Kippur. The joy is manifest in so many ways, including taking the Four Species during each day of the holiday and the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah celebrations virtually every night of the festival, and culminating with the uninhibited joy of Simchas Torah.
But there is an added dimension to the emphasis of joy. If a person does not feel a sense of happiness on Sukkos, it is seemingly indicative of his lack of confidence in the veracity of his efforts during the Days of Awe. He is analogous to the defendant who did not look at the door because he knew the defense was false.
The Chiddushei HaRim questions why we recite the blessing “Selach Lanu –Forgive us” during Shemoneh Esrei of Ma’ariv following Yom Kippur. If one did not achieve forgiveness from the passionate prayers of Ne’ilah it is hardly likely that one will do so from the prayers afterwards.
He answered that in the prayers after Yom Kippur we must ask G-d’s forgiveness for not believing in our own efforts. We spent the day immersed in prayer and repentance, and conducting ourselves like angels. Yet we are skeptical and wonder if perhaps G-d does not love us and does not accept our prayers. For that skepticism we must beg forgiveness when Yom Kippur is over. We have an obligation to believe that G-d, who loves us dearly, awaits our prayers and wants to grant us atonement.
Our joy on Sukkos reflects that confidence and therefore is a vital continuation of our efforts on Yom Kippur. Perhaps that is why the judgments that were sealed on Yom Kippur are not dispatched to the world until Hoshanah Rabbah. G-d waits to see if we believe in our own efforts before He dispatches the sealed verdict. Even one who did not emerge meritoriously from the precise judgment of the Days of Awe has a chance to accrue merits and alter the decree before Hoshanah Rabbah.
If a person demonstrates genuine inner joy at the opportunity afforded to him to reconnect with His Creator during these days, that itself is an incredible merit which can alter the judgment.