The Succah in the Wilderness

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Succah in the Wilderness - Rabbi Mendel Weinbach

In what kind of succahs did our ancestors dwell in the wilderness? Rabbi Eliezer says they were not man-made succahs, but rather miraculous pillars of cloud - "clouds of glory" - which protected the Children of Israel from the inhospitable desert climate. Rabbi Akiva's view is that they were succahs which the people put up for shade wherever they camped on their way through the wilderness.

Although the consensus of the commentaries is to accept Rabbi Eliezer's view (see Targum Onkelos on Vayikra 23:42), there is an interesting perspective of how to approach these two differing views.

There is a fascinating relationship of mutual love between Hashem and His chosen people. In the manner of such relationships, each party seeks to compliment and praise the other. We refer to the festival celebrating our exodus from Egypt by the name "Pesach," which recalls that Hashem did "Pass-over" the Jewish homes when He slaughtered the Egyptian firstborn. But Hashem, in His Torah, calls it the "Festival of Matzos," to pay tribute to the faith of our ancestors in departing from Egypt for the wilderness at His command, with no more provisions than some matzos.

Rabbi Akiva understands the phrase "In order that your generations shall know that I caused you to dwell in succahs when I took you out of Egypt" (ibid.) as the Torah's reminder not only of Hashem's kindness in liberating us, but also of our ancestors' faith in following Hashem into an inhospitable desert, where they had to struggle to build shelters against the elements. Rabbi Eliezer, however, sees the succah as the premier expression of our appreciation of all Hashem's many kindnesses shown to us in protecting us, providing us manna from heaven, water from a miraculous spring, and all our needs throughout our sojourn in the wilderness.

  • Succah 11b

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