I was walking to shul for Mincha on the second day of Succos when a car parked in one of the homes near the shul, and out came a small but loud and sharp-toothed dog. He barked many quick and very shrill yaps and ran towards me as I continued to walk on the path to the shul. He continued to bark and chase me even when I was no longer on his domain or near his yard, and he wasn’t slowing down.
I got nervous, so I pulled up a memory of some dog expert talking on a radio show a few years ago. His message, paraphrased, was that the secret to dealing with dogs is to assert one’s alpha dominance. I spun around to face the dog. I planted my feet firmly on the ground, and I stared at him intently, with a really serious look on my face.
The dog stopped.
I turned to go, and he started barking and going after me again.
Again, I stopped, turned, and stared. (The owner was not being helpful at all. Maybe he didn’t realize what was going on.)
I tried to take a step back, but that only encouraged him again. So I took a step forward. And the dog took a step back, and the barking turned into a scared wimpering yip. But I dared not move away to shul.
Finally the owner came and finally took the dog away.
I took something away from that encounter.
The best defense is a good offence.
Since Yom Kippur, I have been speaking of the idea that Succos, and specifically the Mitzvah of Succah, stand for the ideal that the gains of Yom Kippur have to be protected. Succah means protection.
As Rav Shimshon Pincus put it, the following words from the Shmoneh Esrei match up with the following special times:
Melech: Rosh Hashana
Umoshia: Yom Kippur
Succah protects us, and makes sure that the renewed state of purity remains intact. Like a patient after surgery who needs time in a clean germ-free environment to ensure that the surgery’s success is not harmed by bacteria, we need time outside of our regular environment, “tachas kanfei hashechina”, under the wings of the Divine Presence, to be protected.
But the best protection often does not consist of staying still. The best defense is a good offence. Being active, pro-active in pursuing mitzvos, is the way to make sure to keep our Yom Kippur gains.
Don’t let up.