Tuesday, October 3, 2017


   Once upon a time, the world existed without Waze and GPS systems. People had to rely on finding out driving directions before they left on their destination. If they didn’t they risked getting lost. In that archaic world (from not-too-long-ago), the first part of the following scenario was quite common[1]:
   Moshe and his wife, Sara, were driving down an empty highway somewhere in upstate New York. It was obvious that they were quite lost. Sara was exasperated, “Didn’t I tell you that you should ask my father for directions before we left? Anyway, none of this would have happened if you agreed to pull over and ask a gas station attendant where to go. Why is it so hard for you to ask directions?” Moshe replied sharply, “I didn’t need to ask for directions then, because, at that point, I knew where I was going. But because you were yelling at me I became confused and went the wrong way.” Sara’s eyes widened angrily, “Oh, so now it’s my fault!!!”
   On and on they argued for thirty-five miles of open highway. They finally turned off the highway to ask for directions. When they pulled up to a red light, Sara turned to Moshe and said, “Maybe now would be a good time to pull over and learn that really difficult daf of gemara you were struggling with last night.” Moshe was beside himself, “Here on the side of the road in some lost town? That has got to be the wildest suggestion ever! How do you expect me to concentrate?”
The Gemara[2] cites a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer regarding what the succah commemorates. Rabbi Eliezer opined that the succah commemorates the Divine Clouds of Glory that enwrapped Klal Yisroel in the desert, smoothing the path in front of them, and protecting them for the elements in the desert. Rabbi Akiva countered that the succah commemorates the huts that the Jewish Nation constructed and dwelled in while traveling through the desert.
Both opinions are perplexing. Throughout the forty years that the Jews sojourned through the desert, they were privy to myriads of miracles. Manna fell from the sky each morning, water flowed from a rock, and their clothing grew with them and never wore out. According to Rabbi Eliezer, why do we not also celebrate the other miracles that were omnipresent in the desert?
The opinion of Rabbi Akiva is even more enigmatic. Why should we celebrate a seven-day holiday in commemoration of the huts that the Jews dwelled in while they were in the desert? What connection do those huts have with us and why should remember them in such a grandiose fashion?[3]
As I write these words, I am currently sitting in Copenhagen Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark waiting for a friend who is meeting me here[4]. About two weeks ago, that friend and former classmate[5] invited me to spend Succos with him in a yeshiva for Russian students in Copenhagen. It took a few minutes before he convinced me that he was being serious. After much planning, here I am in Copenhagen.
Truth be told, when the idea of traveling to Copenhagen for Succos was first mentioned to me, I had to look at a map to locate the country. It took me some time to locate Denmark above Germany. That was basically the extent of my knowledge about the country when I boarded the plane a few hours ago. Now, as I sit here in the airport, donned in my yeshiva garb, I feel quite lost. It’s one thing when you are lost in a town or state. But, at this moment, I feel lost in the world!
When Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt, they entered an arid and desolate wilderness. After hearing about all the miracles of the exodus, and knowing that the Jewish nation was heading towards the Promised Land, the nations of the world were frightened and maintained their distance, surely not offering any support or assistance. The hapless nation was truly on its own!
In a similar vein, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’’l, the Satmar Rebbe, related, that after the Concentration Camp inmates were liberated at the conclusion of World War II, they were under the impression that after all they had suffered the world would rush to their aid. To their shock and chagrin, they were left to wander aimlessly, many languishing in squalid Displaced Person camp for many months before they were able to move on to begin a new life.  
When one doesn’t know where he is or where he is going, he is inevitably overcome with anxiety. It is hard for him to contemplate his next move, because he feels so alone and befuddled.
For a nation that had emerged from exile with nary any provisions or protection, it seemed that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much until they arrived at their destination. However, it was in the desert that they achieved their greatest distinction - becoming the Chosen People. They accepted the Torah at Sinai, along with all its mitzvos and laws.
The greatness of those huts was not the flimsy building itself. Rather, it was the fact that they were able to feel settled and ‘at home’ in those makeshift huts. The fact that they felt so settled that they were able to achieve sufficient peace of mind to accept the Torah, despite the fact that they were a nomadic nation without provisions in a most dangerous territory, was miraculous.
Many years later, G-d lovingly reflected upon the tremendous faith that Klal Yisroel displayed upon leaving Egypt. “I remember the kindness of your youth; the love of your younger days. When you followed me into the desert, an unsown (undeveloped) land.” G-d repaid their faith by allowing them to feel comfortable and settled in that vast wasteland.

The pasuk explains that we dwell in succos, Because I enabled the Children of Israel to dwell in succos when I took them out of Egypt”[6]. Chidah notes that the pasuk doesn’t state “In succos I enabled them to travel” but “Hoshavti, (I enabled them) to dwell.” The Clouds of Glory were so tangible, that they literally enveloped the nation from all sides. Those who were worthy, were literally able to ‘ride the cloud’ as it carried them across the desert terrain.
Although everything that happened to Klal Yisroel in the desert was miraculous, the other miracles were necessary for the nation’s survival. G-d had to perform those miracles so that the nation didn’t die. The Clouds of Glory however, were provided solely as kindness from G-d. It greatly enhanced their traveling, but they could have survived without them.
The fact that G-d granted them those clouds demonstrated His boundless love for them. It is that love that we celebrate and commemorate on Succos.
After the awesome Days of Judgment have passed, we invoke the memory of the special closeness we attained with G-d in the desert. We rejoice for seven days in our succos, putting ourselves at the mercy of the elements, outside the protection and comfort of our homes.
On Succos, as we sit under the cover of the s’chach, we join with every Torah Jew throughout the world who is doing the same, whether in New York, Eretz Yisroel, South Africa, or Copenhagen. It is a holiday of joy and love, when we can feel at home, even if we are miles away from home.

   “I remember the kindness of your youth”
   “Because I enabled them to dwell in succos”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] I added this introduction this year (2017). Fascinatingly, a mere 17 years ago, when this essay was first written, it was unnecessary.
[2] Succah 11b
[3] The legend is that Martha Washington sewed the socks of the Colonist soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. Should there be an American custom to wear sown up socks on Independence Day?!
[4] This essay was written just prior to Succos 2000 (5760), before I was married.
[5] Rabbi Eli Berkowitz
[6] Vayikra 23:43


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