Monday, October 17, 2005

America at Succostime

Obtaining a Lulav has never been easy for Jews in galut. Lulavs had to make long trips on boats to Eastern Europe from the middle east, traveling for whole months sometimes before they reached Jewish communities.

For Jews in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, obtaining a Lulav could often be next to impossible. Jewish communities in America were still sparse and the holiday might be celebrated in such impossible circumstances as the middle of the civil war in which two armies sparred against each other in the midst of shortages and carnage. Jewish soldiers on both the Union and Confederate side did their best to observe what they could but tents generally had to suffice for Succahs and in the midst of the shelling and combat, exotic species were impossible to come by.

As we move to celebrate Sukkot now in 2006, there is a war on too and a lulav shortage. Egypt, which has been one of the primary suppliers of lulavs, had announced it would no longer be supplying Lulavs to Israel and America banning their cutting. The announcement sent prices, which already can often be quite high, rising even further on expectations of shortages. A Senator and a congressman, only one of them Jewish, have sent letters to the Egyptian government requesting more lulavs.

And as a lulav shortage threatens, an esrog shortage seems likely in Israel as well due to a hot summer. It almost seems as if Sukkos will be quite impoverished this year. Yet Sukkos is the time of year in which we leave our homes and go out into the street and into our yards to build rickety temporary dwelling places. It is a simple enough matter to spend a few days in a sukkah, but families expelled from their homes in Gush Katif have been living in temporary dwelling places for quite a while now.

For them Sukkos is not an interruption in the natural order of things but the continuation of their misery. And people who have lost their homes, have difficulty even gaining access to their possessions, rising prices for lulavim and etrogim will only make their succos far grimmer than it already is. Yet the Torah commands Usemachtem, and you shall rejoice. Throughout that entire perek which lists yom tov after yom tov. Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana; it does not say rejoice by any of them. We might imagine that it would normally say that we should rejoice at Pesach. After all we have liberated and set free from a land of slaves, from being enslaved. That seems like a cause for celebration. Yet it does not say to rejoice at Pesach but at Sukkos, in which we lived in sukkahs after we were taken out of Egypt, it commands us to rejoyce.

At pesach the Jews were taken out of Egypt with a mighty hand and set free. It was natural for them to rejoice over it and no special commandment needed to be given. By contrast at Sukkos time the Jews found themselves living in a desert, not in Eretz Yisrael and instead of homes had to construct temporary dwellings. Put that way indeed what did they have to rejoice over?

Rabbi Akiva said that the sukkah represents the ananei hakovod, the clouds of glory that Hashem protected the Jews with. Where the splitting of the sea had been a mighty and majestic event and the Jews saw their enemies drown, the clouds protected by being impermeable. Arrows hurled into the clouds did not penetrate. Scorpions and snakes along the desert floor were killed by the cloud. The Jews in the desert were protected by the clouds but it was not obvious and it was a passive protection rather than an active protection.

Lemaan Yedu Doroteichem, the Torah goes on to say, that your generations may know. Ki Besukkos Hoshavti Et Bnei Yisrael Behotzei Oitam Me'eretz Mitzrayim, For in Sukkos I caused the Jews to dwell when I took them out of the land of Egypt. Why is it particularly important for future generations to know this? Because it is important for us to remember that even when we are deprived, G-d provides for us.

Though may live in temporary dwellings, whether it is the temporary dwellings of the expelled or the temporary dwellings of Galut, and we are beset by enemies, we may wish to see an immediate salvation as decisive as that at the Yam Suf, we must recognize and be joyful for how G-d protects us though it may not be obvious to us at the time.

And though we dwell in galut, though we have no permanent home, we collect the four species, lulav, etrog, hadasim and aravot; though they may be difficult to come by and rejoice before G-d as did our ancestors and all the generations of our people because G-d is caring for us.


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