By: Rabbi Dovid Markel
A Jew somewhat frustrated by the constant persecution of his people once lifted his eyes to heaven and exclaimed, “G-d, I know we are your Chosen People, but couldn’t you choose somebody else for a change?”
There is a mesmerizing section in the Talmud that explains what will happen upon Moshiach’s arrival. The Talmud says that when Moshiach will come, the non-Jews will complain that they are not being rewarded as the Jews. Being that the G-d does not deal imperiously with His creatures, He will give them one mitzvah to see if they will fulfil it properly. When they fail the test, G-d will “laugh” for the vindication of the Jewish people and the expression of evidence that the reward for the Jewish people is justified.
The Talmud recounts the following:
“The nations will then plead, “Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.” But the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them…“I have an easy command which is called Sukkah; go and carry it out.”…Straightaway will every one of them betake himself and go and make a booth on the top of his roof; but the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the summer solstice and every one of them will trample down his booth and go away…but with the Israelites, too, it occasionally happens that the summer solstice extends till the Festival [of Sukkos] and they are vexed [by the heat]. But does not Raba say: “He who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the Sukkah?”— granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Israelites contemptuously trample it down?”
The Talmud states that the focal difference between the Jew and the gentile is not whether they will leave the Sukkah—as they both will—it is in the reaction that each will have. The gentile will respond by trampling on the mitzvah and despising it, while the Jew will leave but will not spurn the mitzvah.
Upon contemplating this Talmudic section, one cannot help but be bothered by the following conundrum: the stance of the non-Jews in being upset at G-d and His mitzvos seems completely justified. G-d gives them a mitzvah so that they can obtain a reward, but then appears to make it impossible for them to receive the prize.
It seems like a fraudulent test. On one hand, He appears to give them the commandment of Sukkah, but on the other, He creates a situation in which there is no commandment to sit in the booth. The response of the non-Jew being vexed at this trick seems to be wholly understandable!
In a fascinating discourse from R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, he explains this piece of the Talmud in a novel way, and thereby answers the puzzle.
The discourse revolves around a discussion of Divine inspiration and two approaches that one can have towards it.
There are two manners with which one can serve G-d: a) for their personal experience, and b) because it is G-d’s will.
The litmus test to determine which of the above is true, whether one’s service of G-d is indeed sincere, or merely for the purpose of seeking personal ecstasy, is in regard to two things:
A) Is G-dliness the only thing that the person derives satisfaction from? If worldly pleasures gratify him as well, it is clear that he pursues satisfaction and gratification, no matter the medium. It is therefore clear that it is not truly G-dliness that he desires, but rather anything that brings him fulfillment.
B) How does one react when he is uninspired and feels no G-dly ecstasy? If he is constantly content in his service of G-d, even when he is uninspired, it expresses that his primary focus is his service of the Almighty and not his own satisfaction.
It is based on the differentiation of these two above modes of serving G-d that explains the implication of the non-Jews’ reaction, and the reason why this will be the ultimate test in proving their dedication to G-d.
When the Almighty wishes to see if the non-Jewish people yearn to be wholeheartedly connected to Him, or if they merely desired reward and their connection to Him is not unequivocal, He gives them the commandment of sitting in the Sukkah.
The experiment is not in order to see how they would fulfill the mitzvah, but to assess how they would react when the mitzvah is taken away.
The decisive evaluation of one’s connection to G-d is not whether one can serve G-d when he is excited to do so and when he will be rewarded for his actions, but if he will serve G-d with the same intensity in a situation where he has no personal inspiration and does not see any reward.
Trials and tests
The Jewish people were given this test countless times throughout their exiles. They were faced with innumerable inspections to assess if their faith in G-d was absolute. Whether with the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition, or the Crusades, the Jewish people were faced with a seemingly valid claim against the Almighty: if we are indeed the Chosen People and G-d loves us, then how can He let us suffer barbarity at the hands of so many nations?!
Although the Jewish people never sufficiently answer this question, and we do not understand the ways of the Lord, our reaction is distinctly Jewish.
No matter the suffering or the carnage, the questions or the doubts, the Jewish people declare that they are G-d’s people and they will never abandon Him or exchange their faith in Him for another. It is due to this humility, which serves as a declaration of their indestructible bond with the Almighty, that the Jewish people merit the ultimate reward—the times of Moshiach.
All too often, we are faced with the vicissitudes of life. Our moods fluctuate and we vacillate between inspiration or otherwise. On some days we wake up ready to tackle the day and are invigorated by a G-dly inspiration, and on other days we are less interested.
The test to our commitment in our service of G-d is specifically though, at these times—at the moments when we feel empty of inspiration. When we nonetheless continue to serve Him with the same intensity as always, it is then that we demonstrate that our connection to Him is unbreakable and that we are truly one with the Almighty!
It is when we serve G-d no matter what, that we demonstrate our deepest connection with the Almighty. May we indeed serve G-d with the very essence of our beings and speedily merit the times of Moshiach!