By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
It’s Succos time. Time to get a lulav and essrog. Time to take the succah walls out of storage. Time to hang up the decorations, some old, some new. Time to leave our secure home, our comfort zone, and enter the succah.
The Torah tells us of Bnei Yisroel’s leave of Egypt and trek through the desert.
“They traveled from Ramses to Succos. (“Exodus 12:37)
The trip from Ramses to Succos was more than a journey between two locations. It was a life-altering, spiritual journey.
Ramses, city of strong pyramids and edifices, is symbolic of Egyptian culture; the belief that power and might make right. That “everlasting” strength and security can be found in pyramids and fortresses, in brick and mortar.
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left the values of Ramses behind. They traveled to Succos, the “unknown”, trekking through uncharted desert sands. How did they survive? From where did they muster their added strength? They were fortified with emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in HaShem. Although they didn’t know what lay ahead of them, their connection to HaShem remained strong and steadfast.
They not only lived in succahs, but believed in succahs. They realized that what is often perceived as strong and secure has no real permanence. That what is seen as powerful and long-lasting, is in reality lacking in real substance, ultimately toppling and disintegrating. They recognized that the physical world we live in is only temporary.
Every year, come the Yom Tov of Succos, we recall the faith and fortitude of the Dor HaMidbar, the Generation of the Desert. We leave our secure, comfortable homes for just a little while, and enter the succah. As we gaze through the schach, the succah roof covering, to the heavens above, we are reminded that only HaShem and His Torah have permanence and perpetuity. We realize that HaShem is watching over us, just as a father watches over his children, and we have nothing to fear.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersoin zt”l, teaches that the Hebrew word schach, comprised of the letters samach, chof and a final chof, has a gematria, a numerical value, of one hundred . We also sound one hundred shofar blasts on Rosh HaShanah. Just as the sound of the shofar brings us to greater spiritual heights, so too, our time sitting under the schach of the succah elevates our neshamah.
The message of Ramses and Succos is as powerful today, as it was generations past. There are no “givens” or guarantees in life. The modern day “Pyramids of Ramses” are cracking. Just witness the financial markets, our overall economy, political upheaval, and the breakdown in culture, morals and ethics. Our “edifices”, are all troubled. Much of what we trusted and believed in, no longer stand strong.
Through a transient abode, in a simple succah, we are reminded of the message “Ein od Milvado, there is no one besides Him”. This simple three-word phrase should become our mantra, words to live by. It encapsulates an entire philosophy. The belief that as HaShem provided for the Generation of the Desert, He continues to provide and take care of us, and our needs. We just need faith.
“So that your future generations may know that I housed Bnei Yisroel in a succah, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 28:43)
When the Jewish nation traveled through the desert, HaShem completely enveloped them in yet another “succah”, a spiritual succah of “Ananei Hakovod”, the Clouds of Glory. These Heavenly clouds protected the nation in all directions, – North, East, South, West, above and below. Additionally, there was a seventh cloud that led the way before them.
We recite in the Yom Tov Maariv prayer, “Ufros Aleinu succas rachamim, chaim v’sholom, and spread over us the shelter of compassion, life and peace”.
While we no longer have the Clouds of Glory, we beseech HaShem to embrace us with His blessings of peace and protection.
“V’samachtah b’chagechah, you shall rejoice with your festival.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:14)
Of all the holidays, it is only Succos which is called “Zman Simchaseinu, the season our joy.”
Why is only Succos specified as a time of happiness?
Our succahs are simple dwelling places made of canvas, plywood, or fiberglass. Nothing strong. Yet, we sit and enjoy, and are truly happy with our “succalehs”, for we know that HaShem is with us. That we have the ability to take the simple and humble and elevate it into a place of kedushah, holiness. That it’s not the marble and granite that make our homes a place worthy of HaShem’s presence. We can invite HaShem into our lives no matter where we are.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk zt”l, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, was known to always have a quick, sharp answer. When asked by an agnostic as to where was G-d, the Kotzker replied, HaShem is everywhere. He is only waiting for us to invite Him in. It’s up to us.
It’s a special mitzvah to share the joy of Succos with others. To open our succahs and hearts, not only to family and friends, but to neighbors, the lonely-hearted, and those who may have nowhere else to go.
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yocḥanan says: “In the future, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will prepare a succah for the righteous from the skin of the gigantic Leviathan whale. (Bava Basra 75a) This special succah is to house a banquet for the tzaddikim, the righteous of the world.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev zt”l, also known as the Holy Bardichever, was always careful to invite guests into his succah. Very often they included the homeless and needy. When asked why, he responded, “In the time of Moshiach, when the tzaddikim will be in the succah of the Leviathan, I will want to join them. For sure, I will be stopped – who are you to sit with the righteous?” The Bardichever continued and said, “I will be able to justify my entry, for in my succah, I too invited ordinary Jews to join in our rejoicing of the festival.”
May this Succos bring peace and tranquility to all of mankind.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l