June 24, 2024
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Sheltering Together in Divine Presence

As the Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh sat in his sukkah, a great tumult raged outside. In the early days of the chasidic movement, some of its revolutionary practices—as well as the spiritual awakening of the followers of the Baal Shem Tov—drew prejudice, strife and legal controversy. While detractors and opponents were always on the lookout for an opportunity to attack the tzaddik and undermine the fledgling movement, this time, it seemed there was good reason to make their claims.

The Baal Shem Tov had constructed what looked to be a highly questionable sukkah, stitching together a patchwork of materials that seemed to barely pass even the minimal halachic requirements. The rickety-looking hut relied on so many kulahs in Jewish law and all the loopholes detailed in masechet Sukkah, it was barely recognizable to the rabbis who were now gathering at the sukkah—ready for a confrontation—and to accuse him of blatant laxity in halacha.

A debate ensued between the scandalized scholars and the tzaddik. They summoned a variety of sources and opinions denouncing the sukkah, while the Baal Shem Tov calmly defended it on each count. Finally, the rabbonim of Brodt bluntly declared it to be pasul and a spiritual danger to the community.

Seeing that his explanations had fallen on deaf ears, the Baal Shem Tov closed his eyes, entered a meditative state and began to pray. The rabbonim were unsure how to react. At that moment, a piece of paper fell from the sechach, a note signed by no less than an angel from heaven—matat sar hapanim—attesting to the validity of the sukkah: “The sukkah of the Baal Shem Tov is kosher!”

Opening his eyes, the Baal Shem Tov then began a instructional shiur, explaining the intricate laws of constructing a sukkah, listing the various “leniencies” that he had relied on—such as dofen akumah, gud achis mechitztah, gud asik, lavud, avir and others. He also detailed how each particular halacha and its structural application related to a different spiritual state and level of observance.

“There are many different types of Jews in klal Yisrael of varying levels of education, knowledge and observance. The sukkah is kosher,” concluded the Baal Shem Tov, “and so are the Yidden.”

~

בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כּל־הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת׃

“For seven days… all who belong to the people of Israel will live in sukkos,” (Vayikra, 23:42).

.ללמד שכל ישראל ראויין לישב בסוכה אחת

“ … This teaches that it is fitting for all of Israel to sit in one sukkah,” (Sukkah, 27b).

“One ought to bind themselves and be focused on being part of the entire klaland strive to fill their home with great love and shalom, so that their love shine outward and spread forth. In that way, it will be considered as if all of Israel dwells together in one sukkah,” (Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l).

~

Zeman simchaseinu—the simcha of the festival of Sukkos, flows forth from the Yamim Noraim. Our exuberant joy is framed by the gravity and achrayus of our committed relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam. The celebration of Sukkos is an invitation for us to actualize our declarations and intent. It is a call to divine intimacy—welcoming us into the ineffable embrace and union between Am Yisrael and Hashem Yisborach.

Knesses Yisrael—Hashem’s beloved kallah—is summoned to enter:

הביאני המלך חדריו נגילה ונשמחה בך

“The King has brought me into His chambers, we will be joyful and happy together,” (Shir haShirim, 1:4).

Beneath the stars and sky—under a canopy held up by poles and prayers and the “chuppah” of sechach hovering over us, we are a royal bride and groom entering into a covenant of Kiddushin, sanctity and exclusive commitment. As a bride and groom fast in preparation for their new beginning, we fast on Yom Kippur. Just as they celebrate a week of “sheva brachos,” we celebrate seven days in the sukkah, rejoicing in our new state of union. At each of the seven festive meals, we welcome “panim chadashos—new faces,” the Ushpizin Kadishin—different holy guests each night, who join us in celebrating our wedding.

The Navi describes the “ananei hakavod (clouds of glory) as a chuppah that covers us from above and envelopes us in divine love:

וּבָרָא ה׳ עַל כּל־מְכוֹן הַר־צִיּוֹן וְעַל־מִקְרָאֶהָ עָנָן יוֹמָם וְעָשָׁן וְנֹ֛גַהּ אֵשׁ לֶהָבָה לָיְלָה כִּי עַל־כּל־כָּבוֹד חֻפָּה … וְסֻכָּה תִּֽהְיֶה לְצֵל־יוֹמָם מֵחֹרֶב וּלְמַחְסֶה וּלְמִסְתּוֹר מִזֶּרֶם וּמִמָּטָר׃

“Hashem will create a cloud by day, and smoke with a glow of flaming fire by night, hovering over the shrine and meeting place of Har Zion. Indeed, over all the glory shall hang a canopy, and it shall serve as a sukkah for shade from heat by day and as a shelter for protection against drenching rain,” (Yeshaya, 4:5).

The Baal haTurim (Vayikra, 23:42) invokes the specific term “chuppah,” and suggests an additional aspect to the ananei hakavod. They imply intimacy and loving connectivity, the manifestation of a marital bond in which two individuals become one. Sheltering together in Hashem’s presence, we are bonded together and become one in the sukkah.

~

In the tradition of the Baal Shem Tov, the day after Yom Kippur is referred to as, “Gott’s Numen—God’s Name.” Having spent Aseres Yemei Teshuva addressing the Ribbono Shel Olam with the honorific “haMelech haKadosh,” we begin to use the more intimate and familiar name, “haKeil haKadosh.” These four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos are days of closeness, corresponding to the four letters of our Beloved One’s name, שם הוי”ה—the Tetragrammaton.

And, perhaps, this is the source for Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz’s statement that the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos are a particularly auspicious time for a wedding (Imrei Pinchas, 7:91). We are Hashem’s pure, radiant kallah—walking toward the chuppah—where we will circle Him with hakafos of joy, remove our veil and see each other face-to-face.

There is much we can learn from the Baal Shem Tov’s sukkah. In cultivating and creating yichud—in building a shared dwelling place together—we are called to focus on “the tov—the good” that is there, not what is lacking. Yiddishkeit provides the tools to construct a life of holiness and joy and a home that is suffused with love, firm on the foundations of ayin tovah, inclusivity and ahavas Yisrael. Such a home is surrounded by ananei hakavod all year round, and filled with mutual respect and peace.

It is, indeed, “fitting for all of Israel to sit in one sukkah;” there is nothing more beautiful—and precious to Hashem—than individuals uniting, coming together in love and friendship.

May we all merit to celebrate together during these auspicious days, to give ourselves over to the purity of Yom Kippur and the intimacy of the sukkah. May all be blessed to build homes filled with אהבה ואחוה, שלום ורעות.

~

In honor of the wedding and Shabbos sheva brachos of our daughter, Ayelet Hashachar, and her chosson, Nachshon Vidomlanski.

שתהי׳ בשעה טובה ומוצלחת ויבנו בית בישראל בניין עדי עד על יסודי התורה והמצוה כפי שהם מוארים במאור שבתורה זוהי תורת החסידות. בברכת מזל טוב מזל טוב!

Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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