Several years ago we spent Sukkos with our children in Beit El, a large community in the “West Bank” of Israel, actually the territory of the Tribe of Binyamin.
One night, a man was shot as he tried to break into the settlement from a nearby Arab city. His family did not say, “We are so sorry that our son tried to break into your community and commit violence.” Quite the opposite. There was a prolonged, noisy demonstration in his city against the Israel Defense Forces.
My wife and I witnessed this demonstration, watching as a crowd of Arabs yelled into bullhorns and burned tires. Black smoke drifted into our nostrils. It was an ugly, threatening scene. Only fear of the IDF prevented this mob from rushing into the settlement. As we stood watching, I decided this was not how I wanted to spend Sukkos. But how do you get away from it?
A thought occurred to me. “One thing I asked of Hashem, that I shall seek: That I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life” (Psalm 27).
So I entered the sukkah, where I sat in the presence of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and Dovid. There I was protected by Magen Avraham – The Shield of Abraham. And there the raucous sounds from outside faded away as I immersed myself in words of Torah.
Obviously, if I had needed to defend my family I would have done so, but there was nothing I could do. So the sukkah seemed a logical place to go. In fact, when we enter it we are in a different world.
What is it about the sukkah? What about the arba minim, the Four Species? In fact, what is the Magen Avraham, the Shield of Abraham?
What protection do they offer?
Let’s face it, the sukkah offers no physical protection whatsoever. It is the flimsiest of dwellings. The arba minim are floppy plants. You can get a nasty cut if you run your hand along a lulav the wrong way, but it is not a real sword.
How does the Magen Avraham protect me?
What is it about these flimsy or intangible objects that gives us such a feeling of security?
ur father Abraham faced the entire world. He was the only one in his time who understood that God exists, and he relied on God to protect him. He and our mother Sarah gathered souls around them and produced children and children’s children who inherited their Covenant with the Creator, until this very day.
If the Shield of Abraham were not real, we would not be here!
In the current world, we stand in great need of protection, and it is vital for us to understand where that protection comes from. The very flimsiness of the sukkah and the Four Species and the very invisibility of the Shield of Abraham prove that ruchnius, spirituality, rules the world. God’s existence is proved by the fact that these objects provide no physical protection.
Think about it: how are there Jews in the world today? How did Avraham Avinu survive a hostile world in which he was initially a minority of one? King David says, “Though my father and mother have forsaken me, Hashem will gather me in” (Psalm 27) and that is exactly what happened, for Avraham Avinu’s own father tried to destroy him.
We have survived almost two thousand years of Exile since the destruction of the Second Temple. Only one thing remained for us, our Torah which is the basis for our national and personal existence. “One thing I asked of Hashem ” (Psalm 27). But that one thing is all we needed!
The Torah Itself is intangible. Yes, it has been written down, but it is words, a covenant, and as such it has no intrinsic physical existence. How can an “intangible” covenant protect a scattered, despised and powerless nation?
After two thousand years scattered all around the globe, vastly outnumbered among usually violent host cultures often maniacally focused on exterminating us, we are still here.
Is this logical?
Is it even possible?
Possible or impossible, it’s true!
And we are still identified as Children of Israel. We still cling to our Covenant with “all our heart and all our soul and all our resources.”