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Succot: Fast asleep with your eyes wide open!

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It is possible to be fast asleep with your eyes wide open.

This is how the Chatam Sofer explains a fascinating passage in the Gemara, Masechet Succah 13. There a description is given of the Simchat Beit Hashoeiva, the celebration of the ceremony of the drawing of water which took place in the temple every year during the festival of Succot. And in the Gemara, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania exclaims,

“Lo ra’inu sheina b’eineinu.” – “We didn’t see sleep in our eyes.”

On the surface it appears that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania is saying that the celebrations went into the early hours and nobody fell asleep. But why did he say we didn’t see sleep in our eyes? If you’re asleep you can’t see anything! Why this particular phrase?

The Chatam Sofer explains that sometimes, people waste their lives away. Even though we might have our eyes open and be walking around, if we aren’t giving a contribution of value to the world around us, there’s no value to our lives. So Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania was saying that at the Simchat Beit Hashoeiva in the temple during the festival of Succot, we were maximising the opportunity to utilise every precious moment of life, and that’s why we didn’t see sleep in our eyes.

Now I have a question – why did Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania only say this with regard to Succot? If he wanted to teach us about the fact that sometimes we might be sleeping our life away, he could have referred, for example, to the korban Pesach and say that during Pesach, nobody ever saw sleep in their eyes when we were in the temple. Or, at the time when we heard the shofar being blown on Rosh Hashana similarly no one saw sleep in their eyes. Why only on Succot?

I’d like to suggest that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania is referring specifically to celebration.

If we are going to guarantee the continuity of Judaism through the generations to come, it’s crucially important that our children and our grandchildren should celebrate their Yiddishkeit – that they should perform the mitzvot ‘mitoch ahava’ – out of love, and not ‘mitoch yirah’ – out of fear.

When we maximise opportunities to celebrate the beauty of authentic Torah, then we appreciate how meaningful and joyous it is for us. Succot is ‘zman simchateinu’ – our season of joy. And over the festival of Succot, let us rejoice in our Judaism, and as a result, we won’t see sleep in our eyes.

Chag sameach.