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