Selected Sermon/Article
2000-10-14 First Day Sukkos by Rav Ze'ev Smason
All For the Best
Disney World, Florida. Las Vegas, Nevada. A drive through New England in the fall. Everyone loves vacations, don't they? I don't know where you took your last vacation, but I'm sure we all have a 'wish-list' of those places that we'd next like to visit. One of the places in America that I have a recent interest in visiting, is Enterprise, Alabama.

You've not heard of Enterprise, Alabama? Let me tell you what it is about this relatively obscure town that has earned it a ranking on my list of 'places I'd most like to visit.'

In the early 1900s, cotton was king in the South - and in particular, in Enterprise Alabama. In 1909 the Mexican Boll Weevil invaded the state of Alabama, and by 1915 it had destroyed 60% of the cotton crop in the county surrounding Enterprise. With the local economy devastated due to it's dependence on 'King Cotton', local farmers had to turn to something else. They began to diversify their crops, planting sugar cane, potatoes, hay - and in particular, peanuts. Soon, in fact, Enterprise and its county became the number one peanut producing area in the entire country! The local economy not only survived - but thrived - thanks to the most unlikely of characters, the Boll Weevil.

In appreciation to the boll weevil for lessons learned, the citizens of Enterprise Alabama, in 1919, erected the first and only monument in the world in honor of an agricultural pest. The base of the monument has an inscription that I hope one day to see in person, that reads as follows: "In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama"

In 1915, I'm certain that it was difficult for farmers in Alabama who believed in God to reconcile their faith with the devastation that occurred to their farms, and to the economy. Nevertheless, understanding that "Gam zu l'tova' -'things always happen for the best' is an indispensable aspect of having 'emunah in HaShem' - having faith in God - and is, in fact, a lesson of the Sukkah.

The Sukkah is, by definition, a temporary structure, constructed of leaves, branches and other things that grow from the ground. At a time of year that people begin to leave their backyard patios for the climate controlled environment of the indoors, the Jew goes outside, to eat, rest and live for 8 days. If it's 72 degrees and sunny - wonderful! If it gets a bit chilly, or if rain is threatening - gam zu l'tova - everything that happens, is for the best. Is a plague of boll weevils for the best? If we look hard enough, we'll see how it is.

I'm sure many of you followed the Summer Olympics which recently concluded. One of my favorite stories from these recent Olympic games concerned a player on the American baseball team named Doug Mientkiewicz.

Earlier this spring, it seems, Mientkiewicz was angry with Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly for cutting him from the American League team, and demoting him to the minor leagues. In a recent article in the New York Times, it was reported that Mient- kiewicz's spirits were crushed, and he was bitter at having been cast aside. Things changed suddenly for Mientkiewicz when, as a result of not being on a major league team, he became available to play on the US Olympic baseball team. With two game winning home runs in the ninth inning in separate games, Mientkiewicz was the hero of the underdog American baseball team that overcame the heavily favored Cubans, and won the gold medal. Today, Mientkiewicz wants to thank Tom Kelly. "It's really amazing, " Mientkiewicz said. "I want to shake Tom Kelly's hand for saying I wasn't ready for the big leagues."

How often in life have we experienced a professional or personal setback, that left us feeling disappointed - or perhaps, shaken up to the point of being devastated? It would have been hard for any of us in Doug Mientkiewicz's shoes to have felt joy at the time of being cut from a major league team - but having 'faith in God' means understanding on an intellectual level, and integrating emotionally, that 'all that happens is for the best.'

On Shabbos Shuva, two weeks ago, I shared with you that my car was vandalized with the passenger side window broken, a jacket taken, as well as my checkbook. I do have to admit to you that the first thing that came to mind was not 'Gam zu l'tova' - as I shelled out $150 for the broken window, dealt with the insult of an assault on my property, and scrambled furiously to the bank to make sure my checking account was closed before the ganaf attempted to cash some of my checks. Well, guess what happened? As I was sitting at the bank feeling sorry for myself while my account was being changed, the woman assisting me said, "Well, Mr. Smason, your new account will be a free checking account - and won't have the other monthly charges that the old account had?" "Monthly charges?", I asked quizzically? I was under the impression that my previous checking account had always provided me with free checking. To make a long story short, unbeknownst to me, my account was being debited monthly for charges that I wasn't aware of - and if my car window hadn't been broken and my checkbook stolen, I would have continued to be paying these monthly charges, which quickly would have added up to and surpassed the amount of money the repair of the window cost me!

I'll be honest with you folks: I'm not prepared to shake the hand of the person who vandalized my car - and I'm not even thinking about throwing a kiddush for him! But in the bigger picture, what happened to my car and checkbook turned out to be a blessing in disguise, in that I wound up saving money. Was I jumping for joy at the time that it happened? No. However, a person who lives with faith in God, and understands that everything that happens for the best might not immediately have the answer or answers to 'why things happen' that are painful and disappointing - but will know that somehow, someway, 'this is for the best.'

The transitory nature of the Sukkah stands in contradistinction to the fixed roofs of our homes. The haftorah we read today spoke of a war that might take place in the end of days - the war of Gog and Magog, where, on the holiday of Sukkot, the nations of the world make one last gigantic effort to destroy the nation of Israel. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that the name 'Gog' is related to the word 'gag'...the Hebrew word for 'roof'. The Jews are the people of 'the Sukkah' - those who live with the realization that life is transitory, material things are a means to an end, and what's truly important is a relationship with God that involves, amongst other things, trust and faith in Him. 'Gog' represents the oomos ha'olam (nations of the world) - the people of the fixed, permanent structure, who rely on their own strength and might, rather than understanding that God is running the show.

True faith in God means seeing things as part of the Divine plan even under the most difficult of circumstances. I'd like to close my remarks today by sharing with you the following story. A woman I know suffered a serious automobile accident several months ago, that left her car mangled, and her back racked with pain. Months of physical therapy left her with only a minimal improvement and lessening of the pain, and upon the suggestion of her doctor, she went for a bone scan. The bone scan revealed that all, thank God, was well with her spine, and that the pain from the accident was in soft tissues. Unexpectedly, however, the bone scan did reveal something no one was looking for; a 'hot spot' on a bone in her foot, that looked very problematic. Further investigation and testing revealed a slow growing tumor that, without a bone scan, would have been left unnoticed (her doctor said) for two to three years. This woman had a biopsy performed Wednesday of this previous week....and it's quite possible that the auto accident she suffered several months ago, saved her life.

Time spent in the Sukkah, is time to contemplate what's truly important to us. Whether it's the little irritants in life like a broken window, or the major difficulties we all will experience at times, such as health challenges to ourselves and those precious to us - walking with faith in God, and understanding that ultimately, every- that happens for the best, is a very important lesson to take from this Yom Tov.

Good Shabbos, and Good Yom Tov