Think Again: Seeking His protection in the succa

SUCCOT IS the ideal time to strengthen our sense of relationship to the Almighty and our confidence in His protective power.

A succa in Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A succa in Western Wall
From the beginning of the month of Elul until the end of Succot, we recite Psalm 27 twice a day at the end of prayers, a psalm in which King David proclaims his absolute trust in God’s protection from all his enemies: “When the evildoers approach to devour my flesh, my tormentors and enemies against me, it is they who stumble and fall. If an army were to encamp against me, my heart would not fear.”
I have been working hard of late to internalize David’s trust in God. Life in Israel requires such trust on a constant basis.
Ever since the outbreak of the second intifada, just before Rosh Hashana of 2000, it seems we have been particularly tested at this time of the year. I can remember staring out the window of my succa that year expecting to see a mob of armed Arabs advancing upon us at any minute. During the same period this year the “deal” ensuring that Iran will have an industrial-scale nuclear program within little more than a decade became a fait accompli.
Some years back politician and retired general Ephraim Sneh said that a nuclear Iran would cause everyone who had the means to do so to flee Israel rather than live under a constant threat from Iran.
That flight hasn’t happened yet, in part as a result of the nations of the world making it abundantly clear that they cannot or will not protect their existing Jewish populations. The world around looks less hospitable by the day. Indeed Israel is experiencing an influx of immigration from Western Europe, particularly France.
Still we can all understand what Sneh was talking about. An air of foreboding about the future hangs in the air.
SUCCOT IS the ideal time to strengthen our sense of relationship to the Almighty and our confidence in His protective power.
Like Passover, Succot brings us back to the Exodus from Egypt by reminding us of how we followed God into a howling wilderness. So why do we need two festivals commemorating the same events? Why doesn’t Passover alone suffice? The answer is that the two festivals remind us of two different aspects of the Exodus. Passover recalls the miraculous events connected to our leaving Egypt – the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea.
Those events demonstrate God’s absolute dominion over nature and His ongoing involvement in the events of this world.
Succot does not remind us of any dramatic events but, rather, of the relationship with God forged during the 40 years in the wilderness. The Talmud records an argument as to whether the succot in which God caused us to dwell in the wilderness refer to actual succot or to the Clouds of Glory, which protected the people of Israel during all their wanderings.
But either way, the reference is to the ongoing manner of our dwelling for almost the entire 40-year period in the wilderness.
On Succot we leave the security of our homes for ramshackle temporary dwellings.
We sleep outside, able to see the stars through the s’chach overhead. In so doing, we emulate our ancestors as they went out into an unknown wilderness completely dependent upon God for protection. In the succa we are acutely aware that it is not the walls of our homes that provide our ultimate security but God alone.
Our Sages refer to Yom Kippur as the wedding day of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Jewish people, for on that day Moses our Master received the Second Tablets of the Law. But it was not until five days later, on 15 Tishrei, that the Clouds of Glory, which departed after the sin of the Golden Calf, returned, signaling the full reconciliation of God and His people. Only then did the marriage really begin, with the full trust that is the indispensable condition of any successful marriage.
Succot is the holiday of trust in God.
After all the hard work of the Days of Awe – the acknowledgment on Rosh Hashana that there is no reality detached from God, the self-examination and quest for purification on Yom Kippur – on Succot we are ready to just savor our closeness to God and our trust in Him as the only reliable source of security.
THE QUALITY of our relationship with God is inextricably bound to the unity of the Jewish people. The precondition for the receipt of the First Tablets at Sinai was that the people encamp before the mountain as “one person with one heart.” One of the verses of kingship read in the Musaf of Rosh Hashana is, “And He became a King in Jeshurun, when the leaders of the people assembled, the tribes of Israel together” (Deuteronomy 33:5). Only when all the tribes are gathered together will God be fully King.
The theme of Jewish unity runs throughout the month of Tishrei. On Rosh Hashana, for instance, there is a requirement to send food to those who are without. That act of hessed to our fellow Jews joins us to the primordial act of hessed – i.e., Creation, whose very purpose was so that God, as it were, could give to a being outside of Himself.
All the festivals are times of rejoicing, but only Succot is referred to specifically as zman simhateinu (the time of our rejoicing).
Simha in Jewish thought always connotes connection – both connection to God and to one another.
And Succot itself fosters closeness between Jews. Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler explains a cryptic comment of our Sages that going into the succa constitutes a form of exile. Perhaps the judgment of Yom Kippur was for exile, and the hope is that dwelling for seven days in the succa will suffice.
When we leave the security of our homes for the succa, we simultaneously leave the physical world for a world of spirit. The physical world is one of finitude, and people accordingly view themselves as competing over pieces of a limited pie. The world of spirit, by contrast, is infinite. One person’s spiritual ascension is not at the expense of another; indeed, the spiritual growth of any of us uplifts those around us.
Feeling ourselves in the world of spirit transforms us from competitors to helpers one to the other. In the world of spirit, the sinat hinam (baseless hatred) that caused the destruction of the Second Temple and our current exile” has no place.
Thus, entrance into the succa, to the world of spirit, serves as an appropriate substitute for the bitter lessons of exile and the antidote for sinat hinam.
TORAH-COMMITTED Jews can provide the best theoretical account of the basis of Jewish unity: We all stood at Sinai and were charged with a Divine mission to make God known to the world. The ultimate fulfillment of that mission depends on each and every Jew.
But that does not mean that Torah- committed Jews always act upon that theoretical understanding of their relationship to every other Jew. That is why I found a recent event in Bnei Brak such a positive sign and, one hopes, a harbinger of things to come.
Over 100,000 Jews – men, women and children – filled the streets of Bnei Brak to pay honor to a parade of farmers who refrained from working their land during the shmita year. Venerable Torah scholars sought the blessings of rough-hewn farmers.
The crowds came to pay homage to the remarkable act of faith of the farmers, many of whom risked not just a loss of nearly 15 percent of their income over a shmita cycle but also the loss of their long-term supply contracts.
The haredi crowd’s focus was solely on what was positive. No one would have dared to ask whether the wives of the farmers covered their hair, and, if so, with what kind of hair covering, or what kind of kippa, if any, the farmers wear.
May we all focus, this Succot and throughout the year, on the positive in our fellow Jews and thereby merit, in King David’s words, “to be hidden in His succa on the day of evil.”
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.