Selected Sermon/Article
2009-10-05 Sukkos by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Becoming a Sukkos Jew
Becoming a 'Sukkos Jew'

Becoming a 'Sukkos Jew'


  A man was approached on the the street by an enthusiastic stranger who wouldn't stop talking.  "Why Chaim Cohen" the stranger said, "It's good to see you. I hardly recognized you, you've put on so much weight.  And Chaim -- your hair has so much gray in it -- what hair you have left.  What happened to you? You're so pale.  Have you been sick? Either that or you're not getting outdoors enough.  Why Chaim, you look absolutely terrible.  It's amazing that I recognized you at all."


     Finally, the man interrupted the talkative stranger and said, "Wait, I've been trying to tell you.   I'm not Chaim Cohen."


     "What?" the stranger said with great surprise.  "You've gone and changed your name, too?"



     Changing a name is one way of changing an identity.  But a deeper change can take place through the experience of the Jewish holidays.


     During the Yamim Ha'Noraim -- the Days of Awe -- we attempt to return to our 'true selves.'    During the year, we get caught up in things that we know don't reflect who we really are.  When the Yamim Ha'Noraim arrive, the awe of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and fear of the Day of Judgment act as forms of a spiritual compass -- they help us to correct our path. 


    But -- in the words of the old song -- is that all there is? 


    If the end of the Yomim Noraim is Yom Kippur, then that means that the ideal identity we're striving to achieve is that of a 'Yom Kippur Jew'  -- a bent over, suffering, afflicted Jew who renounces this world and attempts to be like the angels.  We're certainly appreciative of the cleansing and purity that is part and parcel of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. However,  we have a sense that there has to be more to life than the 'fear and awe' of the Days of Awe.


    That's where the holiday of Sukkos comes to the rescue.


    Sukkos arrives with barely a chance to catch our breath following Yom Kippur.  Have you ever thought to yourself, 'Wouldn't it have been nice if all these holidays were spread out a bit more evenly during the course of the year?"  However, it doesn't work that way -- and can't work that way for the following reason:


      The goal of the Yomim Noraim isn't Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur is only a stop along the way -- granted, a very important and necessary stop  -- but not the ultimate goal. .  Because at the very top of the mountain we've been climbing is Sukkos.  And the ideal Jew that we've been striving to become is not a 'Yom Kippur Jew', but rather, a 'Sukkos Jew.'


       Just what is a 'Sukkos Jew?'   What are the identifying signs of someone who has made the transition  from the lofty level of being a 'Yom Kippur Jew' into a 'Sukkos Jew?'    A kosher fish can be identified by fins and scales.  A kosher animal chews its cud and has split hooves.  A 'Sukkos Jew'  also has two identifying signs:   someone who lives with  emunas Hashem -- faith in G-d, and one who lives with simcha -- true happiness.  


      What does it mean to have emunas Hashem -- faith in G-d?.


    Several years ago, Arlene and her husband were invited to dinner with the husband's boss, Sam. As the three of them were about to enter a restaurant Sam was walking slightly ahead of the married couple.  He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment.

    There was nothing on the ground except a single  penny that someone had dropped, and a few cigarette butts.   Still silent, Sam reached down and picked up the penny.

    He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure. Sam's reaction seemed out of place.  What need did he have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up?

   During dinner the scene with the penny nagged at Arlene. Finally, she couldn't take it any longer.  She casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been particularly valuable.

    A smile crept across Sam's face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see.

    'Look at it.' He said to Arlene. 'Read what it says.' She read the words, ' United States of America. '

'No, not that; read further.'
'One cent?' 'No, keep reading.'
'In God we Trust?' 'Yes!' 'And?'

     Sam said, "And if I trust in G-d,  the name of G-d is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him. Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in G-d at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to G-d; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is G-d's way of starting a conversation with me. Lucky for me, G-d is patient and pennies are plentiful!"


     At this time of year the weather has become considerably cooler.  October is a time, at least for most people, of bringing in the lawn chairs, rolling up the hoses and wondering how well the furnace will work.  But in October, the Jew goes outside.  Outside into the temporary dwelling of a sukkah.  The sukkah itself offers very little protection from the elements.  But then again, the sukkot that we lived in for forty years in the desert offered very little protection from the sun, snakes, wind-blown sand and other unpredictables of nature.  It was G-d and G-d alone who protected us those forty years.  It's been G-d who has been protecting us for the past 3,300 years. 


     Emunas Hashem means that a Jew knows that G-d  is running the show.  It means that we believe in our heart of hearts that there are no accidents.  And faith in G-d also means that we believe that everything that happens, happens for the best;  and just as Hashem has delivered for our people for thousands of years, He'll deliver again for us, as well.


    The Yom Tov of Sukkos and dwelling in the sukkah is an opportunity to build and fortify our faith and trust in Hashem -- in an even more profound way than finding a penny.


    The second identifying sign of a 'Sukkos Jew' is simcha.  Simcha has two components.


    The Chassidim of Berditchev tell the story of an event in pre-War Europe one Sukkos.  The time had arrived for saying a brocha on the lulav and esrog, and the Berditchiver Rebbe -- Rabbi Levi Yitzchak --  was going through the shul from bench to bench, closely examining the faces of those who had come to daven.   The rebbe also bent down as if he was looking for something under the benches.  All those gathered wondered what the rabbi could possibly be looking for.


     When he completed his search, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak approached the Aron HaKodesh (the Holy Ark) and began a discussion with Hashem.  "Ribono Shel Olam", he cried out.  'If the nations of the world had such a holiday in which they were commanded to be joyous, how many drunkards would be rolling in the gutters!  How many windows would be broken in Jewish homes!  But look at your Jews!  You command them 'v'hayisa ach sameach' (you shall be only happy on the holiday).   And in what manner do they rejoice?   By fulfilling the mitzvah of lulav and esrog."


     The manner in which we celebrate our Yomim Tovim (holidays) reflects our uniqueness as a people.  Shabbos and Yom Tov are described on the fourth day of creation as 'osos' and 'moadim' -- 'signs & indications.'   The way we observe our holidays testify that the Jewish people ARE different from other people.  We're an 'Am Hashem' -- a nation of G-d.


       On Sukkos we rejoice in the simcha shel mitzva (joy of the mitzva) of the multiple mitzvos available to us during this Yom Tov:   lulav and esrog, sukkah, and so many more. 


       A second component of the simcha to be experienced during Sukkos is the happiness that comes from developing a proper attitude toward life.


     Our rabbis tell us:  Aizehu ashir?  HaSameach b'chelko.   The one who is truly happy  is one who appreciates that which he or she has.  Not the one envious of neighbors, nor the one unhappy because of what we don't yet possess.


    The escape from our homes into the flimsy sukkah helps us to develop the attribute of simcha and peace of mind.  The fixed roof of our permanent dwelling represents a materialistic outlook on life.  The porous schach (covering) of the sukkah reminds us that it's not 'things' that make us happy;  only counting our blessings in life leads to true happiness.


   The Sukkos Jew, then, is very different from the Yom Kippur Jew.  He is a Jew who has experienced Yom Kippur with all its levels of meaning, but who now on Sukkos is happy and connected to G-d through a relationship of faith, trust and simcha.   Building upon a foundation of awe and reverence from the Yamim Ha'Noraim, the Sukkos Jew is imbued with emunas Hashem and true happiness and joy.


   May we all be privileged to make the transition to become 'Sukkos Jews'.