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Sukkah: The Shelter of Faith

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Sep 28, 2020

Chag Ha’Succos 5781.  And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם, לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה, חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, לַה, Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: on the fifteenth of the seventh month is a festival of Succos for seven days, to Hashem…וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַֽעֲנַ֥ף עֵֽץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל, And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days

בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת, In Succos you shall sit for seven days, every resident in Israel shall sit in booths; לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, so that your generations shall know that in Succos I had the children of Israel dwell, when I took them out of the land of Egypt, I am Hashem your G-d (Vayikra 23: 33-34, 40, 42-43).  

Succos represents a celebration of the Oral Law, Torah She’baal Peh, for it is the Sages who instruct us as to the details of the chag and the identity (and quantity taken) of the arabah minim (four species).  R’ Soloveitchik teaches that, “Succos is the holiday that is most closely associated with Torah she’ba’al peh, the Oral Law.  Only through the Oral Law can we identify the words פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר, a fruit of the tree of splendor, with an esrog.  Succos is the yomtov which celebrates Torah she’ba’al peh.  The Sadduces and Pharisees argued about very basic rules involving the Succos festival, such as the mitzvos of aravah and nisuch ha’mayim.  Indeed, what is Succah?  What should its height be?  The vast majority of the halachos of Sukkah were transmitted as halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai (an oral tradition handed down from Moshe at Sinai).  Succos is therefore the festival of Torah she’ba’al peh” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Vayikra, p.194).

Furthermore, Succos - like Pesach - represents our faith in Hashem, and His Txsorah.  It is well known that the Zohar calls the matzah of Pesach the “Bread of Faith”, and the Succah the “Shelter of Faith.”  

Whereas the matzah demonstrates our faith in the Almighty Who always sustains us - even in the darkest times of our exile(s) - the succah demonstrates that G-d’s shade and shelter always protects us, come what may.  And so, for seven days, we leave the sturdy walls of our homes, and reside in the temporary walls of the succah, affirming our belief in the only true Protection provided to us.  

Yaakov Paley writes, “A sukkah is our Shelter of Faith. With it, we tread life’s paths surrounded by G‑d’s cloud. When we fall, He softens the blow and helps us continue. When we come under attack, G‑d deflects the sharpest blows, and we survive and progress. When we reach out, we expand the parameter of our faith, encompass others within our sukkah and increase G‑d’s glory. We are never constrained, because the roof is always open. At all times, G‑d peers through. At any time, we can raise our arms heavenwards and lock hands with G‑d. Then the confines of our sukkah become infinite; they are walls that contain all of creation, and much beyond” (

R’ Yisrael Meir Lau tells the following story: In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he went to visit the hospitalized wounded soldiers.  A woman approached R’ Lau and asked if he could visit her son, Yehuda.  “On the bed lay a young man, his head wrapped completely in bandages. His nose, mouth, and a small section of his eyes barely stuck out between them.  A sheet covered his body from the chin down, so I had no idea about the condition of the rest of his body.  He was still in the recovery stage after surgery.  After a few minutes, he noticed me standing there, and asked whether I was a rabbi.  I answered yes.  He asked for the time.  I replied that it was 12pm noon.  ‘If so,’ he asked, ‘could someone who has not yet put on tefillin today put them on now?’

“… I replied that one could lay arm tefillin now, without laying head tefillin.  He pulled out his left hand from under the sheet and said, ‘If so, then put it on for me.’  I did so willingly, and recited the Shema Yisrael with him… Later, we became friendly and I heard his story.

“It was during the Sukkot holiday following Yom Kippur.  On the eve of Simchat Torah, Second Lt. Yehuda sat with five other officers, all older and more senior than he, in a command car beside the Suez Canal, waiting for orders.  As they sat, a truck stopped next to them. On it stood a sukkah.  Two Chabad representatives invited the young officers into the sukkah to eat some cake, and recite the blessings over the four species…

“The officers tried to avoid the invitation, but the Chabadnik on the truck did not give up… The officers looked at each other and decided to accept the offer.  They went into the truck, ate some cake and drank cups of sweet wine, and prepared to recite the blessing over the lulav.  Suddenly they heard a deafening explosion.  They all threw themselves onto the floor of the truck, feeling their bodies to make sure their limbs were intact.  When they glanced outside, they discovered that the command car, where they had been sitting a minute ago, had taken a direct hit.  Not a fragment of it remained…

“Yehuda felt his life had been saved thanks to the sukkah and the lulav… He agreed to take upon himself the daily mitzvah of tefillin, as he felt he owed something to G-d in exchange for his life… When he opened his eyes in the hospital (as a result of a subsequent injury),” concludes R’ Lau, “the first thing that concerned him was that he had not fulfilled his vow (to lay tefillin daily) since his injury” (Out of the Depths, p.252-254).

From the Bread of Faith of Pesach, to the Shelter of Faith of Succos, we are constantly reminded that it is the RS”O Who watches over and saves us in all times - from the exodus from Egypt to Succos 5781. וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י ה’ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים - And when you take the four species for yourself, you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days (Vayikra 23:40).

May we truly merit a yomtov of pure simcha for our people and our Land. 

בברכת שבת שלום וחג שמח.


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