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When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
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Home » Sukkot

Sukkot: Our Wholesome Oneness

Submitted by on September 21, 2010 – 9:41 pmNo Comment | 5,202 views

The Thatched Roof

The Sukkah is the ultimate equalizer. The prosperous and the impoverished, the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the righteous and the ruffian; all sit in the same Sukkah. And all Sukkahs are alike. It is true that some are adorned and others plain, some plush and other simple, some expansive and others confined, but those who cast their eyes heavenward don’t see these distinctions; they see only a thatched roof. And every Sukkah, fancy and plain, sports a similar roof.

The roof is the same in every Sukkah because it draws our eyes upward; a posture of faith. Casting our eyes heavenward is the entire point of the Sukkha. We leave our secure, weather proof homes and enter the Sukkah, where we brave the elements; relying fully on G-d. When we look about the Sukkah we see valuables that can be stolen and walls through which frost can seep, but when we cast our eyes heavenward we see only G-d who sustains and protects us as we enter the Sukkah.

In faith we are equal; no one believes more than another. We can know more than another and achieve more than another, but we cannot believe more than another. We either believe or we don’t; and on Sukkot we all believe. Our very presence in the Sukkah is a statement of faith and that is expressed in the sameness of the Sukkah’s thatched roof. (1)

The Single Unit

The Talmud takes this idea to the next level by asserting that we may fulfill our obligation on Sukkot even in another person’s Sukkah. We don’t each have to sit in a separate Sukkah; we may share Sukkahs. It is a holiday of unity and we may join together. Citing the verse, “Every native in Israel shall swell in the Sukkah,” (2) the Talmud proclaims, “The entire nation of Israel deserves to dwell in a single Sukkah.” (3)

It is true that no single Sukkah can accommodate the entire nation, however, in theory it is possible for anyour wholesome oneness - innerstream Jew to fulfill his Mitzvah in any Sukkah. As such, each individual Sukkah, large or small, welcomes, and by that dint encompasses, the entire nation. (4)

One can take this concept further and suggest that since every Sukkah is the preserve of every Jew, all Sukkahs merge in spirit. We might each sit in our own Sukkah, but since no Sukkah precludes any Jew, G-d gazes down from above and sees His children sitting together; in a single Sukkah. To be sure, our huts are physically separate, but conceptually it is one large Sukkah with entry points that span the globe. (5)

A Trail of Progression

We might suggest that this awesome unity derives from the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (6) For ten days, from Rosh Hashanah till Yom Kippur, our objective was returning to G-d and His Torah. Each, from our own vantage point we focused on a unified focal point. Together, in unison, we drew closer and closer until, at the close of Yom Kippur, we reached it.

We began the year as a disparate people; each with his and her own interests, needs and position. But for ten days we made our way to the central point of all of existence; to G-d. We strove to sublimate ourselves and be absorbed by His all encompassing oneness. When we stood together at the close of Yom Kippur and proclaimed Shema Yisrael in a thunderous, but unified voice, our souls finally folded into their source; coalescing and becoming one.

This merging of essence to essence is revealed four days later through the unification of the Sukkah; where all Jews join under one thatched roof; unified in mind, spirit and purpose.

Three Walls

For a Sukkah to be Kosher it must have a minimum of three walls. (7) This is derived through a complicated Talmudic formula.

The Hebrew word Sukkot means many Sukkahs, but the Hebrew word Sukkat, means a Sukkah of. For example one can say Sukkat Bet Haknesset, the Sukkah of the Synagogue. It gets complicated when you realize that the three Hebrew letters, samach, kaf and taf can spell both Sukkot and Sukkat depending on the vowels.
 
It is necessary to make one further point before moving along: When the letter vav is inserted between the kaf and the taf, the word is definitively rendered, Sukkot.

In the Torah portion about this festival, the word Sukkot appears three times; once with the inserted vav and twice without it. In context, each of these three words are read Sukkot, not Sukkat. Yet if one chooses to read the text literally, one could insist on reading Sukkat in the two instances where the letter vav is omitted.

If read in this non contextual fashion, the word with the vav would be read as Sukkot and the other two would be read as Sukkat. This means that the first word would be translated in the plural, many Sukkot implying a minimum of two, whereas the other two would be translated as the Sukkah of implying a single Sukkah. All three words, taken together, would bespeak a total of four Sukkot.

Considering that one of these four Sukkot are necessary to inform us that the festival of Sukkot is under discussion, it leaves us with three more Sukkot. Why does the Torah invoke the Sukkah three more times in this portion, when it appears unnecessary? The Talmud explains that this is to teach us that a Sukkah is kosher even when it consists of three walls. (8)

Three Kinds

Now that we got the complicated legalese out of the way allow me to make a point. These three walls are not presented in the Torah as a unit; each of the walls is described as a separate part. Yet they form a cohesive group.

This is akin to the pronouncement we make at the beginning of the Yom Kippur liturgy when we invite the sinners to join our congregation. The Hebrew word Tzibur, which means congregation, forms an acronym for Tzadik, Benoni and Rasha, pious, ordinary and wicked. This teaches us that no congregation is complete unless it encompasses the entire spectrum of the people.

The Sukkah invokes a similar concept through its three walls. It is a single unit that encompasses the entire nation, but it is not complete unless it has at least three walls. Each wall stands alone; each represents a different category of Jew, but at the joint they must be attached.

For it is only in unity that our oneness shines through.

Chag Sameach

Footnotes

  1. See Haamek Davar to Leviticus 23: 42. This point
    takes on greater poignancy when you consider that the thatched roof is
    the only part of the Sukkah that represents the commandment. The rest of
    the Sukkah is merely logistically necessary.
  2. Leviticus 23: 41.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Sukkot 27b. The Talmud makes
    this statement to prove that the obligation to dwell in the Sukkah can
    be discharged in a borrowed Sukkah. It works like this: Since we cannot
    fulfill our obligation in a stolen Sukkah how could the entire nation
    discharge its obligation in one Sukkah? Even if every Jew owned a share
    in the Sukkah, the value of each share would per force be lower than a
    Prutah, the lowest denomination in Talmudic currency below which
    ownership loses monetary value. This, concludes the Talmud, demonstrates
    that our obligation to eat in a Sukkah can be discharged in a borrowed
    Sukkah.
  4. See Torah Temimah on Leviticus 23: 41.
    Alternatively, Rashi suggests that the entire nation could fit into one
    Sukkah by eating in shifts. Considering that there are twenty-four hours
    to discharge the obligation this is nigh well possible.
  5. This is similar to congregational prayer. Each
    congregation forms its own group, but all the prayers ascend heavenward
    at the same time and there they coalesce into a single powerful wave.
  6. This link is also suggested by the thatched roof
    over the Sukkah. The spread of foliage is reminiscent of the steam that
    spread across the Holy of Holies when the High Priest offered incense on
    Yom Kippur. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for this cover is s’chach.
    Hebrew letters also carry numeric value and the Numeric value of the
    word s’chach is one-hundred; the precise number of blasts we blow from
    the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. This suggests that the encompassing
    attribute of Sukkot derives directly from the intensity of the holy days
    that precede it.
  7. Technically it is kosher with two walls and a small extension for a third wall.
  8. Babylonian Talmud, Sukkot 6b.
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