Sukkos/Shmini Atzeret/Simchas Torah, 5781/2020~"Trippin/ in the Sukkah"
Tish Talk by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos and Yomtov Table
Who has “the best looking Sukkah” in the neighborhood? My Sukkah is way more gorgeous than yours!”. Let’s go Sukkah hopping and see who has the coolest decorations!”
Don’t say these things to a Lubavitcher
(a “Chabad” person). That’s because you’ll never find a (real) Chabad Sukkah with decorations. They “don’t do them”.
As a “Yeshiva educated” person, I always wondered about that. After all, the Gemara, the Talmud, which Lubavitch Chasidim also study and follow, specifically discusses the importance of decorating the Sukkah! Did Chabad just delete that part from their sets of the Gemara?
Visiting a friends Sukkah this year, I had an epiphany, I shared it with some others, who further brilliantly enhanced and expanded this idea, providing this beautiful Chiddush to decorate your Tish conversation this upcoming Shmini Atzeret and Simchas Torah.
The friend’s Sukkah has walls that are covered by the most beautiful tapestries depicting grand and glorious scenes and natural wonders from around the world. It also has “walls” alive with the streets, sights and "sounds" of Israel, of Jerusalem, along with the majestic mountains, rivers, lakes and oceans of our beloved homeland.
Seeing all this not just amazed me, but puzzled me. This friend was a serious Talmid Chacham, a learned and very observant person who was also extraordinary “traditional”-always seeking to keep the precise customs of his family heritage-he wasn’t one for “out of the box”, "new-age" innovations in Judaic practice. If he did something, it needed to have some kind of real Jewish “source”. Yes, his Sukkah does also have the traditional "7 species Israel was praised with” hanging from the ceiling/schach (like honey, figs, wheat, wine...), it has beautiful Etrogs hanging, has the special “Ushpizin” posters inviting our holy forefathers to the Sukkah, it has images of our great and pious leaders-all the traditional ways of decorating the Sukkah worldwide. But nature scenes? Tapestries walls depicting city scenes? I’ve never seen a Sukkah like that! I was like, Avremi, have you abandoned your path? It’s beautiful, yes, but is this what your Zeyda did?
Putting this issue aside, I went about my Yomtov. The next day, in Shul, I was reviewing the laws of Sukkah and I came across the rabbinic prescription about how we should be experiencing the Sukkah. This prescription, or "rule" is mentioned in the Gemara and repeated in just about all subsequent Rabbinic and Halachic works about the Holiday (Shulchan Aruch, Poskim). Here is what is prescribed:
אוכל ושותה ומטייל בסוכה
“(One should) eat, drink and be "Mtayel", or “take trips” in the Sukka”.
The word I used for "taking trips is "Mtayel"~while anyone who has been to Israel knows what “we are going on a Tiyul” means (we’re headed for -a usually awesome- trip), to be fair, the word is also used to mean “walk around”, “travel about”, “stroll leisurely” or something similar.
Reading this, I was reminded how I never really ever understood this. How does one “take a trip” -or even just "stroll around" in a Sukkah?? Maybe the Belzer Rebbe in Yerushalayim has that large a Sukkah, but most of us can barely fit our family and friends inside! So what do the Gemara, Shulchan Aruch and Poskim mean by telling us to “take a trip in the Sukkah?”
And then I realized why my friend has these fantastic “nature of the world” scenes on his Sukkah walls, and tapestries of our holy sites and cities as part of his Sukkah scenery. This way, with these images right on the walls, he can actually travel, “take a trip”, be מטייל, do a “Tiyul” right there in his Sukkah, exactly as the Talmud prescribed! Without leaving the Sukkah, he can expand his appreciation of not only what’s in front of him in his backyard now, but what G-d has given the entire world, and what awaits him with every step of his future life well beyond his "four corners". And that is of course what we can (and should) all do with our Sukkahs, with our minds, with our lives.
Sharing this idea with faculty of Chabad’s Friendship Circle of LA (thank you for hosting my daughters as volunteers!) I was finally given a new way to understand and appreciate the Chabad custom of “zero decoration” Sukkahs.
As this Lubavitcher added, perhaps the real idea of doing a “Tiyul” and “trip” in the Sukkah as the Rabbis instructed, is that we should view and experience the Sukkah as a journey and “trip" for our souls. It is so easy to just enjoy the holiday on a simple physical level as a “harvest festival”, or as a respite from the intense High Holidays. But the Chabad leadership wanted to remind their adherents to take special advantage of this post Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur time of purification to give our souls the trip of a lifetime, a spiritual journey whereby as purified souls, we carry that High-Holiday spirituality into our daily lives, into the rest of the year, into the remainder of our existence, imbued with a bit less of the physical “decorations”, and with a lot more “spiritual adornment”.
So there you have it friends. As we enter these last days of Sukkot, this "End-of-Holiday Holiday" of Shmini Atzeret and Simchas Torah, may we all merit the blessings of a “double journey“. May we be moved by HaShem’s glorious wonders and reap to the maximum the abundant benefits of his creation, whilst we simultaneously enjoy the greatest “soul trip” of our lifetimes, moving to higher and even higher spheres of existence where spirituality and meaning transform our lives in the most positive and healing of ways!
Wishing you all the most joyous of Yomtovs,
Good Shabbos, Chag Sameach, a
most health filled and beautiful Shabbat and YomTov to all!
Shalom Rubanowitz, at the "Shul on the Beach, Venice, California.
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