“The Sukkah In The Sky”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Haazinu, the penultimate parasha in the book of Deuteronomy, signals the conclusion of Moses’ departing message to the People of Israel.

The style of Moses’ message changes significantly in parashat Haazinu, moving from prose to poetry. Moses apparently realizes that his words have become inadequate, and only through the drama and beauty of poetry will his final message truly penetrate the minds and hearts of the people.

The majestic poetry of parashat Haazinu describes G-d as the Ultimate Creator of the world, and underscores His special relationship with the Jewish people. G-d has chosen Israel from among all the nations and has singled Israel out to be His own.

In one of the many deeply moving and lyrical verses of parashat Haazinu, Moses describes G-d as an eagle, arousing its nest. In Deuteronomy 32:11-12, Moses sings, כְּנֶשֶׁר יָעִיר קִנּוֹ, עַל גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֵף,  יִפְרֹשׂ כְּנָפָיו יִקָּחֵהוּ, יִשָּׂאֵהוּ עַל-אֶבְרָתוֹ. השׁם בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ, וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר, He [G-d] was like an eagle rousing its nest, hovering over its young, spreading its wings and taking them, carrying them on its pinions. The L-rd alone guided them, and no other power was with them.

In his brilliant commentary on scripture entitled, Da’at Sofrim, Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz explores the inner meanings of the eagle metaphor.

Rabbi Rabinowitz explains that from the very start, G-d cared for the People of Israel with exceptional kindness and sensitivity. Gently, without frightening or intimidating them, He encouraged the people to serve Him. Like an eagle that comes quietly to awaken the slumbering chicks in its nest, using only the most sensitive and caring manner to arouse them, so does G-d arouse His children. Just as the eagle hovers over its young, to awaken them with the soft sounds of its fluttering wings, so does G-d gently awaken the People of Israel. Unlike other birds, the eagle transports its young from place to place by carrying them on its wings, so that they will be protected from all dangers–from hunters below and from menacing birds of prey.

Scripture describes at length the fine details of every action of the eagle, selflessly expressing its devotion and compassion, and declares that G-d similarly protects His people with infinite devotion.

Rabbi Rabinowitz interprets the Bible’s description of G-d carrying His people on His wings as alluding to both the Israelites’ experience in Egypt, and to the future experiences of Israel, when the ingathering of the exiles will take place. By bearing them on His wings, G-d places the People of Israel in the most honored spot, protecting its young from the dangers of above and below.

The three words, השׁם בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ, G-d alone will lead them, are seen as both prophecy and warning, underscoring the special nature of Israel, from which both good and evil result. The Jewish people were, and will always be, an exceptional people, not subject to the rules of nature. Expanding the borders and outlook of the Jewish people is seemingly a positive feature, but because of the nature of the world, it is not at all helpful for the Jewish people to be drawn too closely to other nations. Israel needs to be alone, so that they may be led by G-d to their unique and ultimate destiny.

Only G-d can lead the Jewish people. There are no other powers to whom Israel is attracted and responsive. The nation of Israel will not allow itself to be open to other gods. G-d does not give over the leadership of Israel to other so-called “powers.” The destiny of the people is not even subject to the influence of His angels. G-d alone directs Israel’s destiny. Not only will Israel not worship the perceived powers of nature or other powers, of wood or of stone, recognized by others in the world, they will not even be subject to the angelic powers of heaven. Only G-d.

The powerful image of the eagle hovering over its young, instantly brings to mind the so-called, “Sukkah of the Al-mighty,” hovering over the Jewish people. The rabbis of the Talmud debate whether the ancient Israelites in the wilderness dwelt in actual physical huts–Sukkot, with four walls and a roof, or were enveloped by the seven Divine clouds of glory (Sukkot 5764-2003).

At this time of year, when Jews leave their protected domiciles and “dwell” in their shabby and flimsy Sukkot, they truly realize how closely G-d hovers over His people, gently protecting them from not only the vagaries of the threatening physical elements, but also from the blandishments of the spiritual elements.

The chances of the Jewish people surviving 3,300 traumatic years of Jewish history, underscore the special protection of Israel provided by the Al-mighty. Not only has Israel survived, it has flourished, and has emerged today as a vital and central nation in the world. This could not ever have happened without the “Divine Eagle” protecting Israel, leading Israel, and guiding Israel.

This bold and vital message of Sukkot, is expressed openly in the exceptionally beautiful blessing of the Friday and holiday evening services at which we say: הַפּורֵשׂ סֻכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵ־ל וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלָיִם, Blessed are you, G-d, Who spreads His Sukkah of peace upon us, and upon all His people Israel and upon Jerusalem.

May the Al-mighty bless all His people, Israel, with a happy, joyous and peaceful holiday.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה Shanah Tovah and a גְמָר חֲתִימָה טוֹבָה G’mar Chatimah Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and may all our prayers be answered favorably.

Yom Kippur will be observed this year on Tuesday evening, September 22nd through nightfall on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015. Have a most meaningful fast.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, September 27th, 28th and 29th, 2015. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Sunday, October 4th. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 5th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 5th and continues through Tuesday, October 6th.