S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 6 October 2012 / 19 Tishri 5773

Why Isnít This Night Different From All Other Nights?

by Rabbi Richard Jacobs
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Did you ever play “Find the Differences” as a child? You know, the one where you have two almost identical pictures side by side and you have to highlight where the pictures aren’t identical. Imagine the following two puzzles:

Puzzle 1

Picture 1

A family sits at the Shabbat table in the dining room, illuminated by the Shabbat candles, laid with fine crockery. Two challahs lie covered by a white cloth; a bottle of wine stands on the table beside the kiddush cup. The family make kiddush and eat a sumptuous meal while speaking divrei Torah and singing zemirot.

Picture 2

A family sits at the Yom Tov table in the dining room, illuminated by the Yom Tov candles, laid with the finest crockery. Three matzot lie covered by a white cloth; a bottle of wine stands on the table beside the kiddush cup and the table centrepiece is the seder plate. The family make kiddush, speak divrei Torah and eat a sumptuous meal while speaking divrei Torah and singing zemirot.

Puzzle 2

Picture 1

Exactly as above in puzzle 1, picture 1. Please re-read.

Picture 2

A family sits at the Yom Tov table, outdoors, in a temporary dwelling, a succah, sheltered from the elements under a flimsy roof made of leafy branches. The Yom Tov candles flicker in the breeze and the tableware blows around the table. Two challahs lie covered by a white cloth; a bottle of wine stands on the table beside the kiddush cup. Behind the table are beds for sleeping in later that night. The family make kiddush and eat a sumptuous meal while speaking divrei Torah and singing zemirot.

In which of the two puzzles do the pictures seem more similar and which more different? The first - contrasting Shabbat and Pesach - where the primary differences are in the foods and manner of eating, or the second - contrasting Shabbat and Succot - when on Succot the entire family and household belongings are uprooted and relocated outside to a temporary dwelling, exposed to the elements, where the weather is fast becoming non-conducive to outdoor life? To most people the differences in the second puzzle (between Shabbat and Succot) are most pronounced.

So why is it, that on Pesach we ask questions highlighting the difference between this night and the rest of year (eating matzah and not chametz, eating bitter herbs, dipping our food, and reclining) while on Succot where the difference is even more pronounced the distinction isn’t highlighted? Why don’t our children ask us on Succot, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”?

The simple answer is clearly that regarding Pesach there is verse (Exodus 13:8) that obligates us to expound on our slavery in Egypt and about the Exodus, and our Sages instituted that this should be by means of a question and answer format in order to engage the interest of the children. There is no such verse and therefore no such commandment for Succot.

Perhaps, however, we can suggest another idea.

Perhaps Succot really isn’t all that different from all other nights. Pesach (otherwise known as zman cheiruteinu - the time of our freedom) is a time in sharp contrast to the rest of the year. However, on Succot, despite being zman simchateinu – the time of our joy, and the fact that the two most prominent mitzvot of the festival (the succah and the four species) both symbolize unity (which is the essence of the joy), is surrounded by references and allusions to the current state of exile of lacking our homeland in the full manner in which we are meant to live in Eretz Yisrael.

The succah is a temporary dwelling place, and our time on earth is indeed temporary; we are in a state of exile and the succah is a place of no fixed abode.

In fact when our Sages discuss why we observe Succot in the autumn rather than in the spring (when after-all we first lived in a succah) one of the answers given is that Succot falls after Rosh Hashana when G-d sits in judgment on all the world’s inhabitants, and after Yom Kippur when G-d seals the judgment, maybe it was decreed for the Jewish People to go into exile. Therefore we build a succah and go into exile from our homes to the succah.

Further, the laws of the succah hint to our exile:

  • The schach (roofing) of the succah must be plant material, but it is forbidden for it to be still attached to the ground. In the same way in exile, we are detached from our land.
  • A succah that is ten tefachim (approximately 90-100 cm) high is valid, even though it is virtually impossible to raise your head, so too in exile we go with bowed heads.
  • A succah that is “already made” (e.g. the schach was there before the walls) and not “made” (with placing of the schach now to complete a kosher succah) is not valid, symbolizing that in exile we constantly need to start afresh because that which we have already built is taken from us.

When we leave our homes and move into these temporary dwellings we don’t notice the difference because on a metaphysical level there isn’t one.

The festival of Succot is one the happiest times of the year, yet this joy is currently tempered. May it be G-d’s will that these reminders help us to strive for the ultimate redemption and that our zman simchateinu should soon be complete and perfect.

  • Source: Based on Torah L’Da’at, chelek gimmel

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