“I’m Dreaming of a Warm Sukkot”
(updated and revised from Sukkot 5762-2001)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The joyous festival of Sukkot, which begins Friday evening, October 2nd, expresses the idea of the unity of the Jewish People in a particularly profound manner.

According to tradition, the etrog, the citron fruit, has a wonderful taste and a pleasant smell. The rabbis say that these attributes represent Jews who are filled with Torah learning and have many good deeds to their credit. The myrtle, the hadas, is a leaf that has a pleasant smell but no taste. The myrtle represents Jews who engage in Torah learning, but have few good deeds. The willow, the aravah leaf, has a pleasant taste but no smell. It represents Jews who have good deeds, but no Torah learning. And finally, the lulav, the palm branch, has no taste and no smell. It represents Jews who are void of learning and of good deeds. (There are those who reverse willow and the date palm branch, since the palm bears delicious fruit.)

On Sukkot we bind all four species together, and make the blessing over the lulav. Binding and blessing the species together, symbolically represents that all Jews are necessary for the community to be whole. The fact that we make the blessing specifically over the lulav, represents that we need to place special emphasis on those who need it most–Jews who are void of good deeds and of Torah learning.

A similar theme is found in the Torah portion, Exodus 30:34, that describes the manufacture of the incense that is brought in the Tabernacle and the Temple. All eleven ingredients necessary for compounding the incense are pleasant smelling, with the exception of chelbanah, galbanum. But without chelbanah the entire incense is invalid, and may not be offered as a sweet savor unto G-d.

And so, it is on Yom Kippur that we pronounce the statement before Kol Nidre: אָנוּ מַתִּירִין לְהִתְפַּלֵּל עִם הָעֲבַרְיָנִים,–we are permitted to pray with those who are sinful. This statement implies that without the sinners, the Jewish people are not complete, and without all the Jews together we do not have the necessary power to secure G-d’s ultimate mercies.

The theme of unity is reflected in the Sukkah itself. The mere physical presence of the Sukkah promotes unity–the family joins together for meals in an exotic outdoor location, exposed to the unpredictable elements. The raucous celebrations of Simchat Torah that follows the Sukkot festival also reflect unity—singing and dancing with the Torah in public thoroughfares. Sukkot and its follow-up festivals underscore the coming together of all Jews. They underscores what the psalmist declares so beautifully and meaningfully in Psalm 127: אִם השׁם לֹא יִבְנֶה בַיִת, שָׁוְא עָמְלוּ בוֹנָיו בּוֹ, Unless G-d builds the house, its builders toil in vain on it. אִם השׁם לֹא יִשְׁמָר עִיר, שָׁוְא שָׁקַד שׁוֹמֵר, Unless the L-rd guards the city, the watchman watches in vain. We are truly totally dependent upon G-d, and ultimate security is undoubtedly only in His heavenly hands.

In closing, I’d like to share with you one of my earliest childhood memories regarding Sukkot.

It was in the early 1950s. As a child, I would always look forward to helping the Koidinover Rebbe, Rabbi Naftali Glikman,  build his Sukkah in the backyard of his shtiebel (little synagogue) in the East Bronx. For me, it was always exciting to place the last bamboo poles on the roof, and create the walls out of torn curtains from the Holy ark and the worn velvet table covers that were adorned with large Stars of David.

But my father, Moshe Buchwald, of blessed memory, who worked first as a sign painter and then as a jeweler, but was a true artist at heart, recoiled at the sight of the drab curtains and torn cloths, and decided to take matters into his own hands. So, one year, he shopped around in every New York bargain store looking for decorations. But the only decorations he could find were those used to celebrate the birth of “the little Jewish boy from Bethlehem.”

You can imagine the surprise of the Hasidic Rebbe and his family when they walked into the Sukkah on the first night of the holiday and found flashing lights, tinsel, large gold and silver balls adorning their Sukkah.

Now Jewish law states that once the Sukkah ornaments are up they are considered “muktsah,” and may not be touched until the end of the holiday. So, the Chassidim of Honeywell Avenue and East 179th Street in the Bronx had eight days to get used to the unique sukkah decorations. And I believe they actually did. Nevertheless, the next year, the Rebbe’s family made certain that no one put up any “unauthorized” decorations.

Chag Samayach.

May you be blessed.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday, October 2, 3 and 4, 2020. The intermediary days [Chol HaMoed] are observed through Friday, October 9th. On Friday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Saturday, October 10th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Saturday evening, October 10th and continues through Sunday, October 11th.

May you be blessed.