Sukkot - Setting Our Priorities

How busy are We?

Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, had a problem.  
His daughter, Olivia, had an imaginary friend. But this was not his problem.
Her imaginary friend was named Charlie Ravioli. Like any good New York-based imaginary friend,  he lived in an apartment “on Madison and Lexington”, dined on grilled chicken, fruit, and water (bottled of course).
The cause for concern was the nature of the interactions with this imaginary friend. Well, let me show you what I mean.
Olivia would hold her toy cell phone up to her ear, and talk into it: “Ravioli? It’s Olivia…It’s Olivia. Come and play? O.K. Call me. Bye.” Then she would snap the phone shut, and shake her head.
“I always get his machine.”
Or “Did you speak to Ravioli today.”
 “No. He was busy working.”
On a good day, she might “bump into” her imaginary friend and they would go to a cafe.
Then the interaction became more intense. 
She would be alone talking on her toy phone, and her parents would ask “Who are you talking to?”
“Laurie,” she said, “We’re talking about Ravioli.”
Or she would say, “I talked to Laurie today, and she says Ravioli is busy.”
Or even more alarming, she would say, “Laurie, tell Ravioli I’m calling!”
Upon further questioning about who, exactly, was Laurie. Olivia shook her head. “She works for Ravioli.”
Laurie was the imaginary person who answered Ravioli’s phone and said that unfortunately Mr. Ravioli was in a meeting. “Laurie says Ravioli is too busy to play,” Olivia announced sadly one morning. Things seemed to deteriorate further in the relationship with the imaginary friend; now Ravioli was even too busy even to say he was too busy.
What I found remarkable isn’t that Ravioli is imaginary, but that he’s such a busy imaginary friend—too busy, most days, to play, always jumping into a cab or letting his answering machine pick up, or even have his imaginary secretary tell Olivia that he’s too busy to play.
The question I have isn’t about Olivia’s behavior, nor about the dynamics of this upwardly mobile family, but about Charlie Ravioli himself. 

What was Charlie Ravioli thinking? How can he be too busy for the one being, his own creator, whose very imagination was responsible for his utter existence?  

How can dwelling in Sukkot help to shift our priorities or change our actions?

If we understand Sukkot to be the other side of the coin of the Yamim Noraim, the pieces all fall into place. Rosh Hashanah is the coronation of the King, to fully realize and accept the authority of Hashem in our lives. During the first part of the month of Tishrei we work on this through the midah of yirah, approaching Hashem through a sense of reverence. 

On Sukkot, we do the same, this time through ahavah, love of Hashem. More specifically, Sukkot is the time when we can turn the Kingship of Hashem from mere abstraction to a reality.
( )

Why honor the Clouds of Glory?

Why do we commemorate the Clouds of Glory more than any the other miracle that accompanied the Jewish People through the desert? Why don't we commemorate the spring that poured forth from a rock, or the Manna -- the heavenly food that rained upon us in the desert?

Gd not only provided the Clouds of Glory to protect us from the sun, but surely the forty years of manna and the wandering well would rate equally with the cloud. Yet we have no festivals commemorating those miracles! 

The clouds are a celebration for Hashem as well as us. Gd's greatest victory was the fact that Israel had recovered from the stain on its soul from the episode of the Golden Calf. This had first appeared to give the angels a chance to confront Gd and remind Him that they had actually voted against the creation of man. The rehabilitation process was completed right after Yom Kippur, when Gd saw fit to forgive Israel.

The Sukkot festival, then, is first and foremost a "festival for Gd", with Israel not having contributed any input to merit this festival. We rejoice that Gd is happy and has seen His judgment proven right.

Why Do We Observe Sukkot at The Harvest Time?

The Sukkah has further significance. The Torah writes (Devarim 16:13):
You shall observe the Feast of Sukkos seven days, after you have gathered in your grain and your wine.
חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּאָסְפְּךָ מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ
Why do we observe Sukkot at this harvest time?
The Rashbam explains that the key to the answer is from another reason the Torah gives for celebrating Sukkot (Vayikra 23:43):
That your generations may know that I made the people of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.
לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי ה' א-לקיכם
 When we sit in the Sukkah, the Torah tells us, we should remember how G-d provided shelter for the nation of Israel for 40 years after they left Egypt. The nation had no land to call their own. They had to wander and be sheltered by G-d. When we harvest our crops, we may tend to lose sight of how lucky we are that G-d provided for us. The Torah warns us of a danger. 

The Rashbam is saying: The sukkah is a lesson in humility; it comes to prevent a swelled head. G-d commanded us to sit in the sukkah precisely at the harvest season when we are congratulating ourselves for our successful material gains and our fancy homes. The humble sukkah reminds us: Everything you eat and everything you own comes from Hashem.

What is the Value of the Sukkah?

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 3a) relates that in the future, when the nations of the world will complain about the preferred status enjoyed by the Jews, G-d will explain that the Jews are the “Chosen People,” because they alone are the “choosing people,” so to speak; we alone accepted the burden of the commandments, and chose to follow G-d’s law.

The nations will then plead, ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we will follow it.’
‘You foolish people,’ God will answer, ‘he who prepares on Erev Shabbat can eat on Shabbat, but he who made no preparations, what can he eat? Nevertheless, I have an easy commandment called sukkah, go and fulfill it….’ 

Why is it called an easy commandment? Because it has no expense. 

Immediately they will build a sukkah on their roof but then G-d will cause the sun to blaze as if it were the hottest day of the year. They will then kick each sukkah, and leave… 

G-d will laugh, as it is said (Tehillim 2:4),
He Who dwells in Heaven laughs; the Lord mocks them.
יוֹשֵׁב בַּשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׂחָק אֲדֹנָי יִלְעַג לָמוֹ
(Talmud Bavli, Avoda Zara 3a)
The belief that G-d will reward us for the observance of the mitzvot is one of the central principles of Judaism.  Reward, however, is only secondary to the ultimate purpose of the mitzvot –to connect us with Hashem.

This explains why the manner in which we leave the Sukkah when we are pattur is a test to our devotion to Hashem. The Talmud notes that a Jew, too, is exempt from remaining in the Sukkah if he is uncomfortable, but he still does not demean the Sukkah. Why is that difference so significant?
The Rem”a (Orach Chaim 639:7) writes, ‘Anyone who is exempt from sitting in the sukkah will not be especially rewarded if he remains in it.’ Accordingly, the “scorching hot Sukkah” tests one’s response to losing the opportunity of being rewarded for a mitzvah. Therein lies the difference between the Jew and the gentile response. 

For the gentile, once the heat renders sitting in the Sukkah a “unprofitable” endeavor, the gentiles kick the Sukkah, considering it worthless. 

The Jew, however, does not see the Sukkah as worthless even when he stands to receive no reward for sitting in it. Rather, we see the Sukkah as a means to fulfill G-d’s will: to sit in it when Hashem so desires, or not to, if Halacha should deem it unnecessary. The reward, them, is only secondary, so its loss does not reduce the Sukkah’s value ( ).

How does the Sukkah Clarify our Outlook on Life?

The Chida, R' Chaim Yosef David Azulay writes that there is significance to the juxtaposition of the High Holidays to Sukkot. During Sukkot, we move to a temporary outdoor dwellings, and this move sends a message to us. We have just celebrated the holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. On these days, we have spoken about how spiritual matters should be primary in our lives. We have dedicated ourselves to serving G-d instead of our passions. We have asked forgiveness for our pursuit of earthly pleasures. 

The Sukkah highlights what we have just experienced. It reminds us that our life in this world is temporary, just as is our dwelling in the Sukkah. Hashem gives us a booster shot so that after the serious times have slipped away, the Sukkah reminds us still about our decision to pursue the spiritual. When we sit in the Sukkah, we can strengthen our resolve in spiritual areas and our connection with Hashem.

How is the Sukkah a Fresh Breath of Emunah and Bitochon?

The Rebbe of Slonim explains that the essence of the Sukkah lies in the fact that the Jewish people abandon their place of residence and seek shelter in a Holy refuge, in order to be alone with the Creator. We are reminded that this entire world is, in fact, a temporary dwelling.. Chag Ha Sukkot projects this very spirit of faith and trust in HaShem.
The Sefer Netivot Shalom further clarifies this by explaining a very important concept about the Holy Ushpizin.

The seven Holy Ushpizin – guests (Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, Dovid do not come to visit us during Pesach, Shavuos or Shabbos, they only come on Sukkot.
Why is that? Why this preference for Sukkot over any other time? 

Explains the Netivot Shalom that the truth of the matter is that they reside in the upper realms of lofty spiritual worlds and, as such, they are completely unable to descend into the lowly world in which we live. However, all of this changes on Sukkot, for the Sukkah itself is NOT in this world, and is rather a portal that transports us to the very realm where the Holy Ushpizin reside. It elevates us above this world and helps us transcend into the loftiest of planes. That’s the reason why they are able to visit us in our Sukkah during Chag Ha Sukkot  for we have ascended to their level and not the other way around. 

The entire spirit of Chag HaSukkot is to instill in us Emunah and Bitochon in Hashem.

Beyond Materialism

In our material-driven world we tend to forget just how fleeting wealth and possessions are. The Rabbeinu Bechaye relates (Commentary to Parshat Terumah) that there was a custom of Chasidei Tzorfat, the pious Jews of France, to make their coffins out of the wood in their dining room tables.  This was done in order to show that no matter the possessions one collects in the world, it is only the mitzvot they performed at their table (hachnasat orchim, seudat shabbat, divrei torah) that will come with them to the next world.

Perhaps this is the deep and profound message of Sukkot.  As we begin our year anew after the Yomim Noraim, we are reminded of this key theme of Judaism.  There is more to life than a nice car, a nice house, and even a nice sukkah.  The meaning cultivated in our lives by our loyalty to Hashem and that the Torah is our sole possession. ( )

Stepping out of the Rat Race

Every evening during Maariv we ask Hashem to:
 “Spread upon us your Sukkah of peace”
ופרוס עלינו סכת שלומך

What is the relationship between the Sukkah and our Peace of mind?

We understand that the act of sitting (and even sleeping) in a Sukkah evokes memories of Hashem’s miraculous preservation of the Jewish people during their forty years of wandering in the desert following their exodus from Egypt. 

But how does such commemoration bring us to a deeper sense of peace and tranquility?
Sitting in the Sukkah affords us the opportunity to take a step back from the competitive rat race in which we live, and come to a fuller and more accurate understanding of what this world is really all about. Never has this been truer than in our times. Our world is that of Madison Avenue, where the marketing of luxury products continues unabated, echoing one basic message: Without this, your life is incomplete. 

On Succot, we leave the comforts of our materialistic existence behind and enter the simple Sukkah. The Sukkah is the great equalizer. It is there that we turn our attention away from materialistic pursuits and come to a deeper appreciation that Hashem runs the world and that only He can and does provide for us, and that all efforts at achieving materialism are fleeting and wasteful. In the words of, Shlomo Hamelech (Kohelet 1:2):
 “vanity of vanities…all is vanity.”
הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל
It is for this exact reason that we read these words on Succot.
Says Rav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol. 1, pp. 106ff), this is how a Sukkah can bring a sense of peace. Peace of mind can only exist when each person is satisfied with his lot, and does not view others as being his personal competition. Once we have been redirected away from our materialistic urges and our competitive sense has been removed, can we relax in tranquility in the presence of Hashem.

How do we Show our True Desire to Enter the Sukkah?

The Slonimer Rebbe, in his work "Netivot Shalom," tells of an errant prince who left the king's palace and distanced himself for a while, and then decided to return. The king, of course, was delighted, but always entertained the nagging thought that perhaps his son returned out of fear of punishment and not out of true love – in which case, he may leave again at any time.
His worries continued until the day he noticed his son whistling and humming happily to himself as he went about his daily chores. Now he knew the son was happy to be home and had returned out of love.
We too, have spent more than a month in a spirit of repentance, returning to God, changing our faulty traits and reviewing our past mistakes. But were we perhaps motivated by the fear of being sealed in the "Book of Death" or of being given a less than sweet year? When we engage in the mitzvot of Sukkah, busily decorating and shopping, happily searching for the finest "Arbah Minim," we show G-d and ourselves that we have returned to Him out of love, that we truly desire a relationship with Him and we won't leave again.
Sukkot is a time when we solidify through action all the theoretical commitments and resolutions we took upon ourselves from early in Tishrei the "days of awe."


Harvest time was one season that permitted farmers to feel wealthy, when the granaries were full, tables were laden and food was abundant. Perhaps precisely then, we might mistake our money for our life. So that is when G-d decreed that we observe Sukkot, to leave the comfort of our homes, the luxury of our dwellings, the attachment to our ‘stuff’ in exchange for closeness with our family and nearness to Hashem.
In a sense, Sukkot itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Yomei HaDin, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah.
That is why Sukkot is the holiday that can speak most powerfully to our generation. We, as perhaps never before in history, are blessed with an abundant harvest of material advantage. And we need to reflect on our priorities
For many of us, busyness is our way of being us. Maybe, we have all have a bit of Charlie Ravioli inside.
So on this Sukkot, the Festival of the Harvest, when we leave our homes and our attachment to the material to sit with our loved ones under the heavens, we can sanctify and use our powers and desires to grow and become closer to our Creator. We can bask in His love and protection, and trust that He takes care of all our needs and show Him how happy we are to be home. (

Now we can take out our own imaginary phones, and make one more call. “Hello? Charlie Ravioli? I’ll meet you in the Sukkah!”

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