Taking Leave of the Tree
From: D. S.
If a tree above a succa prevents one from seeing the sky because of its leaves, does that invalidate the succa? A tree is above the porch which would be the most convenient place for a succa. However, an alternate location with clear sky is available.
Dear D. S.,
A succa must be directly under the sky; if it's built underneath anything else, it's invalid. Even if the foliage of the tree is very thin, it could still invalidate an otherwise valid succa according to some authorities. Therefore, caution should be taken when building a succa to avoid placing it under a tree.
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 626:1
- Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 626
All Four One
From: M. in Ontario
Why must the four species of Succot be bound together?
The Torah commands, "Take yourselvesfruit of the etrog tree, branches of date palms, boughs of myrtle and willows of the brook, and rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Leviticus 23:39-40). Our Sages taught that the etrog which has both taste and fragrance, corresponds to Jews who possess both Torah and good deeds. The branch of the date palm, whose fruit has taste but no fragrance, corresponds to Jews who possess Torah but lack good deeds. The myrtle which has fragrance but no taste represents Jews who possess good deeds but are lacking Torah. Finally, the willow branch which has neither taste nor fragrance, symbolizes Jews who lack both Torah and good deeds. All of these "species" are inextricably bound together in order that each ones strengths will make up for the others shortcomings. And more, only by taking ourselves into this unity, for better or for worse, can we truly rejoice before the Lord our G-d.
- Vayikra Rabba 30.
Going Around in Circles
From: R. in San Francisco
Why on Simchat Torah do we dance seemingly endlessly around in a circle?
It is an ancient Jewish custom to dance around the bima table with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah, the festival on which we celebrate the completion of the yearly Torah-reading. Yet as soon as we finish the last verse, we immediately start, "In the beginning" (Gen. 1:1). This continuous cycle is like a circle which symbolizes eternity. It has no beginning and no end, it goes on forever, eternally, just as the One who gave us the Torah is Eternal. This circle of dancing then, symbolizes the eternity of the Torah and its Author.
The circle is also a symbol of equality. Every point on the circle is equidistant from the center. This teaches that while there are many different kinds of Jews: Jews from Iran and Jews from Indianapolis, Jews of all colors and from all walks of life, Jews who strongly differ in their emphasis in service of the Creator such as Chassidim and Litvaks, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Nevertheless, as we dance in that circle we must realize that even though we may be 180 degrees away from our fellow Jews, we are all equidistant from the center, from G-d.
- Rabbi Zev Leff, Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair