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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
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Believe It


The room was silent as the head juror made his statement, “We find the defendant… GUILTY… of first degree murder.” The courtroom again burst into a frenzy. The judge smashed his gavel down and called for order. Then he asked the jury for an explanation. The head juror turned to an elderly juror who arose and explained, “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 during that hour. 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!”  Staum-092013-Man

The courtroom quickly began to empty out as people murmured about the amazing proceedings they had witnessed. As the police officers handcuffed the defendant the lawyer looked at him angrily and quipped, “You dumb fool. If you would have only looked at the door one time, you would be a free man now. But if you yourself don’t believe the alibi, or at least demonstrate your belief in the alibi, how can you expect anyone else to believe it?!”[1]


Rosh Chodesh Elul was the beginning of a month long process of introspection and preparation. We scrutinized our actions and pondered how we could improve ourselves 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 quiet His justifiable wrath and exercise His attribute of mercy.

On Rosh Hashanah we reaccepted our 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, wherein we could 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 aside from all the other Yom Tov preparations that must be done.

The holiday itself is termed “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 written in regards to Pesach. The obligation is written once in regards to Shavuos. Conversely, in regards to the holiday of 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 of Sukkos is manifest in so many ways, including taking the Four Species during each day of the holiday, the Simchos Bais Hashoayvah[2] celebrations virtually every night of the festival, culminating with the uninhibited joy of Simchas Torah.

But there is an added dimension to the emphasis of joy during Sukkos. If one 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 alibi was false.

Rav Shlomo Carlebach a”h asked why we recite the blessing “Selach Lanu – Please forgive” in the prayers following Yom Kippur. If one did not achieve forgiveness from the passionate prayers of Ne’ilah it is hardly likely that he 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 after Yom Kippur is over. We have an obligation to believe that G-d, Who loves us dearly, awaits our prayers and grants us atonement.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.

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