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Happy Sukkah!

By Tzvi Fishman
10/2/2009, 12:00 AM

For someone who wants to live in Eretz Yisrael, it is a good thing to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot as best as you can.

When I was first becoming religious and Sukkot came around, I build myself something that sort of resembled a sukkah on the roof of my apartment building in Manhattan. I took four poles and stretched a blanket between them to make a canopy, and that was my sukkah. No walls. No schach. Just the four poles and a blanket for a roof, like something an American Indian might put up on a mountaintop as part of some buffalo rite. Of course it was completely non-kosher, but since I hadn’t yet begun to study the halacha of sukkah building, I didn’t know the difference. I slept on the roof of my Manhattan apartment building, and I think that G-d was pleased with my efforts to get close to him, even though I did it in such an off-the-wall fashion.

There are people who say that when it comes to serving G-d, the most important thing is what is in a person’s heart.  That may be true of other religions, but when it comes to Judaism, it is only partially true. G-d wants us to put our hearts into His service, and also to do things in the proper manner that He set forth for us in the Torah. This is the complete service of G-d which Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi emphasizes in his classic book, “The Kuzari.” When the King of the Kuzars asks the Rabbi why he has decided to make aliyah, the Rabbis answers that the complete service of G-d can only be attained there, in the Land that was created especially for G-d’s worship.

The following year, after I had begun learning, I was invited for Sukkah to the home of an Israeli family who was in New York on shlichood to help bring families on aliyah. When it started to rain at the start of the Kiddush, the father said that we would have to continue with the meal in the house, since one doesn’t have to stay in the sukkah if it is a hardship. I refused to budge, saying the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that the mitzvah of Sukkah was a “segula” (special charm) for coming to Eretz Yisrael, because of its special inner connection with the Land of Israel. For one thing, the mitzvah of sukkah is done with one’s entire body, by dwelling in the sukkah, just as with the mitzvah of living in Israel. As the rain came down harder, my rabbi-friend said that I wasn’t allowed to continue in the sukkah, because their was a danger to health, since it was a chilly night in Queens, along with the steady rain. But I was stubborn and ate my meal and slept in the sukkah, believing it would help get me out of America and home to Eretz Yisrael.

Sure enough, a few minutes after the Yom Tov ended, the phone rang. It was Meir Indor calling from Israel. Today Meir is head of the Almagor Victims of Terror Organization, but back then he as one of the founders of the Sarel Volunteers for Israel program.

“Where is Fishman?” he asked my host.

“In the sukkah,” the Israeli replied.

I couldn’t speak on the telephone because as a Diaspora Jew, I had to keep two days of Yom Tov, where my Israeli friends only had to keep one.

“Tell Fishman there is a ticket to Israel waiting for him at El Al at Kennedy Airport. We want him to escort a TV news crew who is coming to do a story on the volunteers.”

“You see,” I told my astonished host, “Rebbe Nachman was right. Sukkah is a segula for coming to Eretz Yisrael!”

So happy Sukkah holiday to everyone, and I hope to see all of you here soon in Eretz Yisrael where the holiday of Sukkah is meant to be performed.

(People interested in learning about the secrets of Sukkah can find an eye-opening essay at