“Sukkot: Enveloping Israel in G-d’s Loving-kindness”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The majestic song/poem of parashat Haazinu opens with a lyrical summary of Jewish history.

Speaking in G-d’s name to the Jewish people, Moses urges them (Deuteronomy 32:7): זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר וָדֹר, Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation. The entire creation of the world, says Moses to G-d’s beloved nation, was designed around G-d’s relationship with you, the Jewish people. So much so, says Moses, Deuteronomy 32:8, יַצֵּב גְּבֻלֹת עַמִּים, לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, that G-d set the borders of the nations of the world, according to the number of the Children of Israel.

The description of G-d’s special relationship with His people continues (Deuteronomy 32:10-12): G-d discovered the Jewish people in the desert, in desolation, in the howling wilderness. He encircled them, He granted them discernment, He preserved them like the pupil of His eye. G-d was like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, spreading its wings and taking them, carrying them on his pinions. G-d alone guided them and no other power was there with Him.

This special, loving relationship of G-d and His people is nowhere more profoundly articulated and concretized than in the festival of Sukkot. In the “howling wilderness,” G-d built huts for His people for their protection and their comfort. According to tradition, the Al-mighty surrounded the people with seven clouds, which some sages consider a spiritual Sukkah (See Sukkot 5764-2003). According to others, the people actually dwelt in makeshift huts, under G-d’s special supervision, care and love.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in an essay published in Judaism Eternal, defines the Sukkah as G-d’s protective covering.

Rabbi Hirsch declares that the Sukkah comes to teach ultimate trust in G-d. Whether rich or poor, surrounded by abundance or great lack, one who has faith in G-d is neither “dazzled by abundance or frightened by want.” After all, all one’s material endowments are, in fact, a gift from G-d, not one’s own possessions.

That is why, says Rabbi Hirsch, the Sukkah is built from materials that others reject and despise. Broken pieces of wood and discarded tree branches, are formed into a ramshackle hut, in which one dwells for eight days. Whether one’s permanent dwelling is a lowly shack or a resplendent palace, all is transitory and temporary, since “only G-d is our protection, and it is His grace which shields us.”

When G-d is our protective covering, there is never reason to fear. Even when we wander in the howling wilderness with our spouses and young children, we are secure knowing that we are protected by the embrace of G-d and sheltered by Him.\

G-d not only dispenses His manna to His beloved people, but also shares with them His grace.

Whether one builds a domicile from hewn stones of precious marble, or from modest planks, or if one’s limited resources allow only enough materials to make barely two partitions and part of a third, true protection comes only from G-d. He is our shelter, He is our סְכָךְs’chach (natural covering for the Sukkah). In G-d’s eyes we are all equal. “In the walls we may differ, but in the s’chach we are all equal. For it is not human wealth or strength or skill, but the grace and blessing of G-d that protects us and covers palaces and huts with the same love.”

There is no reason for Jews to be concerned, suggests Rabbi Hirsch, if they lead their lives “in the Tabernacle built by the trust in G-d and covered by the love of G-d.” There is no need to worry, after all, the physical home in which we live is only transitory and temporary, and that “one day it will leave you, or you will leave it!

Says Rabbi Hirsch,

“The walls may fall, the covering may wither in the storm, G-d may call you outside; but the sheltering love of G-d is everywhere and constantly with you, and where it bids you dwell, where it protects you, there you dwell, were it only for a moment, in the most fleeting and transitory dwelling, as calmly and securely as if it were your house forever.”

This transcendent message of Sukkot offered by Rabbi Hirsch, is a message that surely applies to contemporary times as well. The “howling wilderness” of ever-ascendant anti-Semitism and rapidly increasing hatred of Israel seems pervasive. We have no one on whom to rely, but the Al-mighty, Who has enveloped His people in His protective Sukkah. It is only with complete faith in the Al-mighty, that we can travel with our families, our children and grandchildren, and face the future with optimism, despite every reason to feel otherwise.

It is the message of faith, that allows the Jewish people to fulfill the Torah’s directives with the feeling of true joy (Deuteronomy 16:15), וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ, that is the essential theme of Sukkot. It is this message that we must carry with us from year to year, until peace prevails upon the entire world, and all humankind embraces the Al-mighty G-d.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה Shanah Tovah and a גְּמָר חֲתִימָה טוֹבָה, 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.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, October 16th, 17th and 18th, 2016. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Sunday, October 23rd. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 24th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 24th and continues through Tuesday, October 25th.