June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“In sukkot shall you dwell for seven days…in order that your generations know that I had the Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I took them out of Mitzrayim…” (Vayikra, 23:42-43). The Gemara (Sukkot, 11) brings Rebbi Eliezer who understands that the sukkot that Hashem had us dwell in are actually a reference to the “Clouds of Glory.” It seems to emerge that according to Rebbi Eliezer, when we make sukkot, it’s taking us back to the time when Hashem made “sukkot” for us—meaning, when He surrounded us with the Clouds of Glory.

The question is raised as to why then do we make a sukkah specifically to recall the Clouds of Glory, as opposed to the other miracles that occurred during that time such as when Hashem fed us the manna and gave us to drink from the well of Miriam?

The Chida (quoted in sefer “סוכת היוצרים”) brings an explanation that feeding and giving what to drink to Bnei Yisrael was something that was a basic necessity for survival and not an expression of Hashem doing something above and beyond for them. However, the Clouds of Glory was a luxury, which essentially was a demonstration of Hashem’s extra measure of endearment for Bnei Yisrael.

In other words, things you have to do for someone don’t necessarily show you like them, whereas when you go the extra mile it can reflect on your fondness of them. So too, Hashem giving us more than we technically needed showed His love for us. Hence, we perhaps see from here that the root of the Yom Tov of Sukkot stems from Hashem’s expression of love and endearment for us.

The idea of Hashem’s love demonstrated by sukkot is not just an idea unto itself, but may also be connected and an offshoot of the previous days we recently experienced. In fact, the question is raised as to why Sukkot is celebrated specifically in the month of Tishrei, when historically the Clouds of Glory were first experienced much earlier in Nissan? R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein (Aruch Hashulchan, 625:5) explains that after a whole year, we may have faltered in many ways, but nevertheless, Yom Kippur atones when we do teshuva. And Hashem wants to show that even though we may have transgressed during the whole year, nevertheless we come into the sukkah, which is considered Hashem’s “shade” (as the pasuk in Shir Hashirim 2:3 says, “in His shade I delighted and sat”), showing that despite all we may have done, He still loves us, watches over us, and protect us from any mishaps.

R’ Nosson Vachtfogel (לקט רשימות, בעניני אלול וימים נוראים) says a similar idea, perhaps taking it a step further. The Gemara (Bava Metzia, 85) brings a story of a calf that was on its way to be slaughtered and came to Rebbi and hid its head in Rebbi’s garment and started crying. Rebbi said to it, “Go, for this [i.e., being slaughtered] is what you were created for.” The Gemara says that since Rebbi didn’t have mercy, he should incur sufferings. R’ Vachtfogel asks, what did Rebbi do or say that was wrong? After all, the Gemara (Berachot 17) says “an animal’s end is for slaughter”! Is everyone who does shechita going to suffer for it? R’ Vachtfogel explains that while it’s true that animals are for shechita and there’s nothing against those who slaughter, however, this case with Rebbi is different for this animal went to Rebbi seeking his mercy, and in such a case the middah of having mercy demands that Rebbi protect this animal and not shoo it away. Says R’ Vachtfogel, that’s the idea of the sukka. We come into the sukkah, even if we are undeserving of Hashem’s mercy, yet we come to Him, and “hide” in His shade, hoping He will protect us and watch over us. In such a case, the middah of having mercy demands that we not be cast away even if something chas v’shalom was decreed upon us.

This theme of love in the context of Sukkot, and it coming right after a year of misdoings and a period of teshuva and atonement, is perhaps a constructive element in embracing the upcoming year and a perspective on the continuation of how we approach our growth in the upcoming year. For reflecting upon Hashem’s love for us even when we have done much wrong isn’t just a theological aspect of Hashem’s relationship with us, but can be meant to stir within us a deep recognition of the extent of how close the relationship is, and thereby how careful and invigorated one would naturally be to maintain and enhance it. Indeed, when one knows Hashem loves Him so much even though we may be undeserving of His love, it can create a positive construct in the way he approaches Torah and mitzvot.

I recently heard a story from R’ Yosef Semah from Lakewood, NJ, about the Ponevezher Rav. The Ponevezher Rav was not just famous for being an outstanding scholar in his time, but was also well known for being involved in the political arena. Once, he was traveling across seas and was in an airport of a far-out country. He was spotted by a non-religious Israeli journalist who, although at the time was totally against Judaism, still knew who the rav was. Despite the differences, when you spot another Jew in a long-lost country it’s typical to feel some connection, so the journalist came forward and greeted the Ponovzher Rav and said, “Shalom aleichem.” The Ponovezher Rav turned and emphatically responded, “Aleichem shalom, are you Jewish?” The journalist said yes, whereupon the Ponovezher Rav embraced him in a loving warm and hearty hug. Somewhat taken aback, the journalist said to him, “If only you knew how much I have sinned you wouldn’t be giving me such a hug.” The Ponovezher Rav—without blinking an eyelash—said right back, “And if only you knew how much Hashem loves you, you wouldn’t sin as much as you may do.”

After a period of repenting, cleansing and closeness to Hashem, the idea of sukkot where Hashem shows us His immense love and care for us can fortify us as we go into the upcoming year where Hashem’s extra closeness may not be as apparent. For the more we know how much Hashem loves us and deeply cares for us, from our end the more we may be interested to upkeep and enhance that relationship.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at  [email protected].

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