The Sukkah: Our Eternal Reminder

Based on the Writings of Gershon Henoch of Radzin

By Rabbi Yaakov Lainer

The bitter servitude of the Egyptian exile profoundly diminished the spiritual awareness and level of the Jewish people.  In the words of the Rambam, (Laws of Idolatry, 1:3), “The root that Abraham had planted was almost entirely destroyed and the children of Yaakov were on the verge of reverting back to the idolatry of the nations.”  The Midrash informs us, however, that during this exile, the Jews would gather clandestinely and study the group of writings that had been handed down to them.  The fact that they persisted in perpetuating their way of life, despite the terrible darkness in which they found themselves, indicates that the Divine hand was carefully watching over them lest they assimilate.  The prophet Hosea alludes to this in the following verse:  “Am I, Hashem, your God from the land of Egypt?” meaning that even in Egypt, Hashem related to the Jews as their God.  Only once the people were miraculously taken out of Egypt, did they fully realize that during the entire exile, Hashem was watching over them.  It is therefore significant that their first stop after Ramses was Sukkot.  By sitting in the sukkah, they acknowledged their awareness of the protection Hashem had provided for them all along.  Whereas they had previously been mired in a beit avadim (house of slaves) unaware of the Divine hand, once they resided in Sukkot, they were fully aware of the Divine protection surrounding them.  And, once Bnei Yisrael internalized this awareness, it became possible to erect the Mishkan and ultimately the Beit Hamikdash.

On Sukkot, we are commanded to reside in a sukkah for seven days, so that future generations will know that Hashem sheltered his people in sukkot when they left Egypt.  In the terminology of the Talmud, we are charged to “forsake our permanent residence and reside in a temporary abode.”  Shelter may be provided by a house or by a hut.  A person residing in a house under a solid roof is barely cognizant of the fact that he is being protected.  On the other hand, if he is residing in a hut with a flimsy roof, where the wind is wafting through and the stars are quite visible, he will be fully aware of Hashem’s Divine protection.

Sukkot is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif, the time of gathering fruits of the harvest and bringing them inside.  As long as the grain and fruit are out in the field, they are subject to the vagaries of nature.  Divine protection is necessary to prevent possible damage by frost, flooding and heat.  During this precarious period, it is easy to be aware of the protection that is present.  However, once the harvest is brought indoors, the farmer may heave a sigh of relief and lose his awareness of Hashem’s hand.  Therefore, precisely at this time, we are asked to leave our homes and move into the sukkah  to become aware that Hashem is constantly involved in all of our endeavors.  When this lesson is learned, the farmer can return to his permanent home and use and enjoy the harvest, for now it is as if he is eating Mishulchan D’Rachmana, from the table of the Compassionate One.

Sukkot stands between the world of miracles and what is referred to as the world of nature.  However, this is an artificial distinction residing in the mind of man.  In truth, Hashem directs all aspects of our world.  The lack of a clear Divine presence lulls man into making this distinction.  From the worst of times, in Egypt, to the best of times, the glorious period of Solomon’s temple, Hashem guides our destiny.

Rabbi Lainer is the Radziner Rebbe.  He is the great, great nephew of Rabbi Gershon Henoch and the sixth generation of the famed Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Izbice, the author of the Mei HaShiloach.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2000.