a project of Eishes Chayil

Chesed in the Sukkah

You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall dwell in booths.

One snowy, cold winter night the Chofetz Chaim arrived in the city of Lomza. Since he did not want to cause anyone to lose sleep due to his visit, he went to the famous yeshivah of Lomza, headed by Rabbi Eliezer Shulevitz, where he knew people would be awake learning Torah late into the night. He lumbered through the heavy snow on the city streets towards his destination. When he reached the street to the yeshivah, he was surprised to see that a path had been cleared right up to the door of the yeshivah. He thought that the janitor of the yeshivah must have done this difficult and unexpected labor in honor of the yeshivah students. For this special effort, he was thankful to him in his heart.

In the morning, when the Chofetz Chaim saw the janitor, he praised him with warm words, pointing out his devotion to the yeshivah students. The janitor said, "You are thanking me in vain. It was so cold last night that I did not leave my warm bed until this morning."

The Chofetz Chaim wondered who was the tzaddik who had cleared away the snow? He investigated the matter and discovered that it was none other than the Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Eliezer Shulevitz himself, who had cleared the path. He had done so quietly, after he had seen that the janitor had not done this job.

Rabbi Shulevitz wanted to do chesed for the students of his yeshivah, by saving them from having to trudge through the heavy snow. We too, should be concerned constantly with ways we can do chesed for our spouses so that they will not have to face any unnecessary hardships.

G-d said to Avraham our Father, "Because you said: 'And rest under the tree.' I swear that I am going to reward your sons." We see this reward being granted, as it is written, "He spread out a cloud as a partition." This cloud was the reward in the land of Israel mentioned? We find it is written, "You shall sit in the sukkah for seven days". Where is the reward we will see in the future written? It is written, "And the sukkah shall be for shade during the day from the extreme heat."

What was so great about Avraham's saying to the three guests that were visiting him, "And rest under the tree" the caused reward to be paid for so many generation? How are the Clouds of Glory that escorted the Jewish people during their stay in the desert for forty years a fitting reward for what Avraham had said? Why is the mitzah of dwelling in sukkos also a fitting reward? What is being described to us in the verse about the reward of the future?

Avraham's saying, "And rest under the tree" was a special gesture of chesed. It was really enough for him to just say "and rest," and then the three guests would have understood on their own to find a place where there was shade. But that was not enough for Avraham; he specified where they could find the best shade, and in this way he lets his guests know that he was concerned that they enjoy greatest convenience he could offer. All this kindness was performed at a time when cruelty was the status quo in the world. Avraham's distinctive acts set a profound precedent in a grim and selfish world. For this commitment to good, despite a sea of opposition, Avraham warranted an immense reward.

This choice to do good, justified G-d's bringing the Clouds of Glory to protect the Jewish people in the desert. The Torah says that these clouds were a constant source of shade. Just as Avraham made an extra effort to help his guests and give them the best shade possible, so did G-d give the Jewish people in the desert the best possible protection from the elements.

We know that the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah also originates from the Clouds of Glory. By sitting in a sukkah, we are recalling the protection G-d kindly provides for us when we were in the desert. When we remember this chesed, we become worthy of receiving similar guarding in our own lives. So, if we trace it back, we will see that the mitzvah of sukkah and the reward we can reap from it also originate from Avraham's words, since had he not said those words showing special concern for his guests, we may not have had the Clouds of Glory, and without the Clouds of Glory there would be little clear justification for the mitzvah of sukkah.

Concerning how we can understand the meaning of the future reward promised us for Avraham's chesed, that: "the sukkah shall be for shade during the day from the extreme heat," our Sages are hinting here to the great suffering ("the extreme heat") that shall be in the world before the coming of the Messiah. During that time we will need a shield from the terrible difficulties, and G-d will grant us this protection through the construction of a special sukkah. This future sukkah also comes in the merit of Avraham's words, 'And rest underneath the tree.' Just as Avraham offered special protection to his guests, so too G-d will provide us with a special refuge.

We can learn here the importance of doing chesed and the vast impact it can have for generations to come. Through Avraham's words of chesed, he benefited not only his original guests, but also millions of people for generations to come, since whenever anyone sits in a sukkah, he does so in the merit of Avraham.

Chesed With a Full Heart

This is a lesson for us in how important it is to treat our spouses with chesed. Every time we say kind words to our spouses we are doing chesed. When we are concerned with their comfort, we are emulating our righteous forefather, Avraham. And if Avraham received such a tremendous reward, why should our own acts of kindness not contain a comparable potential?

Words of chesed include, "I love you so much," "You look so beautiful today," and "I feel so good when you are here." We can even give more of ourselves, by offering our help with questions such as, "Perhaps you would like to eat something?" or "I am going out. Would you like me to run any errands for you?" These words are similar to the acts of chesed that Avraham did, and they make us more worthy of receiving all the chesed that his descendants receive on his behalf. These seemingly simple words can generate much positive feeling, and therefore it is important to make the effort of these little gestures of concern and lovingkindness.

Real chesed always takes effort. We must use all our mental resources to think of ways that we can augment the well-being of our spouses. However, we must be careful not to give the impression that we are doing so just to fulfill an obligation. Chesed must be done wholeheartedly, since otherwise it will not be accepted. "Words that come from the heart, enter the heart." Our spouses keenly perceive our intentions and know whether we are sincere in our chesed or not. Therefore we must act with a whole heart.

Our Sages say that the Torah is chesed in the beginning, in the end, and in the middle. They are trying to impress upon us that chesed is the very essence of our task in life, since it is to found in very part of the Torah. To merely observe the statues of the Torah without infusing them with chesed falls far short of the goal that the Torah wants us to reach.

Our daily prayers allude to the same concept. We say in the last blessing of the Amidah, "For in the light of Your countenance, You have given us, L-rd our G-d, Torah of life and the love of chesed." These two Divine gifts, Torah and chesed, are intentionally juxtaposed in order to reveal to us that they should be a completely integrated partnership. As we are commanded to emulate G-d, it follows that, just as we thank G-d for both aspects of this one unique gift, so too we should be striving to emulate this kindness by bringing the two together as one, in both our thoughts and actions.

Sometimes the sukkah itself can become a source of domestic contention. Maybe a husband wants something from inside the house, and he tells his wife in a unfriendly way to run and get it. Or maybe the wife's idea of enjoying the holiday includes going out often, while her husband prefers to sit at home. All such differences should be settled in the most loving way possible, with everyone compromising a little, and no one holding to his position stubbornly.

The holiday of Sukkos was given in the merit of Avraham's chesed, and it is therefore an ideal time to increase our performance of chesed. There's no better way to begin this task, than to treat our spouse in the best way we can, with great love and concern.

a project of Eishes Chayil