19 Sep A Lasting Succos Message
In the Succos liturgy, we say “Bal tehei mitzvas succah kala b’einecha ki k’neged kol mitzvoseha das chukoseha shkula – Let not the mitzvah of succah be light in your eyes for it is equivalent to all the mitzvos of the Torah.” The Gaon of Vilna elaborates that there are two mitzvos of the entire 613 that one enters into with his entire body: the mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Yisroel and the mitzvah of being in the succah. Thus, while the Tefillin on the head impact the head, and walking to the shul impacts one’s feet, the mitzvah of succah permeates one’s entire being. In this vein, it is especially suited to be a foil for the sin of anger, which affects one’s entire body as well.
The reason why one might have taken the mitzvah lightly is because the Gemora, in the beginning of Avoda Zorah, tells us that succah is a mitzvah kala, an easy mitzvah. Rashi elaborates that this is because “Ein bah chisoron kis – It doesn’t dost any money.” Nowadays, we look at this Gemora with astonishment. It doesn’t cost any money? Fiberglass succahs, sophisticated schach mats, elaborate rain-roof contrivances are not cheap at all. How can we call this an inexpensive mitzvah? Shmurah matzah at fifteen dollars per pound sounds like a better bargain.
To understand this we must know that in ancient times, the succah was made out of the p’soles of the goren and the yekev, the leftovers from the threshing floor and the winepress. It is a Torah prerequisite that the schach must be made out of something that is not susceptible to contamination. This means that it can’t have any specific use. If it did, it would be considered a keili, a utensil, and be disqualified. So they would use the useless branches and stalks leftover in the field for the succah covering. These were rightfully considered ‘ein bah chisoron kis,’ for they had no value.
But this fact brings us to a very perplexing problem. In Yiddishkeit, we engage in a lot of symbolism. The matzah is a symbol, the lulav and esrog are symbols, but probably the most rarified symbol of them all is the schach for it symbolizes the Ananei HaKoved, the Clouds of Glory that represent the Shechina itself. It therefore boggles the mind that the Torah should desire us to use – as the metaphor for the Clouds of Glory – the leftover junk of the threshing floor and the winepress. What is the meaning of this unbelievable practice?
The answer, in a nutshell, is that one of the central themes of the succah experience is to teach us to be mikadeish the gashmius, to infuse spiritual meaning into the mundane activities of life. Thus we are taught to eat in the succah, to drink there, to sleep there – and while doing these routine daily activities, to think of the Clouds of Glory, the mon (manna) that we ate underneath, and the miraculous well of Miriam from which we drank, thus training ourselves to inject spiritual meaning in these everyday, regular activities.
This is why Succos, the last of the three festivals, corresponds to Yaakov Avinu. It was Yaakov who taught us that he could work as a shepherd for twenty years and yet fulfill the 613 mitzvos, as it says, “Im Lavan garti v’taryag mitzvos shamarti – With Lavan I dwelled and I fulfilled the 613 mitzvahs.” This is why, while Avraham and Yitzchak correspond respectively to the tamid sacrifice of the morning and the afternoon, Yaakov corresponds to the smoking-up of the limbs and the fats of the evening, the leftovers – for his job was to inject spirituality even into the sacrificial remains. That is why Yaakov also invented the last prayer, tefilas Maariv, which the Gemora calls r’shus – the most ‘optional’ (although nowadays it is mandatory) of the three tefilos.
Thus, it is the mission of the Succos experience to condition us in what we say in our Krias Shema, “Ve-ahaveta es Hashem Elokecha b’chol levovecha – That you should love Hashem with all your hearts,” both with the yeitzer tov and with the yeitzer hara, serving Hashem not just while we are learning and praying, but while we’re eating – to be stronger to do the mitzvahs, and while we’re sleeping to be more patient with our loved ones, etc.
May it be the will of Hashem that we reach this level, “Bechol drachecha da’eihu – Acknowledging Hashem in ALL our ways,” and in that merit may Hashem bless all our endeavors with success.