Happy ... is God

These are the signs of the [mystical] faith, the seal of the upper king. [The matter may be compared] to two people who went before the king for judgement and they did not know which had triumphed. A representative came from the house of the king. They posed the question to him and he replied, "Whoever goes forth and holds in his hands the signs of the king, it is he who has triumphed."

Thus, all the world goes before the upper king for judgement, especially between Rosh ha-Shana, Yom Kippur, and until the fifteenth of the month [Sukkot]. Among them are found Israel all of whom are worthy because of the repentance [they have done]. They are busy with the sukka, the lulav, and the etrog but they do not know who has triumphed in judgement. The heavenly angels ask, "Who has triumphed in judgement?" and the Holy One, blessed be He, replies to them, "Those who go forth and hold in their hands My signs, it is they who have triumphed in judgement."

On that day, Israel go forth with the trace of the king [upon them], with songs of praise. They go into the sukka with the etrog in their left hand and the lulav in their right hand. Everyone sees that Israel bears the trace of the holy king. They open [their mouths] and say, "Happy is the people whose lot is such. Happy is the people for whom the Lord is God." Now there is joy for all, joy for the honored sukkot guests, and even the nations of the world rejoice in this joy and receive blessing because of it. (Zohar 3:121a) [1]

4. One generation ... to another ... Your mighty acts.

"God, may He be exalted, has a desire for a dwelling (Heb., dira ) among the lower beings" (Tanhuma, Behukotai 3 [5]; Naso 16) -- that is, among the generations (Heb., dor ). This is because each generation has its own dwelling and garment for the point of innermost being. Indeed, the innermost being is one and [the purpose of] creation is only to restore the dwelling and the garment since each generation has a different garment, as it says, "A generation comes and a generation goes, but the earth remains forever" (Eccl. 1:7). Understand this. (Sefat Emet ) [2]

9. His mercy is upon all that He has done.

That which "God has done" is the soul (Heb., neshama ), as it says, "for I have made souls" (Is. 57:16). When one exerts oneself to cling to God through one's soul and to leave behind the prison of the body, the Holy One, blessed be He, has mercy upon that person and grants that person enlightenment of soul.

The midrash says, "When one has a child who makes a great effort in Torah, God is filled with mercy" (Bereshit Rabba 63:1). Indeed, exerting oneself in Torah is like the work of the six days of creation. Therefore, God is filled with mercy for such a person on the day of Shabbat, for He gives that person the enlightenment of the extra soul ... Therefore, the Shabbat is called a "good gift" (Talmud, Shabbat 10b).

Human beings have mercy on other human beings and not on animals. Because human beings cannot know and comprehend the being of an animal at all, they do not have mercy upon them. Similarly, the angels do not know and comprehend the being of human beings, so the latter are like animals to them. But God, may He be blessed, knows and comprehends everything. He knows the being of angels, of humans, and of animals -- indeed, of all creation. Therefore, "God's mercy is upon all that He has done." (Sefat Emet )

13. Your kingdom ... for all ages; Your reign ... for each generation

Your kingdom is in all worlds and in all hidden places [following the rabbinic usage of `olam, see Words]. All a person's movements and vitality, even though they derive from his or her will, ultimately come from God's kingdom. A person must only clarify this first for himself or herself and it will be revealed.(Sefat Emet ) [3]

I heard people say that the rebbe of Kalisk taught that this verse alludes to the teaching that, in each generation, there are righteous leaders who have sovereignty over God, as it says, "Who rules over Me? The righteous one (Heb., tsaddik ). The Holy One, blessed be He, decrees a but the righteous one cancels the decree" (Talmud, Mo`ed Katan 16b). This is the meaning of "Your reign is for each generation" -- that, in each generation, there are some who reign over You, so to speak.(Degel Likkutim cited in Imrot Tehorot) [4]

14. The Lord supports all those who fall

The Talmud (Berakhot 4b) teaches: Rabbi Yohanan said, "Why is there no letter nun in Ashrei? Because it [the letter nun ] contains a hint at the destruction of the enemies of Israel[5], as it says, `The young woman of Israel has fallen; she shall not arise' (Amos 5:2)" ... Rabbi Nahman bar Yitshak said, "Even so, David came back to her and supported her with the holy spirit, as it says, `The Lord supports all those who fall'" ...

Always, when I studied this teaching of the sages, may their memory be a blessing, I stood in wonder and astonishment at how they saw the downfall of the enemies of Israel hinted at in this psalm. How did they interpret this hint [this way]? Furthermore, King David, may he rest in peace, wrote many psalms in the holy spirit, some of which are acrostics and no other omits the letter nun... such that this alone could hint at this downfall.

Rather, it seems to me that the context decides the matter.... King David says [in the verse preceding the gap], "Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages" and, when he saw with the holy spirit that the temple would be destroyed, that Israel would go into exile and be fallen among the nations, and that the Name of Heaven would be profaned there (God forbid), he thought that [someone might think that] there might be a break [in God's kingdom] during the period of the exile (God forbid) -- which would be a true "fall" ... Therefore, he "came back to her [in the verse after the gap] and supported her with the holy spirit, as it says, "The Lord supports all those who fall." Then [when that verse is fulfilled, the truth of the preceding verse] "Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages" will be revealed and "The Lord will be king over all the earth" (Zach. 14:9). (Imrot Tehorot )

16. contentedness

The meaning here is that it is impossible for the lower beings to receive the emanation [of divine energy / presence] as the Holy One, blessed be He, emanates it. It, therefore, must undergo contractions (Heb., tsimtsumim ) and changes from level to level so that the lower beings be able to receive it for, by this contraction, which is not [itself] an emanation or a revelation, the lower beings are able to receive. As the midrash says, "`He gives contentedness sufficiently to all living beings' -- He gives each living being that which it desires" (Shemot Rabba 25:3) [6]; meaning, for each one, as it is, a channel and a way is made for it to receive the emanation. The Holy One, blessed be He, "opens His hand" and, from this, there is an opening for each creature according to its level. (Sefat Emet )

"You open Your hand" -- he, the righteous person (Heb. tsaddik ), opens Your hand,[7] meaning the channel of emanation. Therefore, it does not say petah (in command form) but poteah (in present form); meaning, that the righteous one [in hasidic circles, the rebbe] is the one who opens the hand of God. "Giving contentedness sufficiently to all living beings" -- "according to the desire of each one" (Shemot Rabba 25:3) -- for all of them are sustained by his [the righteous person's] merit. How gracious are the words of the wise. (Orah La-Hayyim cited in Imrot Tehorot )

17. righteous

"The measure of God is not like the measure of humans" (Talmud, Berakhot 5a). Human beings want to order their behavior above and beyond to strict measure of the law but, when it comes to fulfilling this desire in [actual] detail, they cannot do so. The Holy One, blessed be He, however, wants to order His behavior according to the strict measure of the law but, in practice, He behaves caringly, above and beyond the strict measure of the law.... The reason for this is that human beings are below the measure of goodness; hence, their acts are not coordinated with their mind and their will. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is above the measure of goodness as well as all other virtues since they exist because of Him, may He be blessed. Therefore, when He comes to act, He acts with greater perfection while humanity is the opposite of this. (Sefat Emet )

It is said in the name of Reb Dov Ber [of Medziboz], may his memory be a blessing: [The verse reads literally, "Righteous is the Lord in all His ways, and caring to all that He has done." Noting that "the Lord" is present in first clause and not in the second, Dov Ber comments:] The text should have read, "The Lord is righteous ... and caring," with "the Lord" ruling both clauses. [This is, however, not so] and its meaning is as follows:

There are people whose whole desire and will is to worship God. Such persons want only to go in the "way" of God, may He be exalted. However, when such people are busy with that which they are doing, they do not cling to God, may He be blessed, but forget clinging (Heb., devekut ) to Him. There are other people who cling more [fully] to God, may He be blessed, and do not forget God even when they are doing things that they are fond of, as a person who loves an only child and thinks of that child in all that one does. The first type of person is "a righteous person" (Heb., tsaddik) and the second type is "a caring person" (Heb., hasid ). The first is "righteous is all His ways" but not "caring to all that He has done" [reading the verse in the literal word order], while the second is "righteous in all His ways and caring to all that He has done" [reading the verse with Dov Ber's suggested word order].(Divre Emet cited in Imrot Tehorot ) [8]

19. He does the will ... hears their cry and saves them

The famous hasid [Rabbi Levi Yitshak of Berditchev], may his memory be a blessing, said concerning this verse:

He, may He be blessed, "makes the will of those who call on Him" [reading `oseh as "make" and not "does"] -- that they should will, desire, and yearn for some thing [anything, even material things] so that they will pray to Him. Why? [so that] "He hears their cry and saves them," for He, may He be blessed, "desires the prayer of the righteous" (Talmud, Yevamot 64a). (Kedushat Levi cited in Imrot Tehorot )

I heard from my teacher (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov) that this verse is difficult for, if God has already "done the will of those who fear Him" [in the first clause], why is it necessary to "hear their cry and save them" [in the second clause]? It should have been the other way around: God hears their cry and then does their will! He [the Besht], then, explained that the measure of God is that He hears the prayers of everyone whether for good or for evil (God forbid). As the sages say, "[Even] a burglar in a cellar calls out to God".[9] If you then say, `so what is the difference between a righteous person and an evil one [since God grants the prayers of both],' one answers that there is a great difference -- the burglar whose prayer is answered and successfully robs and is then caught, when he calls again to God, may He be exalted, he is not entitled to receive an answer because he chose evil. This is not true of the righteous person.... This is the meaning of "He does the will of those who fear Him" and, afterwards, when such a person sees that it is not for his own good and calls again to God, then God, may He be exalted, in His mercy "hears their cry and saves them" anyway. How gracious are the words of the wise. (Toldot Shoftim cited in Imrot Tehorot )

21. My mouth ... all animate beings

I heard from my grandfather (may his memory be a blessing) the author of Hiddushei ha-Rim, who was present at a wedding given by the holy rabbi of Apt [who was] the author of Ohev Yisroel (may his memory be a blessing) at which almost all the tsaddikim had gathered, that he heard the holy elder, our rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel [10] (may the memory of the tsaddik be a blessing) speak [the following]:

The Holy One, blessed be He, is exalted and raised up and no created being has it in its power to approach Him and utter praise to Him. However, the holy Shabbat opens and says, "A psalm, a song unto the Sabbath day: It is good to give thanks unto God" (Ps. 92:1-2). Therefore, "All His created beings praise and bless God" (Shabbat morning liturgy). Because the holy Shabbat has raised the [idea that] it is good to give thanks to God, the eyes of the creatures are opened so that they are able to praise. They are raised and exalted with the Shabbat.

He [my grandfather] said that the sweetness of this Torah did not leave him for a year and a quarter. [11] I learned from ... who heard from an old hasid who was at that wedding that the holy man of Medziboz called my grandfather (may his memory be a blessing) "the young man who is all Shabbat" and he drew him to dance with him. But my grandfather, in his modesty, did not tell this end of the story. (Sifte Tsedek cited in Imrot Tehorot )

This, however, explains the intent of King David (may he rest in peace) here: "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord" and, through my arousal to praise, "all animate beings will bless His holy Name." Through me, all will be uplifted. (supplemental comment by Imrot Tehorot )

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[1] Students of the Zohar will recognize that this is not only a midrash intertexting the high holiday season with the first verse of Ps. 145. Nor is it only a set of instructions on the ritually proper way to enter a sukka, though it is that too. Rather, the text is a meditational guide. The adept is urged to draw energy from the left (etrog / Hesed), to add energy from the right (lulav / Tiferet ), and then to unite this energy in the center of God (before the king / Tiferet), and finally, with that energy, to enter the sacred realm (sukka / Malkhut-Shekhina). Having unified these sefirot (dimensions of God's being), the adept has restored unity in God and in the universe. From this unity, blessing flows to Israel -- which is visible to all -- as well as to the rest of humanity. back

[2] Note the play on words in the Hebrew. The point here is that each generation creates its own dwelling or garment for the divine, though the divine itself is one in its innermost being. The purpose of creation is to recognize the validity of the various garments / dwellings / generations and see the oneness hidden in them. back

[3] It is my custom to use inclusive language when referring to people even though the original texts intend men only, but to use gendered language with reference to God to preserve the personalist tendency of biblical and rabbinic theology. back

[4] This doctrine, which is rooted in an obscure verse (2 Sam. 23:3), is read by the rabbis to give David and, by implication, other righteous ones the power to imitate God and do miracles (Midrash Shmuel 29:2) and, more importantly (in the Talmud passage cited), to intercede and cancel a decree for evil made by God. In hasidic doctrine, this became one of the extraordinary powers of the rebbe / tsaddik. back

[5] This is a euphemism for Israel itself. back

[6] Using the other meaning of ratson (see Words). back

[7] The Hebrew poteah can be read with a first, second, or third person subject. Here, the last is used in response to the question, who would be able to `open God's hand'? back

[8] Note the ironic contrast by which the simple hasid comes out better that the rebbe / tsaddik; this from one of the founders of hasidism. back

[9] Aram., ganva bemahtarta rahmana karya; source unknown. back

[10] He is the ancestor of the twentieth century theologian of the same name. back

[11] In zoharic doctrine, the Shabbat is the seventh sefira. It is also called Yesod and Tsaddik. The latter association gives another meaning to the interpretation of Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apt: that the tsaddik (the Shabbat) begins the praise of God and then the rest of Israel is drawn along with him. This is how the author's grandfather (and indeed all hasidic theology) understood the homily. This "Torah" was so sweet that it remained with him for a long time. back

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