What a holiday joy! Wherever you look in Jerusalem, you see sukkah booths. They are lined up, one next to another, on the sidewalks, in driveways, on terraces and roofs. I remember, in New York City, you could walk from Battery Park to the Bronx without seeing a single sukkah! And this is the city that New Yorkers think is Jewish! I can’t understand how anyone who takes his Judaism seriously could live in New York when in just a few hours, he or she could be in the Land of Israel. What are they still doing there?
Anyway, I don’t want to think about it, lest I dampen my holiday joy. So, in honor of Rebbe Nachman’s yahrtzeit today, let’s have a look at another one of his teachings about Eretz Yisrael. Rebbe Nachman teaches that the mitzvah of sukkah is a segulah for coming to the Land of Israel. Let me illustrate with a story:
When I was first becoming religious in the great American land of the gentiles, and the holiday of Sukkot came around, I built 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 hunting rite. Of course it was completely non-kosher, but since I hadn’t yet begun to study the laws of sukkah building, I didn’t know the difference. I slept on the roof of my Manhattan apartment building, and I think that Hashem was pleased with my efforts to get close to Him, even though I did it in such an unorthodox 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 completely into His service, and also to do things in the proper manner, as He set forth for us in the Torah. In the proper manner and in the proper place – Eretz Yisrael - as the Torah states over and over again.
The following year, after I had begun learning more about Judaism, I was invited for the holiday of Sukkot 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, my friend 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, like the downpour that was on the way. I refused to budge, saying the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that the mitzvah of Sukkah was a “segula” 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. Also the Four Species are characteristic of the Land, growing naturally in Israel’s climate. As the rain came down harder, my rabbi-friend said that I wasn’t allowed to continue in the sukkah, because there was a danger to health, since it was a rainy, chilly night in Queens. But I was stubborn and ate my meal in the rain and slept in the wet 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. I hope to see all of you here soon in Eretz Yisrael where the holiday of Sukkah is meant to be performed. In the meantime, you don’t have to sit in your succah in the rain, but if you want to come to Eretz Yisrael, remember, you’ve got to have real faith!