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October 7, 2016  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

No strangers in the sukkah

By RABBI ALTER KORF Chabad Center of St. Petersburg

Have you ever experienced an instant and inexplicable bond with a complete stranger? One moment you were unknown to each other, the next moment you were caring as much about what happened to him/her as you care about your family? Typically, this type of connection isn’t apparent, but extreme conditions can bring it out.

During wars or attacks, (or the aftermath), perfect strangers put themselves in harm’s way to help others in need. Think 9/11, terror attacks and natural disaster.

Happily, it is not only disaster that brings out our common spark, but also joy and happiness. Take, for example, the feeling of euphoria and jubilation that sweeps across the bleachers when the home team wins the game. In such situations, it is quite common for perfect strangers to celebrate like family. Does this connection continue? Is there a strong bond forged here? NO! After the moment passes, they become strangers once again.

Judaism requires each person to perform his or her mitzvot individually. In most cases, our deeds can’t be counted for someone else. Imagine for a moment, if you were trying to shake my lulav while I am shaking it, or holding my hand as I put tzedakah in the charity can. The mitzvah belongs to just one of us – it can’t “belong” to us both. Just as we can’t eat or drink for each other, we can’t pray, study or do a mitzvah for each other either.

As you know, there is an exception to every rule … The sukkah is a hut we build to sit in every year for the festival of Sukkot. It is a mitzvah to sit outside in this hut during the holiday – to eat, drink and “live” in. What is unique about the sukkah is that both you and I can perform the very same mitzvah- in the very same sukkah- at the very same time!

We don’t each require our own personal sukkah. The sukkah does not have to be larger to accommodate me, nor need to shrink when you leave. Provided there is physical space in the sukkah for another person, we can share this mitzvah.

When many people shake the same lulav and etrog set, multiple mitzvahs are performed by multiple people; however, when a group of people sit in the same sukkah concurrently, a single mitzvah is performed communally by a single group of people. In this mitzvah our souls merge. We become one.

Indeed, the message and theme of Sukkot is unity. We bind four different types of plant life, (citron, palm branch, myrtle and willow) each representing a specific mode of serving G-d, and shake them together. Unity.

We all sit in the sukkah, exposed without our fancy houses and imaginary superiority, everybody squeezing together in a temporary hut, under the green foliage – once again, unity.

We dance together on Simchat Torah, no one more important than the other, all joining in the collective joy of «one nation under one Gd.» Unity.

The sukkah is the only mitzvah that encompasses the entire body. It is not performed by any one limb or set of limbs, but by our entire self, all at once. The sukkah encompasses us so completely that it draws us away from our personal interests and focuses us exclusively on the mitzvah. Once we are in this mindset, we can think about someone else other than ourselves. In other words, if it is not about me exclusively, it need not be exclusively for me. It is for us all.

This is why the sukkah is a place of hosting, a happy place where family, friends and guests gather to perform a mitzvah of unity. Sukkah is not a mitzvah you do – it’s a mitzvah of being. All you have to do is be – in the sukkah. And when it is just about being, we can have space for everyone, guests too. For in the sukkah, there are no strangers.

Chag Sameach!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. The views expressed in this guest column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.


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