Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
The Suka-Symbol of Life's Shadows
Published: Friday, October 7, 2016 01:23:37 PM
Number of views: 126

When contemplating the Festival of Sukot, we are confronted with a great paradox.

According to Kabala, the Suka symbolizes our life span in this world. For what is a Suka? It is a frail structure in which we need to dwell for 7 days. The Ari reminds us that these 7 days of Sukot represent a person's average lifespan, which is 70 years. This was stated by King David, "The span of his years are 70 and with strength 80 years" (Tehillim 90).

Under favorable circumstances, we may prolong our stay in this world into our 8th "day" which is symbolized by the Festival of Shmini Atzeret. How frail our life is, not only short, but also unpredictable and unreliable. As long as we live under favorable and healthy circumstances, life is a pleasant experience. Just like the Suka, we seem to be protected and safe.

But once life begins to have serious problems, we realize how little protection we really have, and how unstable our existence really is. Like the suka, life is far less secure than we had imagined. However, it is perplexing that the Festival of Sukot is considered to be the most joyous of all Holidays! Speaking of Sukot, the Torah states, "and you shall rejoice on your festival" (Devarim 16). This means that we should experience the most exalted joy at a time when we have to dwell in a frail leaky hut that is not secure at all.

In fact, Halacha makes it clear that the Suka must be built in such a way that it's not able to stand up against a strong wind, that its roof must leak when it rains, and that it must contain more shadow than sunlight. These conditions should make us feel distressed, since the Suka represents the vulnerability of life. So why does the Torah command us to be joyful, precisely at a time when we are confronted with all that can go wrong in life?

Since the Suka teaches us about life's problems, we would expect that the interior of the Suka should reflect a similar message. The Suka should be empty of all comfort. It should contain some flimsy chairs, a shaky table and some meager stale food.

However, Halacha stipulates that the Suka's interior should reflect a most optimistic lifestyle. Its frail walls should be decorated with beautiful objects. The leaking roof should be made attractive by hanging colorful fruits and decorations from it. We are required to bring our best food and have feasts in the Suka. We should eat from the most beautiful plates and use fancy silverware.

All this seems to reflect a feeling that this world is a most pleasant place made for our enjoyment. So why do we sit in a weather-beaten frail hut?

The message of the Suka is clear. The outside walls and the leaking roof reveal our vulnerability and uncertainty of life. But inside the Suka walls, we need to make our life as attractive and comfortable as possible, and to enjoy its great benefits and blessings. Instead of becoming depressed, we should make the best out of life and as Tehillim states, "serve G-D with joy".    

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