Our Sukkah-Vision

Dear Friends,


When we stood at the border of the Land of Zion, Moshe Rebbeinu gave us the following message regarding this land:


“You shall observe the mandates of Hashem, your God, to go in His ways and revere Him. For Hashem, your God, is bringing you to a good land: a land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain; a land of wheat, barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate; a land of oil-olives and honey; a land where you will eat bread without poverty, you will lack nothing there; a land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper. You will eat and you will be satisfied, and you will bless Hashem, your God, for the good land that He gave you.” (Deuteronomy 8:6-10)


Moshe then warns us not to allow our prosperity in the land to cause us to become arrogant and thereby forget our spiritual raison d’etre in the land:


“Take care lest you forget Hashem, your God, by not observing His mandates, His social laws, and His statutes, which I command you today; lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle; and your cattle and flocks increase, and you increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything that  you have will increase – and your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem,  your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slaves…And you may say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!’ Then you shall remember Hashem, your God; that it is He Who gives you the power to get wealth, in order to establish His covenant…” (8:11-14,17,18).


The approaching Festival of Sukkot is also the season of the harvest in the Land of Zion. We do not, however, celebrate Sukkot in the security and comfort of our homes; instead, we celebrate Sukkot in the “sukkah” – a temporary dwelling with an insecure roof! I have attached an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran which can help us to understand how this temporary and insecure dwelling reminds us of our spiritual raison d’etre, in the spirit of the above message of Moshe Rebbeinu. As we have begun to discuss in this series, through fulfilling our raison d’etre, we discover the soul of Zion.


Have a Chag Samayach – a Joyous Festival,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen



Rabbi Avi Shafran

  The defining element of the sukkah – the temporary dwelling in which Jews are commanded to spend a week each autumn, beginning five days after Yom Kippur – is the once-growing but now detached material that must comprise the structure’s roof.


Some use untreated bamboo canes; others, mats woven for the purpose from slivers of the same material; others still, branches or leaves or thin, unfinished wooden slats. Whatever its particular identity, the stuff is called s’chach, from a Hebrew word meaning to “cover” or “hover”; the word sukkah itself refers to the same.


But there is another Hebrew word that Jewish tradition associates with the word sukkah – “socheh” – and its meaning is “to see” or “to perceive.”  That association would seem to imply that a sukkah somehow provides some perspective. Which, in fact, it does.


That is surely true on a mystical plane, but there is prosaic vision to be gained no less.  It doesn’t take inordinate sensitivity to see things a bit differently while spending a week in a small rudimentary hut, within sight of, yet apart from, one’s more comfortable, more spacious home.


One realizes quickly, for example, how dependent one is on “the elements” – which, in Judaism’s teaching, means on G-d’s mercy.  The house is nearby, and if it rains hard enough one can – indeed should – return to surer shelter. But the lesson remains, because homes aren’t impervious to disruptions either, as we have witnessed all too often of late.  Nature is a humbling force, or should be; that is certainly part of the perspective granted the sukkah-dweller.


But there is more. What the sukkah allows those within it to perceive, if they try, is that our homes and possessions are not what really matter. That ultimately, it is not, as the crass bumper sticker has it, “the one who dies with the most toys” who “wins.” When we sit in our primitive week-house, we come to know that the accumulation of stuff we consider important is not essential.  We can exist without it.  It does not define us.  We will not take it with us.


It may seem an odd thing to say, but that thought is a joyous one.


The holiday of Sukkot has happiness as its theme.  In the holiday addition to the week’s “silent prayer,” we reference not “freedom” as on Passover, nor “the giving of our Torah” as on Shavuot, but, simply, “happiness.” One might assume at first thought that depriving oneself of the comforts of home is anything but a road to joy.  But one would be wrong.


For true happiness begins with the realization of what doesn’t really make us happy. Possessions may provide a rush of sorts when first acquired, but that soon enough wears off, like any drug. The soul is not satiated, which is why – again, like a drug – possessions beget the desire, even the need, for yet more of the same. In the words of the Talmudic rabbis, “he who has a hundred wants two hundred.” And, in another place but the same vein, “No man dies with half his desires in hand.”


Need we look further than the possession-endowed of whom we all know – the movie stars, sports figures, best-selling authors, the old-moneyed and lottery-winners alike?  They may zip around in Lamborghinis but their happiness quotient is no greater than that of those who take the bus. Their grand estates are no more of a home (and all too often considerably less of one) than the simplest, cozy cottage.


In the end, dependency on having as the means to fulfillment dashes all hope of truly attaining the goal.


Because true joy comes from things more rarified than what we can buy. It comes from our relationships not with things, but with people – parents, spouses, children, friends, neighbors – and our relationships with our community, and with our Creator.


And so, a deeper perspective afforded us by the sukkah may lie in the realization that, ultimately, what we really have is not what we own, but what we are – to other people and to G-d.


And so, while countless Jewish eyes will soon gaze up at bamboo slats, leaves and branches, they will in fact be seeing far beyond.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]


Succot begins Monday evening, October 13th.


The above letter was sent out by “Hazon – Our Universal Vision”:

Hazon - Our Universal Vision