Sukkot II תשפ”ד
The Sukkot holiday is blessed with two mitzvot: the mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah for seven days, and the mitzvah to take the four species – the lulav, etrog, hadas (myrtle), and aravah (brook willow). Even though the Torah instructs us to take the four species only on the first day of the holiday, the Sages have implemented it for all its seven days except Shabbat.
At first blush, these two mitzvot seem very different and without a common purpose. Deeper investigation, however, yields a very important connection between them, which will help us to appreciate the Sukkot holiday and one of its goals.
Let’s start with the Sukkah. The Torah instructs us (Leviticus 23:42):
(מב) בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת
42) You shall dwell in booths for seven days; every native in Israel shall dwell in booths.
Our Sages teach us that the meaning of “dwell” is that the sukkah should take the place of your regular home. Everything usually done in your home, you should be done in the sukkah instead. Even if all you want to do is relax, you should do it in the sukkah. What could be the idea behind such a mitzvah?
Just a few days before Sukkot, we stood in shul fasting and praying to Hahem to forgive our sins. We thereby acknowledge that our existence in this world is to prepare for the world to come, and that our existence in this world is only a temporary one. Hashem puts us here to make the proper choices so that we may enjoy the reward for them in the world to come, after we pass from this world. Having just realized this truth so deeply, the Sukkot holiday comes to reinforce this concept in a very real way, by, in a sense, acting it out. For an entire week we exit our permanent dwelling and enter a temporary one, which provides just the right amount of time needed for it to penetrate our minds that this world is like a sukkah. Just as we dwell in the sukkah to fulfill the mitzvah of Hashem, so, too, we have entered this world to fulfill the mitzvot of Hashem.
A sukkah must be a temporary dwelling. It may not be higher than 20 cubits (about 40 feet), because otherwise it would have to be built as a permanent structure. (If it is lower than 40 feet, even though it has permanent walls, it is still kosher.)
Knowing that the time spent in the sukkah is limited to seven days enables us to get by without many of the conveniences and luxuries that are built into our houses. Why bring out the sofa? For seven days I can sit on a chair. Knowing that the inconvenience is but temporary enables us to deal with it. We don’t get upset or depressed about the situation because we know it will pass soon enough.
The sukkah is thus a metaphor for this world, which is also just a temporary dwelling for every human being. We come into the world for a limited time, and then we are off to the next world. Internalizing this message can help us deal with many of life’s challenges. This is just a temporary inconvenience! Why get upset about it? I can handle it for a while.
Two people came to Rabbi Chaim Volozhin זצ”ל (d. 1821) with a dispute over a tract of land. One claimed that it was in his family for many years and that he inherited it from his father, while the other claimed that he knows that his father purchased the land from the other fellow’s father but just cannot find the deed.
After hearing their positions on the matter, Rabbi Volozhin asked them to take him to the piece of land; he wanted to see what they were talking about.
When they arrived, the rabbi asked each of them to repeat his claim. After hearing what each one said, the rabbi dropped to his knees and put his ear to the ground, acting as if he was listening to something that the ground was telling him. When he arose, the men asked him what he had just done.
Addressing the litigants, he said: “Well, I heard what each of you had to say about the land, but then, I wanted to hear what the land had to say about the case.”
Following his setup, they asked him, “Nu, Rabbi, so what did the land have to say?”
Rabbi Volozhin responded, “The land said, ‘I really don’t know what these two men are arguing about; they are both going to be mine, soon anyway!”
With this approach to life, it becomes easier to get along with others. When someone wrongs me, or does something that I dislike, I can (and should) look at it as a temporary inconvenience or annoyance and not get bent out of shape from it and get on with life.
Indeed, foregoing our upset at others in this world provides an additional benefit. We will be handsomely rewarded for it in the world to come. Nothing is more precious to Hashem than peace between His children, and He has a special reward for those who are prepared to forgo their pride to preserve the peace between Jews. If we see our station here as a transitory one, we can more easily endure the passing discomfort, and, thus, turn every offensive act by another into an opportunity to overcome our pride for the greater reward that we will receive in the world to come.
Not only will the person who foregoes his pride and holds his tongue ultimately receive great reward, our Sages tell us that if at that time he prays for something or gives someone a blessing, his blessing is guaranteed to come true. Of the many stories about this phenomenon, the following one is quite moving.
After not having children for many years and after visiting every specialist possible, a couple were told by yet another big specialist that they simply could not have children. With nowhere else to turn, the couple sought the blessing of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky זצ”ל a great sage whose blessings were known to always come true. Yet to their great disappointment, the sage refrained from bestowing a blessing for a child upon them saying, “I cannot give you a blessing, I don’t see children in your future. It is beyond my abilities.” Hearing the great rabbi’s devastating words, they broke down crying and begged the rabbi, “Isn’t there anything that you can do for us?” The rabbi responded, “There is one option. If you receive a blessing from someone who remained silent and didn’t respond in the face of being insulted and humiliated by another person, if he gives you a blessing at that moment, that blessing is guaranteed to come true. That’s the best I can do for you.”
At first, the man thought it would be simple to find such a person, but as time passed, he saw that it was not so easy. One evening, while at a wedding, the man heard a man berating another man, insulting and embarrassing him in public. The one being insulted did not react and ignored the man insulting and embarrassing him. The person needing the blessing realized that he had finally met his man. As the insulting man continued his harangue, the target of the insults found it harder and harder to remain silent. Seeing this, the man needing the blessing quickly approached him and implored him not to respond. “I will explain later, but please don’t respond!” The man complied and, finally, because he didn’t get any response, the angry man walked away. The childless father then related to him what the Sage had told him, and upon hearing these words, the insult victim realized the great opportunity that had come his way. He gave the man a heartfelt blessing for a child, and, nine months later, the formerly childless parents celebrated a bris for their newborn son!
The blessing of a simple man who held his tongue and maintained the peace with the person who publicly embarrassed him accomplished what even the blessing of the greatest Sage could not. We see from this how important peace between Jews is to Hashem.
There is another way that the sukkah operates as a peacemaker between Jews.
The rule is that the schach – the sukkah’s thatched roof – may be made only of unfinished material that grew from the ground, such as tree branches or bamboo sticks. Any finished material, even if it grew from the ground, such as broom sticks, would constitute invalid schach. Interestingly, the name of the holiday Sukkot comes from the word schach; in other words, the sukkah’s roof defines the sukkah and makes it uniquely a sukkah.
The upshot is that no matter a person’s wealth, he must still cover his sukkah with the same unfinished branches that the poorest person uses. If it rains, both get just as wet.
What sometimes divides people is the haves vs. the have nots. How could I invite him to my home? He lives in a mansion, and he will laugh at the simple place that we call home. On the other hand, the rich person doesn’t want anything to do with someone who lives in a low-class home. On Sukkot, everyone is the same, and everyone can feel free to invite anyone to his Sukkah. In this sense, the Sukkah is a great equalizer.
Sukkot’s second mitzvah, the four species, also symbolize unity among Jews. This is because each of the four has unique qualities that the others do not. The etrog (citron) has both a delicious fragrance and a pleasant citrus taste. The lulav (date palm) grows dates with a delicious flavor but no fragrance. The hadas (myrtle) has a good fragrance but no flavor, and the arava (brook willow) has neither taste nor scent.
The Sages explain that the quality of flavor symbolizes Torah, and the characteristic of fragrance represents mitzvot. Hence, the etrog with both flavor and fragrance symbolizes a Torah Sage who also has many mitzvot to his credit. The lulav, with flavor only, symbolizes a Torah Sage who somehow lacks many mitzvot to his credit. The fragrance-only hadas represents a Jew with many mitzvot but is lacking in Torah learning, and the arava, with neither flavor nor fragrance, represents a simple Jew without either.
To properly perform the mitzvah, one must bind together the lulav, hadas, and arava and hold it in one hand, connecting the etrog held in the other hand, bringing them all together. In other words, on Sukkot, we don’t draw lines between types of Jews. We bind all Jews together to praise and serve Hashem.
Why specifically on Sukkot is it important for Jewish people to be unified?
Sukkot comes at a very crucial time of year – the beginning of the rainy season. The bounty for the coming year will depend on the blessings of rain. Hashem Who is One, bestows His blessing on the Jewish people when they are also a unit of one. Only when we are unified are we eligible for Hashem’s greatest blessings. Therefore, the more unified we are at this crucial time, the more blessing will be bestowed upon the Jewish people. As we sit in our sukkot and perform the mitzvah of the four species, let us think about what we can do to connect with another Jew and bring him closer. It will go a long way to bring blessing upon us and the entire J