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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Succos 5773
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar




The Duke of Manheim once met Rav Tzvi of Berlin and asked him why the Jews recite the Four Questions on Pesach night and not on Succos night? It would seem that leaving the warmth and comfort of home to sit outside in a flimsy succah is peculiar enough to warrant questions and explanations.

Rav Tzvi replied that on the night of Pesach when the child sees the table set with beauty and elegance, he is perplexed. What is the meaning behind this regality while we are yet in exile? On the night of Succos however, when the child finds his family exiled from their home and left to the mercy of the elements, he is not surprised. After all, throughout the centuries of exile, that’s what Jews have always been forced to do!

The Tur[1] records that the Succos (huts) we constructfor the duration of the seven-day holiday commemorates the Divine Clouds of Glory that enveloped and protected Klal Yisroel during their forty year sojourn in the desert.

The Bach notes that as a rule, the Tur only records the letter of the law and does not include the reasons and logic behind the laws. However, in regard to Succah he makes an exception and records the reason for the mitzvah. He does so because the Torah itself found it necessary to record the reason: “So that your generations will know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of Egypt.[2]” Therefore, the Bach rules, that one only fulfills the mitzvah of Succah if he bears in mind the reason for the mitzvah.

Truthfully, the Gemarah in Succah records a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva as to what is the true reason for the mitzvah of succah. The Tur only mentions the aforementioned opinion of Rabbi Eliezer that it is to commemorate the Clouds of Glory. Rabbi Akiva however, opines that our succos serve to commemorate actual succos (huts) that Klal Yisroel constructed and lived in while they were the desert.

Why does the Tur completely ignore the opinion of Rabbi Akiva?

Furthermore, what is the logic behind Rabbi Akiva’s opinion? If they ate watermelon in the desert should we observe a seven-day watermelon party? Why should we sit in huts because they did?

The Rokeiach explains that Rabbi Akiva is referring to huts that the nation constructed built specifically when they went to battle the mighty armies of the great giants Sichon and Og.

During war, soldiers try to camouflage themselves as much possible, and remain low key. Why would Klal Yisroel build huts during a time of war?

Chazal say that the Clouds of Glory protected Klal Yisroel from enemies, elements, and surrounding predatory animals. At the foot of the Sea of Reeds when Klal Yisroel were trapped between the Sea and the oncoming Egyptians, the Clouds of Glory caught the arrows of the Egyptians and spit them back at the attackers. However when Klal Yisroel went to fight Sichon and Og they left their wives and children behind and had to leave the camp. How were they protected, especially in their vulnerable huts?

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita quotes Sefas Emes (5637) who says that through living in the Succcah for the seven days of Succos one is blessed with Divine protection throughout the year. Through one’s observance of the holiday he will capture the feeling of trust in G-d and bring that security back into his home when the holiday is over.

Throughout the holiday of Succos during those times when one is permitted to be outside the succah, e.g. when one goes to shul to daven, or when one goes for a walk, it is still as if he is under the s’chach. The obligation of living in the succah is, in the words of Chazal, ‘tayshvu k’ayn taduru’ to dwell there as you live in your home. Thus, there are times when one leaves his normal home too though he is still the resident of his home[3].

The root of this idea stems from the Clouds of Glory themselves. When Klal Yisroel departed from the main camp, the Divine protection of the clouds continued to envelop them and protect them from the enemy even beyond its actual confines. They were able to set up huts right in the middle of the war because the Divine protection of the Clouds accompanied them in the merit that they retained their levels of holiness.

It is these huts that Rabbi Akiva refers to. Our succos serve to commemorate the fact that Klal Yisroel was able to retain the Divine protection outside the actual clouds. Ultimately our goal too is that when the holiday of Succos is over we too will be able to take the holiness and security we feel in the succah into our homes.

In that sense Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Akiva agree that the underlying point of succah is to commemorate the Clouds of Glory. They disagree only about which aspect of the Clouds deserves our main focus – the actual Clouds themselves or the protection that the clouds afforded even beyond itself. It is for this reason that the Tur only mentions the Clouds of Glory, for that is the ultimate point of the holiday according to both opinions.

In this sense, the fragile succah is the only true dwelling place a Jew has in exile. An infant in his mother’s arms is unaware if he is in Russia, South Africa, Antarctica, or New York. As far as the child is concerned his location is in his mother’s arms, and nothing else really matters. The same is true in regard to the succah. No matter where in the world a Jew constructs his succah, he is joined with every other Jew sitting in succos throughout the world – under the protection of Hashem.

When my alma-mater, Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, was being built during the 1970’s regular domestic wood was obtained for the building. One of the parents of the Yeshiva approached the founding Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, and told him he could obtain better quality wood from Finland at a cheaper rate. The latter wood was far more durable and was expected to last 150-200 years as opposed to the domestic wood, which was expected to last only 90 years. Rabbi Wein however refused the Finnish wood and insisted that the regular wood was sufficient. He told the surprised parent, that in America we build too well and for too long. Things move fast and it’s hard to make calculations for 200 years from now. We don’t need wood that will outlast our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Historically, there are very few Jewish buildings which remain in Jewish hands after 90 years.

Unfortunately his words ring true not only in the decimated smoldering ruins of shuls and yeshivos in Europe, but even of shuls in this country. My Zayde, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, was the Rabbi of Kehillas Anshei Slonim on the Lower East Side, a renowned shul during the 1970s which had a capacity that exceeded over a thousand seats. Today the building has been converted into an Italian theater with nary a trace remaining of all the tefillos and Torah learning that took place there.

The Succah contains the holiness of Yerushalayim as we recite in the evening prayers of Shabbos and Yom Tov, “He (G-d) spreads His succah of peace upon us and all of his nation Israel and Yerushalayim.” Ironically, while the location of the succah is temporal and fleeting, the holiness and spiritual fortitude it infuses us with is lingering and transcendent, if only we can have the wisdom to know how to internalize its eternal message.

”To dwell there as you live in your home”

“So that your generations will know”

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Please have in mind our dear friend Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah in all of your tefilos. He is in need of tremendous rachmei shomayim. May we hear good news soon Iy'H.

[1] Siman 625

[2] Vayikra 23:44

[3] see Divrei Chaim al haTorah, Inyanei Succos

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