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Home Is a Succah

To enter the succah is to take shelter under His wings from all the storms, literal and figurative


Every Yom Tov is special, but there’s something different about Succos.

It’s one of the three regalim, of course, along with Pesach and Shavuos, and like them, it is a remembrance of Yetzias Mitzrayim. But, as the pesukim in parshas Emor make clear, Succos also has its own unique character.

Chapter 23 of Sefer Vayikra, known as the Parshas Hamoadim — the Passage of the Festivals, is introduced by a verse declaring, “These are the festivals of Hashem which you shall declare as holy times, these are My festivals.” The Torah then proceeds to discuss each of the festivals in chronological order, beginning with Pesach, followed by the days of Sefiras Ha’omer (which, Ramban writes, is a Chol Hamoed-like period between Pesach and Shavuos), and then in succession, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos.

At this point, a concluding pasuk (23:37) appears, which summarizes all that came before, stating (in paraphrase), “These are the festivals of Hashem which you shall declare as holy times, on which to bring sacrifices each day.” Thus, the passage has addressed each of the Yamim Tovim, bookended by opening and closing verses.

But then, strikingly, the Torah returns in the very next verse to again speak specifically of the Yom Tov of Succos. This time, however, it calls it the “Chag Hashem,” not “Chag HaSuccos,” the name used earlier. It repeats the date on which Succos begins, but adds that this is the time “when you gather in the produce of the land.” It also describes Succos using the unusual phrase, “seven days in the year.” And only now does the Torah set forth the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah for seven days.

Succos is a Yom Tov, but it is also more — it is a microcosm of life itself, of how a Jew is to experience quotidian day-to-day living throughout the year. The message and the mission of Succos are that of bringing trust in Hashem fully into our lives, and specifically at harvest time, when the gathering in of our plentiful bounty might otherwise make us prone to delusions of self-sufficiency.

To enter the succah is to take shelter under His wings from all the storms, literal and figurative, that gust about, to cast all our worries and fears and insecurities onto Him and thereby achieve inner serenity and genuine joy. Succos’ character as the “time of our rejoicing” is unthinkable without its complementary aspect as the quintessential Yom Tov of bitachon.

The other Yamim Tovim are ours; even when the Torah writes, “Atzeres laHashem,” it means we take our holiday and dedicate it to His purposes. But of Succos the Torah says, “Tachogu es chag Hashem” — meaning that it is His chag that we celebrate. We spend it with Him, as guests in His own home, the succah, which according to Chazal (Succah 9a) “has the Name of Hashem resting upon it.”

Succos is “seven days in the year,” meaning that by comprising one complete week-unit of the year, it serves as a model for how the year as a whole ought to look, even once we make the trek back inside our year-round homes to resume our mundane lives. Succos is a laboratory of emunah and bitachon, and the more time we spend in it, the deeper we absorb the wordless lessons it has to teach about how to feel completely secure in Hashem’s embrace, how to let go — but truly, once and for all — of all the imagined supports we’ve been so terrified to give up.

THIS, PERHAPS, is why so many great Jews went to such lengths to treat their succah as their literal home, holding nothing back. I recall, for example, speaking with Rabbi Elysha Sandler, mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv, about the Succos of his rebbi, Rav Hillel Zaks, the Chafetz Chaim’s grandson and rosh yeshivah in Chevron and of Kiryat Sefer’s Yeshivas Knesses HaGedolah. He recalled that Reb Hillel’s succah, built without any metal whatsoever, was huge, with a main room furnished with his breakfront and a bookcase filled with seforim, and a separate bedroom.

In earlier years, when he’d lived on Rechov Tzefania in the Geula neighborhood, his succah had featured several bedrooms and even more seforim. Reb Hillel virtually never left the succah throughout the seven days of the Yom Tov. The minyanim, the seudos, receiving all those who came to spend time with him, even the reading of Mishneh Torah on Leil Hoshana Rabbah — all took place in the succah.

Part of this, of course, may have been about performing the mitzvah of succah in the most ideal way. Rabbi Sandler certainly remembers his rebbi as “a great medakdek b’mitzvos, with many chumros and hiddurim, whose avodas Hashem was always vibrant and thought-out. For a period of time, he would shecht his own chicken and meat and press his own wine. All food in the Zaks home consisted of unprocessed, homemade ingredients and needed to have terumos and maasros removed regardless of their source.”  And so too, to truly fulfill the requirement of teishvu k’ein taduru, to dwell in the succah as one does at home, Reb Hillel transformed the former into the latter.

But beyond the mitzvah of succah, and the dikduk b’mitzvos it calls for, there’s also the idea of the succah. Its priceless resources of bitachon and kirvas Elokim can’t be accessed if we treat our succos as mere booths to step into a few times daily at mealtime.

When it came to the mitzvah of succah, Reb Hillel Zaks didn’t just want to perform it; he longed for it to transform him. And he knew that in order to profit, you need to invest, to go “all in.”

And so, he did.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 931. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com)

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