The Mystical Secret of the Succah


   
    Issue Number 25, September 1999          
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Spiritual Dimension of the Succot

By Ezriel Gruenstein

The holiday of Succoth is a holiday ripe with hidden meanings. For this holiday, we must leave our comfortable and secure domain, our furnished and decorated home to live for several days in a temporary dwelling. This temporal Succa is characterized by its temporary structure and its lacking of a real roof. Covered by palm branches, sticks, or other wooden tree branches, the Succa can be either a chilly wind-filled ice-box domicile or a hot uncomfortable hut. In the Succa, there is no air conditioned relief from the heat, nor is heating effective to remove the cold.

During the week of Succoth, we leave the comfortable and fashionable home to which we are so used to. We enter into this temporary structure and make this our home for the week of the festival.

During the festival of Succoth, we take the four species form the land of Israel, the etrog (citron), the lulav (the inner most branch of the palm tree), sprigs of the haddash (myrtle) bush and short branches from the willow tree. These we hold together to fulfil another divine commandment from the Creator.

The last day of the festival, which is really a festival to itself, is wildly and enthusiastically celebrated by taking the Torahs out of the holy ark and dancing with them. It is the holiday known as Simchat Torah, perhaps the most joyous of the holidays.

What is the connection between Simchat Torah and Succoth? What are the four species all about? What do they have to do with Succoth? What is the purpose of the Succa? What do we accomplish by eating, sleeping and entertaining in the Succa?

To understand the answers to these questions, first we must realize that each commandment that we have been given has its purpose and its repair for the soul of each individual Jew and also for the general Jewish people as well as the entire human race.

The beginning of all spirituality and true happiness is really the acceptance upon ourselves that the world is run not by man and his schemes, though he may try, nor does it's existence continue in a random pattern, but it is actively directed from heaven above. Though we may have already known this concept with full acceptance, yet very often this knowledge is relegated to the back files of our minds due to our pre-occupation with the physical and mundane aspects of the world. When this happens our outlook on the world and it's events begin to obscure our spiritual development and ability to perceive the divine.

Succoth comes as a recharging of our spiritual batteries. We have now passed the days of judgement. We have acknowledged that G-d is our supreme ruler and chief commander. Now we are out to prove that this is indeed not just lip service, but a true and firm belief. This affirmation of our belief is manifest only in one method, in concrete action.

We show our love and dependence of our Creator, by exiling ourselves from the comfort and conveniences of our house. We establish our new home in a temporary shelter, to impress upon ourselves that this world is only temporary. Here our security is not based on the locks on our door, for in the Succoth we are vulnerable to all venues of intrusion. Yet, because of our trust in the goodness of G-d, we forsake our secure and comfortable house for the Succa. Like the love struck young couple who leave the comforts of their parents home to live together in a significantly inferior life style, so we too leave our homes to dwell with G-d.

As we immerse ourselves totally, both body and soul inside this holy commandment we become surrounded by the commandment. The commandment is the word of G-d, and like the entire world which exists only because of that very word of G-d, we are now in the middle of the word of G-d, albeit, in a physical sense. This is no less than the physical manifestation of the divine powers of protection which are drawn down upon us as we eat, drink and entertain in our Succoth.

The next step is the four species, mentioned above. During the festival of Succoth, we take the four species and bring them together in a mystical and supernal manner. Each one of the four has special meaning which is understood by the properties that they posses. Each of the four is listed below in table form for comparison of their particular attributes:
SpecieFragrant? Taste?Represents?
Etrog (citron)YesYes The Righteous
Lulav (palm branch)No Yes (date)The Learned
Haddash (myrtle)Yes No The Doer of Good Deeds
WillowNo No The Simple People

The Jewish people are divided into four groups

  1. The righteous, those elite few who live a live of true goodness in deed and thought.
  2. The learned, those who have mastered the intricacies of the Jewish writ and law, but who's deeds are not completely refined.
  3. The doer of good deeds, although not learned, they are helpful and beneficial to all.
  4. The simple fellow, who possess neither abundance of good deeds, nor deep scholarly understanding of the will of Heaven.

Although we may feel that some of the above types of people are more worthy than others, yet, let us not forget that the Creator created all together with their particular abilities and inherent lackings. Let us not be deluded because of our personal benefit from certain individual and our personal preferences. We must realize that in G-d's infinite wisdom, he created all, in complete un-equality, some smarter in this area and some it another area. Others are blessed with talents in this field and other's with special talents in another field. Each one created separately, yet lovingly to do only that special task that he or she was created for.

On Succoth, we realize that the Master of the Worlds loves each and every one as a special jewel. All are precious in His eyes, therefore we take all of the four species together and rejoice. All together, for in reality we are one people, bound together by G-d.

After reaching such a lofty understanding of the world and our individual part in it, together with the rest of world Jewry, we reach a state of ecstatic joy. On the last day, Simchat Torah, we take out the Torahs and begin to dance. We realize, all of what we are and can be is given and bound together with the word of G-d which is written in these holy scrolls.

That is the secret of the festivals. We become spiritually recharged. Our life after the festivals is not the same physical life that it was before we entered the festival. We are taller now, our heads are closer to the heavens and more distant from the earthy ground. We are now prepared to return to earthly existence, but our existence certainly will not be mundane, for we have reached the clouds while our feet were on the ground.

from the September, 1999 High holiday Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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