Two Empty Seats in the Sukkah – A Tribute to Rav Eitam and Naama Henkin HY”D

It is with tremendous grief that Sukkos, zman simchaseinu, must be used to eulogize a young Talmid Chacham and his wife.  Rav Eitam Henkin was an incredible Torah Scholar and Yarei Shamayim.  Although I never knew him personally, I have benefitted from his various essays on halacha, history, and Jewish thought for many years.  He was truly a renaissance man, whose knowledge and genius was apparent in everything he wrote.  What made him and wife even more special was that they accomplished so much in their short time in this world while spending every day redeeming the Land of Israel for future generations.  They performed the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling the Land of Israel, in its most pristine form.  In the end, they gave their life doing so.

Chazal tell us that the words of the righteous are their most fitting memorial.  Rav Henkin wrote an essay about the holiday of Tu B’av in 2009 that was published in Alonei Mamrei, the Torah Journal of Yeshivat Nir, the main yeshiva based in Kiryat Arba.  The same yeshiva that Rav Henkin learned in for ten years.  At the conclusion of the essay he presents a very fundamental question that gives us a new perspective on Sukkos.

The Mishnah (Taanis 4:8) tells us that the greatest Holidays the Jewish people had were Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur because it was customary on those days for unmarried women to go out in borrowed white garments and look for a husband.  The Mishnah seems to imply that these were the happiest days of the year.  Yet, the Mishnah in Sukkah (51a) tells us that “one that did not witness the joy of the Simchas Beis Hashoeva celebration in the Beis Hamikdash never witnessed joy in their lifetime”.  How is one to understand these two contradictory mishnayos?

The Ritva (Bava Basra 129b) comments that thre was a fundamental difference between the two events.  At the Simchas Beis Hashoeva only the very important members of Jewish society actually participated in the dancing, yet on Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur everyone participated.  True joy for everyone only came on Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.  That’s why those Yamim Tovim are considered the greatest in the Jewish calendar.

Rav Henkin explains that this point describes to us what the cause of real joy is for the Jewish nation.  Only when everyone is united and celebrating together can we really experience the true essence of a Yom Tov.  Rav Henkin suggests that this is the reason that all of the unmarried women wore borrowed garments these Yamim Tovim.  Chazal explain that any woman that did not have her own garment was not embarrassed to ask her friend for one specifically because everyone wore borrowed clothing.  Rav Henkin explains that this underscored the nature of true Jewish simcha being only when the Jewish community is all on the same playing field.  In Rav Henkin’s words, “There is no greater joy than the unity of the Jewish nation”.

There will be two empty chairs this shabbos in the national Sukkah of the Jewish people.  The unity that Rav Henkin and his wife so cherished is ever more lacking now that they are gone.  May his tremendous Torah learning and scholarship serve as a merit for the children he leaves behind.  And may his vision of unity and joy serve as the pillars of our national sukkah – a sukkah where every Jew will have a seat waiting for them.

Hashem Yikom Damam!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *