S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 15 October 2011 / 16 Tishri 5772

Riding the Apocalyptic Wave

by Rabbi Richard Jacobs
The Flood, the Destruction of Sodom, and the Succah
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The flood: the end of the world. The waters rage, turmoil covers the surface of the globe. Perched on top of the waves lies a fragile wooden construction – a teiva – an ark, containing and protecting the only survivors, human and animal.

One of the more curious things about the construction of the ark is the discussion of the nature or the tzohar on the upper level. What is this tzohar? There are two explanations: a window and a precious stone. What’s the difference?

Looking to a different destruction: when Lot is fleeing from the annihilation of Sodomhe is instructed not to gaze behind him; because someone who is not being saved in their own merit is not permitted to witness the demise of others, and Lotwas being saved in the merit of his uncle, Avraham.

When we are introduced to Noach for the first time he is described as a righteous man in his generation. Our Sages discuss the meaning of this. Was Noach righteous in and of himself, regardless of whichever generation he lived in, or was he righteous only in his generation, but were he to have lived in the time of Avraham he would not have been considered righteous?

Perhaps these two discussions are related, and the opinion that holds that Noach was objectively righteous holds that the tzohar in the ark was a window through which Noach was able to witness the destruction, whereas the other opinion (that Noach was righteous only relative to his own generation) holds that he was not fitting to see the downfall of mankind and needed a precious stone to provide illumination within the ark.

Today too the world is in turmoil. The headlines assault our senses with a persistent barrage. Tension soars in the international arena and we have no idea what will be.

On Succot we shelter in our teiva, our ark – the succah. The succah is named after the schach — the branches and leaves which form an impermanent roof. On Succot we leave the shelter of our homes and for an entire week live in this temporary dwelling, casting ourselves unambiguously into the arms of Hashem, living in the shadow of faith.

The succah also has other connotations. Our Sages explain that the laws and structure of the succah contain allusions to the mitzvah of learning Torah. The minimum number of walls for a succah is three, hinting to the three sections of Tanach — Torah, Prophets and Writings; the minimum height for a succah is ten tefachim (80 – 100 cm), hinting to the Ten Commandments; the minimum width of seven tefachim (56 – 70 cm) hints to the seven wisdoms of the Torah; and the word succah itself is related to the word ysacheh (see) which is used to describe Sarah’s power of vision with ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration).

The questions I would like to suggest we ask ourselves are: who are we? And with the ark in mind, as we sit in our succah this year, should we gaze through windows at the world outside, or is it more fitting for us to use the mitzvah of succah and its connection to learning Torah to bring light to our world?

Sources:

  • Sefer Eidut Yosef quoted in Torah L’Da’as vol. 1
  • Gemara Succah 2a
  • Rabbenu Bachaye in Kad haKemach

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