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What is all of that fiberglass, canvas, pine 4 x 8s, and wood veneer paneling doing in backyards and on porches or decks these days? (Not to mention the more creative configurations made of egg cartons and coke cases)
Why, they're sukkot, of course - those temporary booths that Jews around the world assemble each year as temporary dwellings for the festival of Sukkot.
But why do we celebrate the festival of Sukkot? The simple answer is that it commemorates the 40 years the Jews spent wandering in the wilderness living in temporary dwellings.
Another reason, which explains why Sukkot occurs in the fall, is that during the harvest season, the workers would live in booths out in the field, so as to maximize each day's reaping and harvesting. As the days grew shorter, time became more urgent.
A third reason, which harmonizes the previous two, is that the sukka represents the fragile, temporary nature of our life in this world. We too often have a false sense of security, a belief that our buildings and institutions will protect us from forces and furies of nature. But our strongest edifices of iron and steel are like sticks and straws in a hurricane. Our only trust, our only shelter, our only protection, is G-d Himself.
And this leads to a fourth reason why we celebrate Sukkot, but a reason very different than the first three. What makes a sukka a sukka is the roof (also of temporary items such as branches and leaves). And this is said to represent the Clouds of Glory that protected the Jews in their wanderings. The sukka, at this level, represents the Divine Presence that eternally hovers over the Jewish people.
And this, in turn, leads to a fifth reason, one proposed by Jewish mysticism. The sukka indicates the transcendent, all-encompassing aspect of G-dliness. This all-encompassing transcendence can be elicited because the sukka ultimately unites the Jewish people. All gathered within it become a unified, a single entity.
When in history have the Jewish people been unified and when will they be unified again, this time forever? In the times of the Holy Temple. And so we find that in the Grace after Meals during Sukkot we add this prayer: "May the Merciful One restore for us the fallen sukka of David" - meaning, of course, the Holy Temple, the rebuilding of which will occur through Moshiach, in the final Redemption.
Thus we have reasons that signify transience and reasons that reveal transcendence. So which is it? Does Sukkot represent the transient nature of life or reveal the transcendent nature of G-d and oneness? Of course, the answer is both, that these two aspects of Sukkot do not contradict, but rather complement and complete each other. For the ultimate purpose of creation is the unification of the transient and the transcendent, the revelation of G-dliness in this world, the transformation of the temporary and physical into a permanent dwelling place for the spiritual.
Which explains why the Holy Temple is also called a sukka, for with the coming of Moshiach, and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, the ultimate sukka, that purpose will be fulfilled, and the transient, temporary world will become a transcendent, permanent edifice - a true dwelling and House of the L-rd.
The festival of Sukkot, which follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, marks the beginning of the true days of rejoicing of the month of Tishrei, coming as it does after the solemnity of the High Holidays. Although Sukkot has many similarities and characteristics in common with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is actually the culmination and fulfillment of the first two holidays. The difference between the two lies in the fact that the holiness that was in a more concealed and hidden state on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is revealed for all to see on "the day of our rejoicing (Sukkot)."
One of the fundamental themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is that of the unity of the Jewish People. But it is on Sukkot that this motif finds its highest expression.
The Jew's worship on the High Holidays lies in his uncovering of the "pintele Yid" within him, that Jewish spark that can never be extinguished, that he shares in common with every other Jew. All of us stand as equals before G-d in prayer on Rosh Hashana, accepting His sovereignty and crowning Him King over us all; on Yom Kippur we are equally aroused to do teshuva (repent) and return to G-d. When a Jew does teshuva, he is merely uncovering and revealing his innate belief in G-d and love of Him.
The unity of the Jewish People during the High Holidays is a unity based on the common denominator inherent in every Jew. It does not take into consideration the many differences of temperament, intelligence, or any other marks which distinguish one person from another.
On Sukkot, however, we reach an even higher level of unity than before, developing the theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur further.
One of the most important mitzvot of Sukkot is the taking of the Four Kinds. These four species symbolize the four different types of people which exist within the Jewish nation. The etrog (citron) symbolizes one who possesses Torah learning and also does good deeds; the lulav (palm) stands for one who possesses only Torah learning. The hadas (myrtle) symbolizes one who performs commandments and does good deeds, but does not have Torah learning, and the arava (willow) symbolizes the Jew who possesses neither Torah nor learning.
On Sukkot we take these four disparate species and bring them together to perform a mitzva. Our unity does not lie in our ignoring the external differences which divide us; rather, we go out of our way to include all types of Jews, even those in the category of arava, who would seem to have no positive contribution to make. Despite all our differences we are all bound together.
This is the highest degree of unity we can achieve. It is far easier to concentrate only on that which we have in common than to acknowledge that we differ as individuals and still remain together.
On Sukkot we verify and confirm the unity which was achieved during the High Holidays. This realization sustains us throughout the year and gives us the strength to live in harmony and solidarity with one another.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Sukkot - A Tabernacles Holiday
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
(Ed.'s note: Rabbi Eli Hecht, director of Chabad of the South Bay, California, is a fourth generation American. As a child he lived for a short while with his grandparents in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, which in the 1950s was populated mainly by Hungarian Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust.)
When the holiday of Sukkot arrived the streets of Williamsburg would bustle. Children of all ages would run around selling branches from a weeping willow tree, known also as "hoshanas." These hoshanas were joined together with a palm branch (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle (hadas) and a willow (arava) for Sukkot and a blessing was recited upon them.
When the Jewish nation was liberated from Egyptian slavery they dwelled in tents and temporary huts, called "sukkas." Today, Jews the world over commemorate this historic event by erecting little huts, covering them with branches or bamboo poles. The sukka reminds us that we rely on G-d for protection, for the sukka is no fortress, not even providing a solid roof over our heads. Not everyone could have a sukkas so the people in need would build a community sukka. People from all religious persuasions, Chasidim and non-Chasidic Jews were seen eating in the sukka. To this day I can remember walking down the street called Lee Avenue. I would admire the many sukkas built. Some were on the roof, others in the courtyard and others on sidewalks in front of stores. But the most famous ones were those that were built on fire escapes that would protrude on the outside of the old buildings. The sukkas were simple four feet by four feet and five foot high, just enough for one person to go in and say a prayer.
Things would get really interesting when the Fire Department inspector came by and demanded that the sukkas be removed as it was a fire hazard. I remember one incident when the fire chief got really angry and gave the tenant ten days to remove the sukka or go to jail. That was fine as the holiday was only for eight days. After that the Jews in Williamsburg would begin building their sukkas only one day before the holiday giving them a window of only one day to remove it and celebrate the holiday.
The holiday was exciting. We would sing and dance in the sukka. Sometimes angry neighbors would throw fruit down from an upper storey and it would land right into the soup. So were the challenges of the holiday.
Sharing a sukka also meant finding out how other Jews lived and celebrated the holiday. Upa (grandfather) had his sukka built on the roof of the tenant below us. The neighbor who lived above us needed a sukka so he would come down and eat his meal in Upa's sukka. He belonged to a real American family. Our Upa belonged to an old fashioned Chasidic family. With this in mind you can imagine how Upa looked at the neighbors' eating habits. They came into the sukka and put a big red bottle of ketchup on the table. Upa nearly had a fit. Imagine, putting down "Americana" food on his holiday table! He felt that things like ketchup and mustard was from the hot dog stand mentality and not for a Jewish boy to see. How much hurt he had when he saw food like beer, hot dogs and potato chips being put down on his sukka table.
The songs were so different as the Americans sang soft Yankee Doodle Dandy tunes while the Hungarian Chasidim sang in a frenzy, clapping and dancing. Upa never said a word to them as it is a mitzva to share and share he did. It was only after they left he would warn me not to follow in their ways.
One thing Upa and Uma did like was to decorate the sukka. They would hang up fruit from Israel, even an etrog that wasn't used or a pomegranate. Little chains of paper made from the arts and crafts store were hung as braided chains throughout the sukka. As children we had loads of fun playing games to see who could make the longest paper chain. When the sukka was decorated Upa looked like a king as he entered it wearing his streimel, a Chasidic fur hat, and tish beckesher, a special silk or satin fancy housecoat worn only on Shabbat and Yom Tov. When he came into the sukka he would be in the happiest mood. Towards the end of the holiday the fun would begin. We would be sitting down in the sukka and some of the fruit began to fall on our heads. Soon the chains fell apart and the colored pictures would begin to run. It always rained during the festival of Sukkot and then the fruit, the chains, and the pictures would fall down. One year Upa told that the sukka was holy enough without our decorations and that was the end of that.
The Lubavitch Youth Organization provides public sukkot in three key locations in New York City for those who work in or visit Manhattan: The International Sukka at the U.N. - First Ave. and 43rd St.; the Garment Center Sukka in Greeley Square across from Macy's; The Wall Street Area Sukka in Battery Park - at State St. and Battery Pl. These sukkot will be open during the intermediary days of the holiday from 10:00 a.m. until sunset. For more information call (718) 778-6000. To find out about public sukkot in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
The Canadian side of Niagra Falls is the location of a new Chabad Center serving the local Jewish community as well as tourists. The Chabad Center, directed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Perla Zaltzman, opened in time for the High Holidays. In Quebec, Canada, Rabbi Sholom and Chana Raizel Davidsohn have moved to Dollard-des-Ormeaux (D.D.O.) to serve as youth directors at the Chabad House and organize other programs for the local Jewish community. Rabbi Shmuly and Dini Gutnick will be arriving soon in in Boca Raton, Florida, where they will serve as youth directors, at the Chabad House there.
This issue of L'Chaim is for 11/18 Tishrei, 5766 Oct. 14/21, 2005. The next issue (#892) is for 25 Tishrei /Oct. 28, the Torah portion of Bereishit.
18th of Elul, 5738-1978
Excerpts from a free translation of a letter from the Rebbe
...It has often been pointed out that man's mission in life includes also "elevating" the environment in which he lives, in accordance with the Divine intent in the entire Creation and in all its particulars, by infusing holiness and G-dliness into all the aspects of the physical world within his reach - in the so-called "Four Kingdoms" - domeim, tzome'ach, chai and medaber (inorganic matter, vegetable, animal, and man).
Significantly, this finds expression in the special mitzvot which are connected with the beginning of the year, by way of introduction to the entire year - in the festivals of the month of Tishrei:
The mitzva of the sukka, the Jew's house of dwelling during the seven days of Sukkot, where the walls of the Sukka represent the "inorganic kingdom";
The mitzva of the "four kinds" - etrog, lulav, myrtle and willow - which come from the "vegetable kingdom";
The mitzva of shofar on Rosh Hashana, the shofar being a horn of an animal;
And all of these things (by virtue of being Divine commandments, mitzvot) are elevated through the medaber, the "speaking" (human) being - the person carrying out the said (and all other) mitzvot, whereby he elevates also himself and mankind - Both in the realm of doing as well as that of not doing - the latter is represented in the mitzva of the fast on the Holy Day, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
Thus, through infusing holiness into all four kingdoms of the physical world and making them into "vessels" (and instruments) of G-dliness in carrying out G-d's command - a Jew elevates them to their true perfection.
It also follows that just as in regard to his personal perfection, which is expected to rise in harmony with his rising state, so also in regard to the four kingdoms he is expected (and given the ability) to raise, from time to time, the state of perfection to which he elevates them (as explained above) - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in the manner of doing the mitzvot (where there can be grades of performance, such as acceptable post facto; good to begin with; according to unanimous opinion; with hiddur, etc.) and their inner content.
Taking into account the assurance that G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity, it is certain that, notwithstanding the fact that only a few days remain until the conclusion of the year, everyone, man or woman, can achieve utmost perfection in all the aforesaid endeavors, according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory - "by one 'turn,' in one instant," since the person so resolved receives aid from G-d, the absolute Ein Sof (Infinite), for Whom there are no limitations.
May G-d grant that the efforts to achieve utmost perfection in the outgoing year and the good resolutions to achieve perfection in all the abovementioned matters each day of the coming year, should bring down upon everyone G-d's blessings in all needs, material and spiritual, also in complete measure - "Out of His full, open, holy, and ample Hand."
And - very soon indeed - the complete blessing given to all the Jewish people and to each individual, "And (G-d's) Sukka - the Holy Temple - will be in Shalem" - the city complete with goodness and holiness, Jerusalem, at the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Moshiach.
17 Tishrei, 5766 - October 20, 2005
Prohibition 320: It is forbidden to work on Shabbat
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:10) "You shall not do any manner of work." On Shabbat, we do not concern nor involve ourselves in our weekday work and occupations. The Torah defines 39 forbidden activities which are called "melacha" - work - and which may not done on the Shabbat. Using those rules as a base, our Sages have taught us a code of laws instructing us how to keep Shabbat. We are not allowed to do any of those activities which the Torah considers to be melacha on Shabbat.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We stand at the beginning of the "season of our Rejoicing" - commencing with the festival of Sukkot and culminating with the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (this year Monday evening, October 17 through Wednesday evening October 26).
Chasidic philosophy explains that what a Jew accomplishes on Yom Kippur through tears, repentance and remorse, he can accomplish on Simchat Torah through joy.
How is this possible?
On Simchat Torah we, so to speak, take the "high road." We travel on the more direct route toward connecting with G-d.
Through dancing with the Torah, expressing joy and happiness for being Jewish, we automatically transcend this mundane world and relate to G-d on a truly spiritual level.
In the repentance of Yom Kippur, we feel remorse for our transgressions which occurred in this physical world. Dancing, celebrating, joyousness, however, are a totally different level.
We are celebrating our love of G-d, not something related to this world. This higher level we reach can accomplish more than repentance.
In the merit of our repentance and our joy, may we see the "return" of the Alm-ghty to Jerusalem as we say in our daily prayers: May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion in mercy.
Although a sukka is only a temporary dwelling, in certain respects we treat it as if it were our regular home - eating, drinking, and studying in it. This is how we should treat the world world at large. We should not regard the world as an end unto itself, but rather as a means of furthering our spiritual development and refinement; by properly utilizing the physical world, we bring G-dliness into our surroundings, transforming the temporary into something lasting and eternal.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
One of the miracles which occurred when the Jews made their required pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the three major holidays - Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot - was that although when they stood shoulder to shoulder inside the Temple it was so overcrowded one could barely move, when they prostrated themselves on the ground before G-d there was plenty of room for everyone. The revelation of G-dliness was not only apparent when they bowed down, however. The Jews' standing together in complete unity and harmony was unparalleled anywhere else, yet when it came time for each individual to prostrate himself and serve G-d in his own unique way, there was plenty of room for each person's individuality.
On Simchat Torah, all the advocating angels rush to the defense of the Jewish people and berate the Satan. "How can you accuse such a wonderful nation of any wrongdoing!" they cry. "Just look at them - men, women and children, going to their synagogues to rejoice with the holy Torah!" Hour after hour the angels describe the joyful dancing and the love even the smallest Jewish children show for the Torah as they kiss the scrolls with their tiny mouths, until the Satan slinks away in shame...
(Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)
It was in a forest just outside of Dobromysl that Yitzchak Shaul found his young friend, Baruch. Baruch had gone there to think about the differences between the two schools of thought he had encountered, the path of the Chasidim to which he was attracted, and the path of those who opposed Chasidism.
Yitzchak Shaul, who was Baruch's mentor in the ways of Chasidism, sensed that his friend's thoughts were tinged with sadness. "Baruch," he began, "we followers of the Baal Shem Tov do not believe in being associated with sadness. We believe rather in gladness. We avoid any sadness as we would something forbidden. People here in Dobromysl are not joyful as were the people in Harki from where I come."
"For instance, the people of Dobromysl," continued Yitzchak Shaul, "don't know how to rejoice on the holidays. I was here for Sukkot, the 'Time of Our Rejoicing,' yet I felt like a fish out of water. On Shemini Atzeret I almost got myself into trouble. I thought I would bring some life into the celebration and so, gathering a couple of young people to join me, I began to sing and dance. Some of the scholars present were deeply shocked and suggested that my behavior was disrespectful to the honor of the Torah. There was quite a lot of discussion before they decided that for ordinary working people, such a way of celebrating was permissible. Then it came to hakafot (encircling the lecturn while holding the Torah scrolls), and I volunteered to sing some songs that had not been heard in Dobromysl before.
A discussion arose as to whether or not it was fitting, especially as it was accompanied by dancing and clapping. The Rav (rabbi) and the Dayan (judge) had a long talk before they decided that the singing could be permitted, but that the people must not clap in the usual way."
Baruch was now exceedingly interested and listened eagerly as Yitzchak Shaul continued: "When I first began to sing, people looked on with no special enthusiasm, but when it came to the second and third hakafa, more and more joined in the singing. Later, ever so many congregants were singing with me, for as you know, song has the ability to stir people and arouse them to the heights of enthusiasm. In no time the men were all holding hands and dancing and singing as they went around in an ever-growing circle.
"All of a sudden the Rav interrupted in a rush of fright, saying they must all stop immediately. Their behavior might be disrespectful to the Torah. The celebrants stopped uncertainly, but then the Dayan stepped forward and said he was sure it was all right. After all, the dancers and singers were not Torah-scholars, but simple workers and no disrespect was implied.
"The scholars shook their heads in disapproval at the thought of such unseemly behavior taking place in their Study Hall, which had never before witnessed such a scene! They themselves were completely unaffected and unmoved by the singing and the dancing. The working people, however, were thrilled and stirred. One could see they were positively uplifted by it all!"
Now, Yitzchak Shaul had a friend in the congregation, a musician named Chaim Shimon. In his opinion, the scholars' sole wish was to show their superiority to the "ignorant" workers. He decided to pay them back. When the beadle of the synagogue was about to call out the name of those to participate in the seventh hakafot, Chaim Shimon whispered in his ear, "This time don't call out any particular name; just call out, 'This is the hakafa for the scholars who are modest.'" The beadle looked up in surprise, and seeing that the person addressing him was no one important, refused his strange request.
Chaim Shimon asked the sexton to make the request of the shamash (beadle). Whether he thought such a joke was permissible on Simchat Torah, or whether he simply didn't understand the real intention, he did as he had been asked. When the scholars heard this unprecedented announcement they showed no surprise. The first to step forward was the Rav, followed by the Dayan. Next came Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Nachum "the Ascetic."
Chaim Shimon whispered to Yitzchak Shaul, "You see how 'modest' they are, and there is more yet to come!"
With a completely innocent expression on his face, Chaim Shimon went up to Nachum the Ascetic and said, "Now I see that you are the fourth modest person amongst the scholars, since you were the fourth to step up."
"What do you mean?" he protested. "If the names of the modest people in this congregation were called out in order of their modesty, I should be the first to be called, since when it comes to modesty, I have no equal here."
Rabbi Shimon looked on disapprovingly. Later he told Chaim Shimon, "When the announcement was made, I was the first to step out, but just then someone blocked my path."
Yitzchak Shaul finished telling his story. Baruch felt on the border of two divergent approaches to Torah; he was looking into both but belonged as yet to neither. Ultimately, Baruch became a follower of the Baal Shem Tov. Years later, his son, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founded Chabad Chasidism.
From the Memoirs of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
One can appreciate that the nature of the Jewish people's service during Simchat Torah and its extension throughout the year is one that is permeated with the ideal of Redemption and Moshiach. This means, that the manner in which a Jew conducts his daily activities, even as we stand in exile immediately before the Redemption, is a sampling of and analogous to the way of life and conduct that will occur in the actual Messianic Age.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Simchat Torah 5752-1991)