In the Shade of Reliability

In a public display of fealty, the Jewish people has, for time immemorial, forsaken our regular dwellings in favor of our “booths”. This is the mitzvah of sukkah. According to the Ramban[1] although all of the three festivals, at their core, are in memory of the exodus from Egypt[2] there is no other festival that presents as public a statement as to the truth of our Masorah (=traditions handed down through the generations) quite like sukkot. The reason for this is because it is the one festival which requires each and every Jew to leave their private domain and enter the public one. This is because you can’t make a sukkah inside your house. You can, of course, take the roof off your house to use the walls as the walls of your sukkah. All you need then is a little sechach. But most people won’t do that, of course. No. Since time immemorial it is the sukkah which has been a public display of our commitment to the truth of our Holy Torah.ClickHandler4.ashx.jpg

In truth though the sukkah stands for more than just a symbolic remembrance of our adherence to mitzvos and to the truth of the Exodus. It’s much more specific than that. Our sages, ob”m, refer to it as tzeilah d’meheimnuta (=the shade of reliability and trust) because it is a reminder of who we were in the times of the exodus and what we are really doing today. Let me elaborate.

The Navi (=prophet) Jeremiah says (2:2) “…thus sayeth the Lord I remember the chessed that you did (on My behalf) in your youth, the love of your wedding day, how you followed Me in the desert, in a land which is not planted”. This refers to the emmunah that our forebears, the children of Israel, displayed by following Moshe into the desert at the beginning of their trip to har ha-E-lohim, (the mountain of G-d) where they received the Torah, and ultimately from there to the “promised land”. They did this without provisions of any sort, based solely on their faith and trust in HKB”H who led them into the desert, that He would provide for them. And provide He did.

…so that your generations should know for it was in sukkot that I made you (your ancestors) dwell when I took you out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43) is the reason why we sit in our sukkot during the festival. The halacha is clear in this issue (S”A O”C 739) that the way to fulfill the mitzvah is to actually DWELL in our sukkah during the entire 7 days (=8 days outside of Israel) period. We eat in it, sleep in it, learn in it, go for a tiyul (=a short excursion) in it. In short, we spend as much time as we can inside of it. This is in memory of how our ancestors dwelled in the sukkot when they came out of Egypt over 3000 years ago. There are, however, two things which need to be addressed concerning this issue.

First of all, as the Torah clearly states that the reason for sitting in the sukkah is “so that your generations should know” the preferable way to “sit” in the sukkah is to do so with precisely that intention. When we are in the sukkah we should consider that we are dwelling in it in the perpetuation of our people’s history and in memory of our people’s sojourn in the desert for 40 years.

The second thing, however, is a little more interesting. What, exactly, is the Torah referring to when it says a “sukkah”?

Concerning this issue the Gemara in tractate Sukkah 11b brings an argument among our sages, ob”m. It is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer that the Torah wants us to remember the ananei hakavod (the clouds of glory) which surrounded our people during their stay in the desert. These clouds surrounded us on all sides (north, south, east, and west) above and below. This is like a sukkah in which we dwell surrounded by materials which provide for us meager protection from the elements – just like a real cloud would! But there was much more to these clouds. Our sages, ob”m, tell us that they would also clean and press the clothing of the people of Israel (a real mother’s helper! Believe me. I know!), they would provide complete climate control (not too hot, cold, humid or otherwise) and there even was one extra cloud that would go before them during their travels to straighten out the way (raise up the valleys and lower the mountains. For those of you who are worried about the ecology – don’t worry! G-d put things back the way they were after the Children of Israel passed by). These were outright miracles which occurred on a daily basis in the merit of the clouds of glory[3].clouds-1024x576.jpg

Rabbi Akiva, however, is of the opinion that the Torah is referring to actual sukkot in which the people dwelled during their stay in the desert. Meaning that the sukkot in which we dwell are supposed to remind us of how we lived in the desert, in temporary structures which were not designed to keep out anything but the sun alone and provide a very basic form of privacy. The sefer Aruch HaShulchan in the laws of sukkot siman 625 explains that according to Rabbi Akiva it is not so much the outright miracles of the clouds of glory that the sukkah is to remind us of, rather it is the journey itself. The Jewish people followed both Moses and the clouds into the desert where they remained and were sustained in a clearly miraculous way. Every single day, despite the meagerness of their surroundings, the people of Israel were provided for. For water we had the miraculous be’er Miriam (the well of Miriam, this well existed in the merit of one of our seven prophetesses Miriam, Moshe’s older sister[4]). This well didn’t exist in one place, it would roll and travel with the people of Israel from place to place. Upon arrival at the new camp, it would immediately begin to produce water. The nesiim (princes) of the tribes would then go and drag their staves in the ground from the well to each of their tribes. Along these furrows, water would then flow extending from the well to the encampment of each of the tribes making it much easier for each of the tribes to get their requisite drink.

As they were a nomadic people, moving from place to place, not having a land to call their own, and not being able to grow anything in the desert where they were situated, they had a need for food as well. As is well-known lo al halechem levado yechiyeh ha’adam, (a man cannot survive solely on bread) and we also cannot survive only on meat, regardless of how much we like it. We were in desperate need of a food source which would supply us with all of our bodies nutrients during our 40 years in the desert. Except that we weren’t so desperate as HKB”H provided us – daily – with the miraculous food “man(na)[5]. Every single day each and every person was provided with the exact amount of food that he/she required regardless of how much or little they felt they needed. If one tried to gather more upon arrival at his home he would discover that he had exactly one omer’s (an amount) worth of manna. If he gathered less upon arrival home he would discover he had exactly one omer’s worth of manna. If they tried to save some for tomorrow – it would immediately rot and become full of worms. Tomorrow would be provided for without our help.

If a person was a great tzadik (righteous man) he would find that the manna had descended right in front of his doorway, whereas if he was a of a lower spiritual state he would have to go much further to get his manna.

The manna, although it had its own taste as described in the Torah explicitly, it could also taste like anything that the people wanted. It was such a perfect food that it was completely absorbed by the body leaving no residues and no unwanted waste products that required for the consumer to later go to the bathroom in order to purify the body from residues. It was a food that promoted wisdom and spirituality. In short… it was go-o-o-o-d!

Every day for forty years that was their daily bread. They stopped receiving it only once they entered the land of Israel. Yet there was a jar of the stuff that Moses was commanded to set aside, to place it in the kodesh ha’kodashim (the most sacred part of the Mishkan, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was placed) for future generations.

In addition, the people were accompanied by the pillar of cloud, which led them on their journeys during the day, and the pillar of fire, which would replace the pillar of cloud come the evening. These miraculous pillars also were with the people during the entire 40 years in the desert.

In short: if Pesach is our celebration of our miraculous exodus from Egypt after years of subjugation and suffering under the Egyptian yoke, and Shavuot is our celebration of the Torah that we received at Sinai 50 days after the exodus from Egypt, then Sukkos is our commemoration of the sojourn in the desert for 40 years, which was also a pivotal, unique experience which shaped our nation from then to this day.

When sitting in the sukkah this sukkos please take a moment to stop and reflect on this topic, for it is only in this fashion that we fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah to its fullest.

[1] I have seen this quoted in his name in many places, but I have not found the actual source.

[2] However each of the festivals commemorates a different part of the Exodus. In all of the Jewish sources the concept of the exodus doesn’t refer solely to the actual time that we left Egypt, even though that is the plain meaning of the concept. It encompasses the entire 40 year period that began when we left Egypt until we entered the land of Canaan. Passover commemorates the miracles which occurred prior to and up to the exodus. Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, commemorates our having received the Torah. Lastly Sukkot commemorates our sojourn in the desert for 40 years.

[3] Which we received in the merit of Aharon HaKohein. A topic for a different time

[4] This was made readily obvious to everyone as the well disappeared after Miriam’s death and we understood that it was because of her that we had it.

[5] The Torah states clearly that it was called this, an Aramaic word for “What’s that?”, because they didn’t know what to call it.

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