Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Sukkos at Home

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Operation Inspiration

With our daughter in seminary in Eretz Yisrael this year, we’ve been planning to spend Sukkos there for quite some time. Tickets were purchased, lodging arranged, and everything seemed fine. That is, until the spikes in positive COVID cases that resulted in the border being all but closed to foreigners like us.

Suddenly, Yerushalayim is a distant dream, other plans need to be made for my daughter, and we have to figure out what we’re going to be doing. If it were any other Yom Tov, I’d be scrambling but somehow, being that it’s Sukkos, it seems par for the course.

You see, the whole message of Sukkos is that we’re not in control. We sit outside in a temporary dwelling with a roof open to the sky. Sure, there’s some s’chach providing coverage there but it doesn’t afford any real protection. If it did, the Sukkah wouldn’t be kosher.

The Sukkah is a microcosm of our lives in this world. We are here in a world that looks pretty secure. I mean, we see walls, we look up and see a roof over our heads, but of course the world doesn’t offer us any real protection. There are laws of nature, cause and effect, and more that seem to be pretty solid. However, it’s merely camouflaging Hashem’s presence in our lives so we can get the impression that we’re in control.

That’s why we need to be able to see some of the sky or stars through the s’chach on our Sukkahs, so we recognize that there’s a higher power out there. Why have a roof at all then? Because otherwise there would be no challenge.

I had to search for good airplane tickets, plan for accommodations, and do all my hishtadlus. Then, it had to fall apart, so I remember that I’m not in control. But it’s more than that. Not only do I need to realize that I’m not in control, I have to be OK with it.

There’s a famous expression, “A mentch tracht, un Got lacht,” a person thinks and G-d laughs. (It sounds better in Yiddish where it rhymes.) It echoes the posuk in Mishlei, “Rabos machshavos b’lev ish, v’atzas Hashem hee sakum,” many are the thoughts in Man’s heart, but the intent of Hashem is what will be fulfilled.” Basically, it sounds like we can think what we want, but Hashem maintains veto power to overrule us.

I think that is true, but not exactly in the way most people see it. Most people see it cynically, that there’s no point in trying anything because Hashem can cruelly pull the rug out from under you. But that’s not what it means. When Hashem is laughing at your plans, it’s not because He knows He can overrule you, but because He recognizes how naïve and quaint your ideas were.

Think of a five-year old who tells you that if he had a THOUSAND dollars, he’d be rich. He’d buy a house and a swimming pool and all sorts of things. You can’t help but smile because he doesn’t understand the real world. To him, a thousand dollars is an enormous sum of money that could suffice to fulfill his dreams. But you know the truth.

When Hashem “laughs” at our plans and puts His own plans forward instead, it’s because He knows what we don’t. While we’re sure the thing we want is the greatest idea, He understands how it could be detrimental.

A friend told me that he was offered a singing contract a number of years ago. It sounded amazing, but he went to his Rosh Yeshiva to ask for guidance. The Rosh Yeshiva told him that he shouldn’t do it because he would be successful, and this would lead him to abandon religious observance.

Most of us would look at the success aspect and be sure that our dreams were coming true, and we’d find happiness and all sorts of good things. The Rosh Yeshiva (who was known to have a sense of future events) was not trying to quash the fellow’s dreams, but rather to put into perspective what he’d be giving up. Recognizing the truth of this approach, the young man passed on the deal and devoted the rest of his life to teaching Torah to children.

When Hashem “upsets” our plans, He’s not saying, “No, I don’t let.” He’s saying, “I have a better idea.”

We sit in the Sukkah to recall that Hashem gave us Sukkos in the Midbar. There’s a difference of opinion whether it was actual huts, or whether it referred to the Clouds of Glory. Either way, we were in Hashem’s dwellings, following His directions and never knowing one day what we would do the next. And we were OK with it.

The past two years have provided us with lots more opportunities to see that only Hashem knows what the future holds. Perhaps it’s preparing us for the time, very soon, when we’ll all realize that He’s in control, and we won’t want to be. May this Chag Ha’asif signal the ingathering of us all, finally, home to Eretz Yisrael, where I was trying to get all along.

 

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