Photo Credit: Asher Schwarz
In the past, a question came to mind that had been bothering me regarding Succos. My difficulty was with respect to the Succah itself. I have found that, on the one hand, the Succah has the status of Galus (exile) and Chutz La’eretz (any place outside the Land of Israel), whereas on the other hand the Succah has the status of Geula (redemption) and Eretz Yisrael (Israel).
There are sources that support both positions. For instance, in the Yehi Ratzon prayer said upon entering the Succah it says, “And in the merit of my leaving my house to go out, may this be reckoned for me as if I have wandered afar.”
This means to say that if a harsh decree of exile has been sentenced upon us over the High Holidays, then, we ask God to consider our going out of our homes into the Succah as some sort of fulfillment of that decree. In this way, we will not have to actually leave our homes in a more permanent way.
According to this liturgical passage, going into a Succah is like going into exile. Exile, by definition, means going to Chutz La’aretz. So, it turns out that our Succahs have the status of Chutz La’aretz.
On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon (Rabbenu Eliyahu, 1720-1797, Lithuania) compares the Succah to Eretz Yisrael because both of these Mitzvos share a commonality, in that they are fulfilled with not just one or two limbs but with our entire bodies. A person’s entire body is incased within the Succa just as a person’s entire body is enveloped within Eretz Yisrael (See Kol Hatur, chap. 1, para. 7). According to the GR”A, going into a Succah is like going into Eretz Yisrael.
Herein lies the apparent contradiction concerning the status of the Succah. Is it likened to Chutz La’aretz or to Eretz Yisrael? Will the real Succah please stand up?
Perhaps we could introduce a resolution to this apparent contradiction in the following way.
The Talmud shares a Tannaic debate as to what our Succos represent. According to Rebbi Akiva, our Succos commemorate the actual booths that our ancestors built and dwelt in during their forty years of wandering through the desert.
However, according to Rebbi Eliezer, our Succos represent the Ananei Hakavod (Clouds of Glory) that protected our ancestors throughout their journey in the desert (Meseches Succah, chap. 1,”Succah Shehi Gavoah”, pg. 11a).
The Piskei Teshuvos (Rabbi Simcha Rabinowitz, Hilchos Succah, 625:1, footnote 3, based on the Chassam Sofer (Drashos, Drash 53) applies the rule of thumb, “These and those are the words of the Living God” (Eiruvin, chap. 1, “Mavoi Shehi Gavoah”, pg. 13b) to this debate between Rebbi Akiva and Rebbi Eliezer.
He explains that in the desert there were two categories of Jews. There were Jews who were on a higher spiritual level, and then there were Jews who were on a lower spiritual level. The Jews who were on a higher spiritual level were protected by the Clouds of Glory (like the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer). However, the Jews who were on a lower spiritual level were spat out from Clouds of Glory. What did those Jews do to protect themselves from the oppressive desert sun? They built booths for themselves (like the opinion of Rebbi Akiva).
Along these lines, we could suggest this same distinction to answer our question above. For Jews on a lower spiritual level, who received a harsh decree of exile over the High Holidays, their Succahs are likened to Chutz La’aretz. However, for Jews on a higher spiritual level, who never received such a harsh decree of exile sentenced on them over the High Holidays, their Succahs are on the status of Eretz Yisrael.
This explains why the holiday is called “Chag HaSuccos” in the plural, as opposed to “Chag HaSuccah” in the singular. The very name of the holiday teaches us that there are two types of Succos that the Jewish people will be celebrating in. For some Jews the Succah will be as holy as the Clouds of Glory and Eretz Yisrael, while for other Jews the Succah will just be a booth on the lower level of Chutz La’aretz. This booth is certainly a Mitzva, however it is not yet on the level of Ananei Hakavod. The constitution of our Succos depend upon our spiritual status.
One of the primary aspects that determine what spiritual status our Succahs have is our thoughts and intentions.
For example, you can have a Jew who lives in Eretz Yisrael and yet pines to be in a different country. All he dreams about are the materialistic advantages to be gained in that country. Spiritually speaking, such a Jew’s Succah is just a Mitzva booth (not Ananei Hakavod) and he is considered to be living in Chutz La’aretz.
This is based on a teaching from the Ba’al Shem Tov who says that a person is really where their thoughts are turned to.
Similarly, you can have a Jew who lives in the Diaspora and yet longs to be in Eretz Yisrael in order to live a more spiritually oriented life. It’s just that there are circumstances beyond his control which prevent him from moving to and living in Eretz Yisrael. Spiritually speaking, such a Jew’s Succah has the status of Ananei Hakavod and he is considered to be living in Eretz Yisrael. It all depends on what our values are and what we wish for.
For the Jews whose minds are focused on Eretz Yisrael and what it represents, namely, Kedushah (holiness) and Tahara (purity), their Succahs become the embodiment of Eretz Yisrael. However, for the Jews whose thoughts are constantly on Chutz La’aretz and what it represents, namely, the pursuit of material gain, their Succahs take on the essence of Chutz La’aretz.
In order for us to benefit from the spiritual advantages of an Eretz Yisrael type Succah, we could suggest making a wish list. Write down the things we want most in life. What are our goals? Let us read the list back to ourselves to see if our desires are leaning more towards the spiritual or the physical. Then we can determine where we are and where we would like to be.
If we would like to become the person who dreams more about the needs of the soul than the needs of the body, we could try to study a little bit more about Creation, the world, its purpose, the Mitzvos, etc…in order to deepen our appreciation for that which is meaningful, purposeful, and eternal.
So, may we all be blessed with a healthy value system, yearning, longing, and pining for spirituality, so that our Succos take on the essence of Eretz Yisrael, and thus merit to have the Seven Shepherds of Israel be our guests in our Succos, culminating with another guest, the Moshiach, who will build the Succas Dovid Hanofales (The Succah of David, (The Temple), that has fallen).
Piska Tava, Good Shabbos, Good Yom Tov, A Gutten Moed, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg
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