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  Cloud Cover from
A Gift For Yom Tov
Provocative and penetrating insights on the Festivals - Pesach, Shavuos, Succos, Purim and Chanukah

By Rabbi Yisroel Miller 

Other Available Chapters
Haste Makes ... Pesach 
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A Holiday For Nonbelievers 

Cloud Cover

    The succah is one of the few mitzvos where the Torah tells us to think about the reason for the mitzvah while performing it: "Lemaan yeidu doroseichem, that all your generations should know that I, Hashem, caused the Children of Israel to dwell in succos." Since we are commanded to think about this, it is beneficial to know what these ancient succos were, what manner of succah did the Creator make for us.

    One opinion in the Gemara is succos mamash, that when we left Egypt 3300 years ago Hashem provided us with building materials to construct succos for shelter. One problem with that interpretation is that the Torah often mentions our fathers living in the Wilderness in tents, not succos. But there is also a second opinion, more generally accepted, that our succah today is to commemorate the ananei kavod, the clouds of the Divine Presence which protected us for 40 years.

     The Torah says that Hashem placed a pillar of cloud to lead us through the desert, and the Sages add that this could surrounded us from all sides to shield us from inclement weather and wild animals, a total protection plan in a climate-controlled environment. The word "succah" literally means a cover, and our succah recalls that miraculous cloud cover that accompanied us for 40 years.

    However, this interpretation also has its problems. If we are commemorating Heavenly protection, it would seem that the halachah should require us to build a succah that protects, one which is waterproof and insectproof. But the halachah is exactly the opposite, that a succah must be fragile and it must let in the rain, diras aria, a temporary dwelling. A second problem: The Divine cloud cover protected us from all sides. But the halachah is that a succah requires only three walls, not four, and the essence of the succah, the covering of s'chach, is placed only on top. So the lesson the succah comes to teach must be something more than Divine protection; clearly the accent is on something else.

    Ideally, the succah should serve as a reminder that Hashem protects us, that He is all-powerful, and we sit back in relaxed tranquility, knowing we are completely safe in His Hands. If you are that holy a person to be so inspired by the succah, you are a member of a very select group of tzaddikim (one almost wonders if such a person even has need of a succah in the first place). What about the rest of us? What about simple Jews with personal concerns and anxieties, Jews who possess emunah (faith) but whose emunah is not so powerful that it transcends all the worries of daily living?

    For us, the halachah says: Focus on the s'chach, which recalls only one part of the Divine cloud, the part above; the Torah says this part of the could served as an indicator that it was time to travel.

    The people of Israel were encamped in the Wilderness, for days or weeks (sometimes months or years) at a stretch. Suddenly, the cloud overhead began to move — time to go! We asked ourselves, "Where are we going?" "We don't know." "How long is the trip?" "Don't know." "Will the next camp be an overnight stop, or an extended stay?" "No way to tell."

    It was not easy. The insecurity of not being able to make plans, the felling that you could never settle down, Rambam writes, was almost a kind of mental torture. But one thing we knew: We were traveling al pi Hashem, Hashem is guiding us. Most of us are not relaxed. We feel unsettled and nervous. But Hashem knows the way, and in the end, He will get us where we need to go.

    There is a level of powerful faith called bitachon, complete serenity. But for those of us who do not possess that power, we sit in the succah, a fragile shelter, and we look at the s'chach; a few drops of rain, a couple of mosquitoes. And we say to ourselves: "I have my worries. I don't have the tzaddik's peace of mind. But just as my ancestors knew, when the cloud began to move, that it would be rough, but Hashem would get them through; in my case, too, the succah reminds me that frail as the structure of my life may be, whatever the bumps in the road, it may be rough, but in the end Hashem will get me through."

    "To Say it will all turn out great? I'm not at that high a spiritual level. But to say it will all turn out right, the way He wants it? That much the succah can teach, even me."

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