Sukkot perspectives

The only happiness that is lasting and meaningful is an inner happiness not caused by outside stimuli or fleeting factors.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
pr

The festival of Succot marks the culmination, so to speak, of the holy month of Tishrei. Though all of the festivals of the Jewish year retain a solemnity regarding their observance, the festival of Succot is marked as being a time of joy and celebration. The natural beauty of the holiday, as it is accompanied by the climate and agricultural bounty of the Land of Israel, enhances the celebration of the festival itself. The fact that the special commandments that distinguish this holiday from all others are of a natural and agricultural type reinforces within us the understanding of the viewpoint of the Torah towards the wonders of the natural world in which we live.

Even in the snow and cold of autumn in Eastern Europe (or in my childhood in Chicago) the holiday spoke to the Jewish people of the natural beauty of the Land of Israel and of the glories of God's world. While the pagan world worshiped nature itself, Judaism taught its adherents to worship the Creator of nature and its Enabler. Plus, it was the view of nature and its awesome powers and enormous beauty that marked the dividing line between Judaism and the pagan world.

The other differences in behavior and outlook, values and our observances, stem from this original divergence as how we view the natural world that we inhabit. The festival of Succot serves to remind us as to this basic fault line in human thought and civilization.

Aside from the natural beauty of the world that the holiday emphasizes there is also a strong message of freedom that Succot represents. Succot symbolizes simple pleasures in life, without unnecessary luxuries and burdensome appurtenances. We are able to live, enjoy and experience life even under a flimsy roof and seemingly temporary quarters.

The Torah does not demand from us discomfort. If for various reasons it is uncomfortable and even painful to sit in the succah then we are freed from that obligation. However the Torah does demand from us a proper perspective as to the necessities of life. The succah is a temporary dwelling but the truth of the matter is that even our mansion-like home is also only a temporary dwelling for mortal human beings.

We are all travelers so to speak in this world and sometimes the demands of travel give us simple and temporary accommodations. The Torah wishes for our home to also be comfortable but one should never view it as being permanent. In spite of this serious thought, we are bidden to be happy and to rejoice in the present and in the blessings of life, family, the Land of Israel and our relationship to the Creator of all natural beauty and human satisfaction.

The only happiness that is lasting and meaningful, an inner happiness not caused by outside stimuli or fleeting factors. The festival of Succot comes to help us experience this inner happiness and to negate within us any extraneous reliance on outside factors to create the happiness that we so long for and desire.

Succot also comes to teach us that somehow we could take a minimalistic view of life. Not everything is perfect and not everything is beautiful and there are many circumstances in life when we are forced to settle for less than we had hoped for. So, a succah is kosher even if it has barely more than two walls. We try to purchase and own the most beautiful blemish-free etrog possible. But any etrog, as long as it meets the minimum standards of halacha is also acceptable.

I remember as a child growing up in Chicago during World War II that there were only three etrogim in the synagogue on Succot to service the more than seven-hundred-fifty worshipers present. It took well over an hour and a half for everyone to mount the bimah and recite the blessing over the etrog. Needless to say, towards the end of the line the etrog was somewhat blemished after being handled by so many people over such a length of time. Nevertheless, the last person in line recited the blessing with fervor and commitment equal to those who had long before preceded him.

It is desirable to have a perfect etrog on which to make the blessing. But, it is not always possible and the reality of the matter is that we should always make do with what we have and not be prevented from serving God and man properly by the lack of perfection within others or ourselves.





top