Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy
Schach on a sukkah must consist of material that grew from the ground. Yet, this material cannot be attached to the ground nor can it have been fashioned into a vessel by man. Why?
In his commentary to this week’s parsha (which contains the command to sit in a sukkah), Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that man usually lives on two elements: nature and human ingenuity. On Sukkos, G-d wants us to shed both and remember that our true source of life is Him.
If a person sits beneath schach that’s attached to the ground, he’s symbolically “committing himself to the protection of the powers of the earth.” And if he sits under schach that’s been crafted by man into a vessel – i.e., schach that “bear the imprint of man’s mastery” – he’s implying that his welfare depends on human effort.
Neither, of course, is true. It depends on the Almighty.
G-d doesn’t want us to reject the material world. Indeed, He gave us a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, economic abundance may cause us to “become proud and forget G-d.” And so, once a year, G-d tells us to relive our experience in the desert. For 40 years, we roamed “where no springs gush forth and no green fields ripen.” But we prospered “under G-d’s protection and by His word.”
On Sukkos, we remind ourselves of this fact, writes Rav Hirsch. We leave our houses and build a sukkah whose roof comes from nature but isn’t “nourished by nature.” This roof is also “destitute of the imprint of man’s power.” We thus symbolically discard “our dependence on the protection given by nature or the art of man” and rely solely on Him.
The Torah declares, “Not by bread alone does man live but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Bread “represents the combination of nature and the art of man.” G-d wants us to make bread. He wants us to utilize our brains and the world He gave us. But we must never forget that everything ultimately comes from Him.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.
Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.