Simchat Torah Dvar Torah

By Shoshana Menashe

Moadim L’Simcha – Chag Sameach!

Be’reshut Rabbi Meyers, Greetings to our Madam President, and thank you to the entire congregation for giving me the opportunity to share a few words of Torah this morning that are based on an article by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks.

We are finishing up the Chagim – an amazing month of holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabah, Shemni Hatzeret, and Simchat Torah.

As we get ready to leave the Chagim and go back to our regular schedules, I want to share some thoughts about my personal favorite, Sukkot.

We were lucky this year that the Sunday before Sukkot it did not rain and I spent pretty much the whole day helping my dad put up the Sukkah. I held up walls and took doors using the power drill. Once we had the walls up, I climbed up on the roof of our house to make sure the Schach was placed correctly across the top of the Sukkah. (My mother does not like to watch that part of the Sukkah building!). Then after I helped put up all the beautiful Sukkah decorations I even finally convinced my father to put up the Mariners lights. He wasn’t eager to do that because he said the Mariners sometimes don’t bring him happiness but in the end he agreed!

My father and I were especially happy that during the windstorm in the first days of the Chag our Sukkah stood strong and nothing really moved or flew away so we were able to have all our meals in our Sukkah.

Since we put all this effort into our Sukkah it made me wonder why do we have to put up our Sukkah every year? With all this effort shouldn’t our Sukkah be permanent so we do not have to rebuild every year or shouldn’t we build with materials that are a little sturdier?

I guess my question is what exactly is a Sukkah? What is it supposed to represent?

I learned with my parents that the question is important to the Mitzvah itself. The Torah says in Vayikra :

בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃

You shall live in sukkot seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live sukkot,

לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in Sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.

In other words, understanding and being aware that we are in a Sukkah and the reasons for the Sukkah are very important. For that reason, it says in the Talmud that a Sukkah that is taller than twenty cubits, which is about 30 feet, is not kosher because when the schach, the “roof,” is that far above your head, you might not even be aware that you are sitting in a Sukkah!

So if you have to be aware you are sitting in a Sukkah, what is the meaning of the Sukkah itself?

Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, says the Sukkah was there to remind the Israelites of their past so that, at the very moment they were feeling the greatest satisfaction at living in Israel, when they were able to bring their beautiful crops up to the Beit Hamikdash, they should remember that they were once a poor group of ex-slaves traveling in the desert. Sukkot, says Rashbam, is very connected to the warning Moses gave the Israelites at the end of his life about the danger of feeling too secure in your home and your resources. Everything that we have, including our money, comes from Hashem’s blessings and protection.

So perhaps our Sukkah has to not be permanent to remind us that everything we have in life, all our possessions and material wealth, are because of Hashem’s blessings and that what we have can be taken away in an instant. While hard work is important, we cannot accomplish anything without Hashem’s Beracha, His blessing. Just like the Jews wandering in the desert and living in Sukkot could not have survived without Hashem’s protection, and our Sukkot in Seattle (no matter how hard we work on them!) are subject to the winds of October, all we can ever really count on is the commitment to Torah and Mitzvot, not material things or structures.

In addition to understanding the message of the temporary nature of the Sukkah – I think there is another important aspect of Sukkot – the Mitzvah of v’samachta b’hagecha – to be with “Simcha” on the Chag. What does that mean?

The Rambam says in Hilchot Yom Tov that the ways that Jews rejoice is by inviting guests to our house for a meal on the Chag, including the widows, the orphans, and people who don’t have a place to go or cannot provide for themselves. That’s what real “simcha” on the holiday means – to share what we have with others.

The Rambam says this very clearly, and I quote:

A person who spends time on the Chag with only his own family, eating good food, enjoying a fine meal but does not invite people who have no other place to go or do not have the ability to provide for themselves good food, then such an individual who isolates himself from the unfortunate does not having the “Simcha”/joy of the holiday; he’s only having the “Simcha”/joy of his own stomach.”

Sadly there are so many in our community who do not have shelter and food. In honor of the Mitzvah of “ v’samachta b’hagecha “ my school, the Seattle Hebrew Academy, purchased over 600 pounds of food for the JFS food bank and I went with the SHA middle school to help package the food and get it ready to distribute to those who do not have enough to eat. Our very own Mrs. Lea Hanan makes it her own personal year round Mitzvah of collecting food from the entire school for the JFS food bank.

To conclude, Sukkot is an amazing holiday because it teaches us both to appreciate all the material blessing we have in our lives and to share what we have with others who are not as fortunate. I hope this lesson and all the other amazing things we learned over the Chagim continue to inspire us to higher levels of Torah and Mitzvot in the year to come.