Guest Columnist: Sweet dreams in the succa

In the succa I can concentrate on my true mansion and wealth – on spirit and family and generations and ancestors and hope and service to God and humans.

One of the many great advantages of commemorating Succot here in Israel is the ease and ability that one has to sleep in the succa. Coming from the freezing climes of Chicago and Monsey in the United States the ability to sleep in the succa was almost always negated by the inclement weather. Many a bowl of soup congealed on my family and I while eating all bundled up in the succa in those years. When I was a rabbi in Miami Beach the weather was also too inhospitable – tropical humidity, assorted insects, lizards and bugs and the presence of brief but always omnipresent rain showers of some intensity – to allow for any comfortable rest at night outside of the air-conditioned bedroom.
But here in Jerusalem none of these factors exist and I therefore am able to sleep blissfully, or at least normally, in my balcony/porch/pergola succa. And I am really grateful that I am able to do so for it gives me a heightened sense of the wonder of the holiday of Succot. Succot represents many things and like all Torah subjects it is many layered. It is about history – our sojourn in the desert after leaving Egypt – and nature, since it is the bountiful harvest holiday of the year. It is about the recollection and commemoration of our Temple service with our recitation and participation in the ceremony of hoshanot in our prayer service.
It is about water and rain, the one blessing that we must have to live comfortably. It is about nature and beauty, the four species of fruit and plants that are such a central commandment to our appreciation of the holiday. But to me at least it is mostly a holiday of faith, perhaps even more than are the days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
There is a great hassidic legend about a man who wanted to see a person who was truly wealthy. He went to his rebbe and asked for directions to find such a person. The rebbe sent him to a small village and told him to find a certain Reb Itzik and to stay the night with him. Arriving in the decrepit village the visitor eagerly searched out Reb Itzik. He was ushered into a ramshackle hut containing only straw for mattresses and broken wooden boxes for furniture. “Surely the rebbe must have been mistaken sending me here,” he thought to himself. After a very uncomfortable night spent on the straw-covered floor and a very meager breakfast of hard bread and tepid water, the visitor in desperation asked his host: “Reb Itzik, I heard you are a very wealthy man. Where is your wealth? How can you live under such circumstances as these?” Reb Itzik replied: “Oh, I have a great mansion with untold wealth located not far away. But pray tell me where and of what type is your home?” The visitor replied: “Oh, I live in a sturdy brick house with many comforts. But naturally when I am traveling I make do with whatever accommodations are offered to me.”
Reb Itzik replied: “My mansion is in Heaven, in immortality, in my generations that are yet to come. Here, I like you am only a traveler, so I also make do with whatever I have at hand. My brother, we are all only travelers.” The visitor returned to his rebbe and thanked him for showing him a truly wealthy man.
Sleeping in the succa, outside of my comfortable but only temporary living quarters, gives me a sense of faith that I can build for myself a truly magnificent mansion with untold wealth not far away. Here in the succa I gladly make do with whatever I have in hand. But I am comforted that by living even only for a week in a succa, open to the elements and unpredictability of life and events themselves I can concentrate on my true mansion and wealth – on spirit and family and generations and ancestors and hope and service to God and humans. Our national succa has withstood all of the elements and all of the evil that the world contains and it still stands. It may wobble at times but it still stands. It still stands because of the mansions that we build constantly for us and all of Israel not far from here in the Jerusalem that hovers above our earthly Jerusalem. We are all but travelers but that fact should not cause us discomfort or fear. For we are all truly wealthy and that is the Torah’s great gift to us.