Rabbi YY Jacobson
Rabbi YY JacobsonIsrael National News

A Gift to a Mother

Three sons left home, went out on their own, and prospered. Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother. The first said, "I built a big house for our mother."

The second said," I sent her a Mercedes with a driver."

The third smiled and said, "I've got you both beat. You know how Mom enjoys the Bible, and you know she can't see very well. I sent her a brown parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took 12 years to teach him. I had to spend $100,000 a year for 10 years, but it was worth it. Mom just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot will recite it."

Soon thereafter, Mom sent out her letters of thanks:

"Milton," she wrote, to her first son, "The house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house."

"Marvin," she wrote to another, "I am too old to travel. I stay home all the time, so I never use the Mercedes. And the driver is so boring!"

"Dearest Melvin," she wrote to her third son, "You were the only son to have the good sense to know what your mother likes. That chicken was delicious."

Anatomy of a Sukkah

For the past three millennia, during the seven days of the joyous festival of Sukkos, we eat, drink, feast, schmuez, relax, read, and sleep in a temporary structure, or hut, known as a Sukkah. This structure consists of walls and a roof composed of material that grew from the ground, like bamboo, straw, or branches.

How many walls does the Sukkah require? Jewish law states that a Sukkah must have two complete walls plus a third wall that may even be one handbreadth long (1). If your Sukkah has three or four complete walls, that's wonderful; but the minimum requirement is two walls and a tiny piece of a third wall.

Why does the law dictate this exact requirement for the Sukkah walls (2)? And what really is the spiritual and psychological significance of spending seven days in a hut on your porch or backyard?

Anatomy of an Embrace

Two extraordinary Jewish thinkers, the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria (3) and Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (4) turn our attention to the affectionate words uttered by the Bride in the Song of Songs (5), "His left arm lay under my head and His right arm embraces me." These words address (6), in metaphorical prose, two distinct moments in the relationship between G-d the Groom and His people, the bride. During the "days of awe," Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d's "left arm," as it were, lay under the head of the Jewish people. The left side represents in Kabbalah introspection, awe, discipline, and discernment, and this is the primary theme of the days of awe.

Sukkos, on the other hand, described in the Torah as "the time of our joy," constitutes the point during the year when “G-d's right arm embraces me." The right arm represents, in Kabbalah, love, and kindness.

Take a look at any of your arms, says Rabbi Isaac Luria, and you will notice its division into three distinct sections, each one usually extending in a different direction. The first is the arm itself, from the shoulder to the elbow; the second is the forearm, from the elbow to the wrist; and the third section is from the wrist to the edge of the fingers.

Now, take a good look at your Sukkah and you will notice a "right arm's embrace." The first complete wall represents a Divine embrace from the "shoulder" to the "elbow"; the second wall reflects the embrace of the "forearm" and the third tiny wall symbolizes the palm embrace.

Rabbi Isaac Luria takes this a step further. He explains that these three dimensions of an arm's embrace encompass three distinct parts of the body being embraced. When you embrace another person, explains Rabbi Chaim Vital (7) quoting his teacher Rabbi Isaac Luria, the highest part of the arm (between the shoulder and the elbow) encompasses the entire left waist of the one being embraced. The middle part of the person's arm, the forearm, expands over the entire width of the embraced person’s back. Finally, the palm and the fingers extend even further and cover only a small part of the face of the embraced one, a handbreadth of the face.

The same is true concerning the Sukkah "embrace." The first two walls represent G-d's light embracing the left waist and the back of the human being dwelling in the Sukkah. The third wall of the Sukkah symbolizes the Divine energy embracing a small part of the Jew's face. (If you have a Sukkah of three or four complete walls, the hug is, of course, an all-embracing one, encircling your back and your face.)

This is the language of Kabbalah, written in codes and metaphors. But how can we apply these anthropomorphic descriptions in a visceral and practical way?

I will present the explanation presented by Chabad Chassidus into this insight by the Arizal.

How Do You Express Love?

There are different ways we express love (8). The first is through words of affection. The three simple words "I love you," when uttered sincerely, may have a transforming impact on another life. Words of affection express our inner emotive experience.

A second, more powerful expression of love is a kiss. A genuine kiss captures an intense feeling that may not be grasped in words. Words can state, "I love you," while a kiss declares, "I love you more than I will ever be able to tell you how much I love you."

A third, perhaps even more powerful expression of love comes in the form of a gaze. Two people in love can gaze at each other for long periods of time without uttering a sound. The sound of a silent gaze is sometimes louder than a thundering outpouring of love. There is something of your soul that you can communicate to another human being exclusively through your eyes (9).

A fourth universally accepted method of expressing love is by means of an embrace. A genuine hug embodies a profound bond existing between the two people embracing each other.

Dissecting the Hug

In Jewish mysticism, the diverse methods of communicating love represent different qualities of love. In the former three methods, the love is toward the face of the beloved one. You speak to one's face, you kiss one's cheeks or lips, and you gaze at one's eyes. In contrast, the target of an embrace is the nape and back of the one being embraced.

That is not a coincidence. There are two forms of love, reciprocal and unconditional. The first is directed to the face of the beloved one; the second is directed to the back of the beloved.

I may love you because of what I receive in return for my relationship with you. Your wisdom, passion, depth, empathy, sensitivity, candidness, humor, beauty, talents, humor, values, etc. -- qualities expressed in and through your face, your eyes, ears, mouth, and general look -- enrich me. I love you because of these or other tremendous qualities that you bring to my life.

This is the type of love primarily communicated in words of affection, in a kiss, or in a silent, romantic gaze, all of them directed toward the face of the beloved one, the primary location of reciprocity. When I express my attachment to you in these three or other forms, I am essentially stating that I cherish you because of your face, because of your qualities and virtues that enrich the caliber of my life. Without you, life for me is that much more empty, boring, and directionless.

This love is deep and powerful, but it is conditional. As long as you are here for me, I am here for you. In essence, I love you because I love myself, and you make my "self" so much deeper and happier.

Yet there is a love demonstrated in an embrace, in which my arms encircle your back. You may turn your back on me, but I won't stop hugging you. You may not give me anything in return for my love; you may even want me out of your life, but I still love you with all my heart, because my soul loves your soul. My core is one with your core.

We see it with parents and children. All healthy parents love their children but sometimes the love (at least on a conscious level) is dependent upon "nachas," the delight and pleasure my child gives me in return for my nurture. What happens in those situations when your child turns his or her back on you (usually because of trauma and emotional neglect)? It becomes very difficult for many parents to maintain the same level of intense love and connection. "He's spitting in the face of all my values, how can I show love? She is showing such disdain for her upbringing, how can I accept her?"

That's the secret of the hug. It is the freedom and the courage to transcend the need for reciprocity. I can show my child, or another child, that affection knows no limits. I love not only your face but also your back. Even as you turn your back on me, I will hold you tightly in my grip and not let go. You may not be interested in me, but I am forever connected to you.

That is why the hug is the only form of love that does not allow the beloved one to escape your embrace. When I utter words of love to you, when I gaze at you, even when I kiss you, I am not holding on to you; if you want to move away from me, it's your choice. But when I embrace you, even if you wish to escape my embrace, you remain "gripped" in my embrace; I won't let you tear yourself away from me.

This is not a coincidence. According to the hassidic masters, this is the essence of a hug: You may want to run away from me, but I will never run away from you. My love will prove stronger than your defiance.

In a way, it is only when my child defies me that I can prove to him or her that my love is more powerful than his or her defiance and it is then that I can heal his or her attachment wounds. When your loved one turns his back on you, you are being given a gift: the opportunity to embrace them with their defiance and their emotional wounds. This can become the greatest source of healing for both of you.

Hugging Your Child

That is why children appreciate so profoundly the embrace of their primary caregivers.

Children enjoy being spoken to. They certainly take pleasure from being kissed (at least sometimes) and being looked upon with tender affection. Children need to be seen and noticed. Yet, more than anything, most children, especially infants, cherish being hugged. When our children hurt themselves or break out in tears, they come running to their parents for a big and long hug to calm them down and restore their confidence.

When children contract a "booboo" of any form, they need to be soothed and made to feel safe, and secure, The hug, when done genuinely, makes a statement: "Your value is not dependent upon being perfect and impeccable. I love you unconditionally because of who you are and not because of what you achieve."

The Holiday of Talking, Kissing, Gazing, and Hugging

All of the Jewish holidays are about the expression of love.

Pesach is the holiday focused on speech (Peh Sach, means a speaking mouth. The mitzvah of Passover is to tell the story to your child verbally). G-d shows His love through words. Shavuos is the Divine kiss, communicated through the Torah, his inner breath. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent the Divine gaze (they are known as the time of "Yirah," awe, the same letters as the word "Reiyah," gazing). That is why they are days of awe and introspection: When the Kings of Kings gazes right at your soul, your soul feels it, and it is stirred.

But on Sukkos, G-d embraces us. It is time for the infinite hug.

What exactly is the Mitzvah of Sukkah? What do you do in the Sukkah? Whatever you do at home, you do in the Sukkah for seven days, and it becomes a Mitzvah. So you eat, drink, chat, relax, hang out, read, meet people, nap, and sleep in your Sukkah -- all mundane endeavors. The core of the mitzvah is that whenever you do at home, when you do the same thing on Sukkos inside the Sukkah it is a Mitzvah, a holy act, a Divine connection. I'm reading the paper, chatting with a friend, taking a stroll, or drinking orange juice in the Sukkah, and it is a Mitzvah. It's not about what you are doing, but where you are doing it. The most physically mundane act performed inside the walls of the Sukkah is defined in Judaism as a medium through which we craft a relationship with the Creator.

G-d is whispering this message via the walls of the Sukkah: I love you in the totality of your being. I am crazy about every part and aspect of your life. Like a mom who kvels as she watches her infant eating or taking a nap, just because this is her beloved child, so too does G-d cherish us eating, relaxing, or resting in the Sukkah. The walls of the Sukkah capture the love that has no conditions, no qualifications, and no boundaries. As you enter the walls of G-d's embrace, your back is as cherished as your face. G-d says: I love you the way you are and in every facet of your being.

This is the Divine whisper shared by the walls of the Sukkah: My child, you are in my grip of love. Never ever will I let go of you. Even if you do not believe in Me, and even if you do not believe in yourself, I will never stop believing in you.

Sustaining the Embrace

The purpose of each Jewish holiday is to create an awareness that endures throughout the entire year. The “hug” displayed to us by G-d on Sukkos is meant to carry us through the entire year, to recall how meaningful and powerful every moment and experience of our lives is.

"In all your ways know Him," says King Solomon in Proverbs (10). Because really, there is no mundane aspect in your life. G-d takes it all in. He loves it all. (11)



1) Sukkah 6b; Rambam Hilchos Sukkah 4:2; Tur and Schulchan Aruch Orach Chaim section 630.

2) The Talmud ibid. derives this law from a biblical source. Here we will present the spiritual and psychological dimension of the law, based on the ancient axiom that each law and Mitzvah in the Torah and in the Talmud contains many layers of understanding. Not only are these multitude of interpretations not contradictory to each other, they actually evolve from each other and enrich each other.

3) Known as the Arizal. He is considered one of the greatest mystics in Jewish history, he lived in Jerusalem, Egypt, and finally passed away in Sefad in 1572, after teaching kabbalah for two years and revolutionizing the landscape of Jewish mysticism.

4) Known as the "Elder Rebbe," The Rav, or the Baal Hatanya. The founder of Chabad Chassidus, he was considered one of the greatest Jewish leaders and personalities of his day. He passed away on 24 Teves, 1812 while escaping Napoleon's army.

5) 2:6.

6) Pri Eitz Chaim Shaar Chag Hasukkos chapter 4. Likkutei Torah Derushim LeSukkos pp. 78-79; 82d; 84a-b; 87a. Cf. Or Hatorah Derushim LeSukkos pp. 1762-3.

7) Pri Eitz Chaim ibid.

8) See Likkutei Diburim (from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch) vol. 1, opening discourse.

9) See Midrash Rabah Song of Song 1:15, explaining the words "Your eyes are like those of a dove."

10) Proverbs 3:6

11) This essay is based on the works of Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe (Likkutei Torah and Or Hatorah ibid. Likkutei Sichos vol. 2 p. 418 and other sources). Cf. essay by Rabbi Yoel Kahn in Beor Hachasidus (published by Heichal Menachem, Brooklyn, NY) issue of Tishrei 5755.

From Theyeshiva.net