Selected Sermon/Article
2005-10-18 Drasha Sukkos first day by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Me and My Shadow
Drasha Sukkos first day 10/18 5766/2005 'Me and My Shadow'

I'd like to begin my remarks today by asking you a question. And if you can answer the question, it may prove that you're over 50. Ready? Here goes:

Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?

The answer is, of course: The Shadow knows.

I never listened to that old-time radio mystery show. But somehow, somewhere over the years I heard about the invisible crime fighter known as 'The Shadow' and listened to the opening lines of the radio show. The Shadow was an amazing crime fighter! Like a shadow, he was mysterious. He had tremendous strength, could defy gravity, speak any language, unravel any code, and become invisible with his famous ability to "cloud men's minds."

A shadow isn't something that we give much thought to, even though our own shadow is constantly with us when there's a source of light. We made shadow puppets when we were kids -- or make them now when we act like kids. We might talk about shadows around Groundhog Day. And a shadow is used for dramatic effect in mystery novels and scary movies. Most of the time, however, a shadow is right where it belongs; in the background.

It may be that you've never given the topic of a 'shadow' significant notice, but there's an obvious connection between a 'shadow' and the Yom Tov of Sukkos which I'd like to share with you today.

Step outside and take a look at a shadow. On the one hand, a shadow itself is without substance; you can't hold it, touch it or feel it. On the other hand, a shadow reveals the existence of something that really does exist somewhere else. A shadow is a silhouette; but it's a silhouette of something that's really there.

While I've been talking, you may have realized that the essence of a Sukkah just happens to be a shadow. In what way? A sukkah is required to have 'tzilasa m'ruba mai'chamasa' -- more shadow than sunlight. If you have more sunlight than shadow produced from the schach, your sukkah is invalid. Why is that so?

Our rabbis teach that when we're sitting in the sukkah, we're sitting in the 'shadow of faith' -- which means, that faith in some way comparable to a shadow. How? When we say that we have 'faith' in someone or something, we mean that we have knowledge of something that we can't see but is really there and exists. Specifically, we can know there is a G-d even though we cannot see Him. The Psalm (121:5) says 'Hashem tzilcha' -- Hashem is your Shadow. So if you sit in a succa with too much sunlight and not enough shadow, you won't be sitting in the 'shadow of faith', and will miss out on a crucial aspect of what Sukkos is about.

There are two primary lessons of faith (emunah) that we can learn from the shade of the sukkah.

Some of you may have heard about the outbreak of robberies in the U.City area within the past few months. Several homes have been broken into -- including that of a rabbi. Two religious institutions have been burglarized, including a synagogue. If you've ever had your home or property broken into -- as I have when I was younger -- you know that it's extremely unsettling and disconcerting.

We tend to think that if we live in homes with good walls and strong doors that lock that we're safe. But we discover that if a thief is determined enough he can just pick the lock or break down a door. We respond by getting an alarm system, but the thief learns how to penetrate the alarm system. So we invent a more intricate alarm system, until some thief somewhere figures out how to break that system. And we know that if the stakes would be high enough, there's no security system guaranteed to keep a thief out.

The same thing with our buildings. Is there really such a thing as a building that is bomb proof, airplane proof, fire proof, earthquake proof, or flood proof? 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and other recent examples have taught us that our walls and locks and alarm systems and levees don't really protect us. And if we think that they do we're fooling ourselves. Is there anything, then, that can really protect us?

We all remember the Gulf War when bomb after bomb fell on Israel but virtually no one was hurt. Hundreds of millions of our enemies lie just outside our gates in Israel but they just can't seem to make us go away. 'Hashem shomrecha' -- Hashem guards and protects you -- 'Hashem tzilcha' -- and Hashem is your Shadow.

The ultimate example of this defense system is the seemingly vulnerable sukkah. The sukkah is shaky and the rain gets through the top; but looks can be deceiving. The sukkah represents the ultimate protection, because Hashem can protect us just as easily while we're in our hut in the backyard as He can in the most fortified castle. When we have faith to leave our relatively secure homes and live in the sukkah we prove our faith in Hashem by placing ourselves in His hands. Faith in the protective power of our Shadow, since He's the only One that can protect us against anything and everything. And it's a lesson that should stay with us the whole year.

There's a second lesson in faith that we can learn from the sukkah, as well.

Many of you know that this past Pesach I was on my own, as my wife and children went to Israel for a family reunion. It was me and Zander the dog (our family dog). And though I enjoyed the sedarim and meals and hospitality that many of you shared with me, I was very happy when Chani and the kids came home.

My game plan to pick everyone up at the airport involved a complex strategy. The plan was: I'd drive the van to the airport, meet everyone at the gate, drive the kids home and leave the older girls watching Yelli and the boys. Then I'd drive right back to the airport to meet Chani and Chiyya who would get the luggage while they waited for me to come back. I wasn't looking forward to shlepping all the suitcases and duffle bags, but I had a good breakfast, and I was ready.

When I returned to the airport after dropping the kids off, the one thing that seemed worse than having to shlep the luggage happened; the luggage -- all of it -- got lost, and never made it to the airport. Have you ever traveled and lost a piece or two of luggage? So you know what it's like. For all I knew, my family's luggage was in an airport in Fiji, and it would be a long time (if ever) that we'd see it again.

Chani and Chiyya were upbeat as we walked from the 'Lost Luggage' office, though I have to admit that I was somewhat irritated. And then, an amazing thing happened.

As we were walking to the garage to get the van for the drive home, an elderly couple from the religious community here in U.City walked by, looking for a taxi to take them home. They also had just returned from Israel -- jet lagged and exhausted like everyone is after such a long flight. We knew the couple, and then noticed the husband dragging two or three heavy suitcases behind him.

I then realized on the spot, why Hashem caused our luggage to get lost; it was to allow Chani and Chiyya and I to help this couple with their luggage and give them a ride home. If our luggage had arrived we would have been long gone, and certainly wouldn't have had room in the van to take this couple and their bags. But now, we had an empty van and plenty of room! It was a wonderful mitzvah to do, and the three of us felt great.

Ah...and what about the Smason luggage, you might be wondering? A blessing within a blessing took place, in that the next day our luggage was delivered by the airlines to our home -- and I didn't have to lift a single bag!

Faith in Hashem means, as we said, that Hashem protects us and our lives and security are in His hands. A different aspect of that faith means believing that everything that happens is for the best. A person should accustom them self to say 'gam zo l'tova' -- this also is for the best. Whether it's a flat tire, a power shortage or the luggage is lost -- our Shadow knows and is watching, and everything will work out for the best.

The essence of a sukkah is its shadow. A shadow implies faith because a shadow hints to something that really does exist somewhere else. The faith of the sukkah is faith that Hashem protects us. And it's a faith in knowing that all that happens is for the best. Let's enjoy this Yom Tov of Sukkos -- together with our own personal Shadow.

(adapted in part from a lecture given by Rabbi Asher Sinclair)

Good Yom Tov