SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, September 22, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (38a) tells that Rav Acha bar Yaakov had the practice on Sukkot to wave the four species forward and backward, and declare, “This is an arrow in the eye of the Satan!”  Rav Acha perceived the long, straight, pointy lulav as a symbol of a spear with which we pierce “Satan’s eye.”  How might we explain this symbolic image of the lulav?
            Chatam Sofer (Derashot, p. 67) suggested that the message of Rav Acha’s practice lies in the fact that he perceived the Satan – an allegorical reference to the yetzer ha-ra, our weaknesses and vices – as standing in front of him, facing him.  Rav Acha sought to instruct that even after the intensive period of the Yamim Noraim, when we underwent a process of introspection and repentance, “Satan” is still in front of us, poised to “attack.”  We might make the mistake of believing that after having gone through the process of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, confessing our wrongdoing, acknowledging our failings, begging God for forgiveness, and genuinely resolving to improve henceforth, we have essentially conquered “Satan,” and no longer need to struggle with our faults and our negative tendencies.  We might think that once the Days of Awe have come to a close, we can rest assured that our goals and aspirations for the coming year will be easily realized without much effort.  Rav Acha therefore specifically announced that “Satan” remained in front of him and continued to pose a grave threat.  Even on Sukkot, which comes on the heels of the uplifting experience of the Yamim Noraim, we must continue to struggle against our vices and make a concentrated effort to steer ourselves in the direction we need and so very much want to follow.
            Interestingly, the Gemara expresses its disapproval of Rav Acha’s practice, advising that such statements should not be made “de-ati l-igeruyei bei” – we might end up “provoking” Satan.  What this might mean is that we must never take a “triumphalist” attitude towards our weaknesses and faults.  The Gemara felt that Rav Acha’s statement expressed inappropriate confidence and self-assurance in his ability to withstand temptation and conquer his base instincts.  We are warned never to let our guard down, never to think to ourselves that we are safely protected from “Satan,” from our negative tendencies.  Religious life demands constant effort and struggle, and at no point can we assume that we have entirely divested ourselves of spiritual challenges that we need to work to overcome.