Friday, October 06, 2006

the existential sukkah

“v’Ya’akov nasa Sukkosa, vayiven lo bayit, ulmikneyhu asah sukkot” (Braishis 33:17)

Sifrei machshava are filled with ruminations on the significance of this first mention of sukkah in the Torah leaving me little to add other than how I've digested some of it. Why mention the building of a home here - obviously Ya'akov needed a home wherever he camped? And why the mention of making a special place for the cattle? Was there some significance to the home-building of Ya'akov in this context that warranted being highlighted? I think my understanding of sukkah in this context began to make sense when I thought about it in light of the unfortunate circumstance of my neighbor who had a fire in his home. For a few months he has been living in an apartment while the fire damage is repaired, yet he has his mail delivered to his regular home address, his phone rings there and is forwarded to his apartment, and for all intents and purposes when he says “home” he means his house address, not the apartment he has been eating and sleeping in. My neighbor’s plight can serve as a mashal on a number of levels, as it highlights the distinction between how temporary circumstance may force us to adopt a role, a “diras arayei”, a temporary place to live, vs. the core of how we define ourselves, our “diras keva”, our "home address". “VaYiven LO bayis” indicates that Ya’akov, after being forced to deal with the “other”, Eisav, the forces "out there" in the world, carved within himself (see Mei haShiloach) a core of belief that stood as his bedrock existential “home” apart from the swirling challenges around him. Everything outside that bedrock, all property and possessions, “mikneihu”, ultimately was relegated to “sukkot”, a temporary address of the moment, but not part of the definition of “home”. It is impossible to confront the challenges of everything "out there" in the world that, like Eisav, challenge who we are and how we define ourselves, without first building for ourselves our own private retreat of a "bayis", an address we know is home, someplace that we will never confuse with the sukkot, the temporary roles, jobs, and possessions of circumstance that come our way. I find that my day missing something if I do not get to leave my desk to go out at lunchtime and do some learning and catch mincha – I am trapped in my "sukkah" and miss that sliver of time that is my “bayis”. After R”H and Yom Kippur are over, we get a chance to fix our address for the year – is the harvest of olam hazeh just a sukkah of temporary existance, or is that who we really are and the Ymei haDin was just a passing moment of inspiration?


  1. Then how do you merge this with the idea of the "Guests" who are said to visit us in the sukkah?
    If the sukkah represents this world, shouldn't they visit us in our permanent home instead? Or is their role exemplars--people who truly built their own homes?

  2. You need to read the rest of the piece in Mei haShiloach! Ultimately (this is classic Ishbitzer, but hard to digest) the bifurcation into categories of bayis, where we feel this real close-rooted relationship with G-d, and sukkah, the diras arayei to which we consign everything else, is a product of our own struggle to deal with a reality that denies G-d's existance on so many levels. But the truth is that the sukkah is as much G-d's dwelling as the bayis - even the mikneiyhu is an extension of the neshoma (as R' Tzadok writes many places) and controlled and dictated only by the ratzon Hashem. The Ushpizin exemplify the total surrender to a reality where there is no difference between the bayis and the sukkah. The greater the appreciation that material gifts or challenges are tangential to who one really is, the greater the capacity to recognize within those gifts or challenges the yad Hashem. Maybe it works in stages - especially after a near tragic encounter with an Eisav, the first instinct is to draw away and fight (fight or flight), but later one can reflect on the episode and recognize that underlying even the potential danger was yad Hashem.

  3. Isaac Balbin8:23 AM

    There is a nice piece on this by Rav Goldvicht z"l in Asufat Ma'arachot under the Ushpizin of Ya'akov. He links it to the
    Pachim Ktanim

  4. I like the symbolism and analogy to the inside vs. outside world.

    I was looking for a connection between Shofar and Sukkah v'Lulav
    at my Sukkah meals over Yom Tov.

    The answers that we discussed are at:

    Thank you kishnevi in your comments for the connection with my post.

    Yasher Koach!

    A Guten Moi'ed