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The Song of the Little Sukkah:


Introduction:

The Torah records the following mitzvah – Divine mandate – regarding the Festival of Sukkos: “You shall dwell in the sukkos (huts) for seven days; every native in Israel should dwell in sukkos. So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkos when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, Your God.” (Leviticus 23:42,43)

“Every native in Israel” – including converts (Rashi).

Dear Friends,

We are to dwell in the sukkos for seven days in order to remember how Hashem – the Compassionate One – protected us when we dwelled in the sukkos during our journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. In honor of this mitzvah, I will share with you the following excerpt from an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran about the song, “A Little Sukkah”:  

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There is simply no describing the plaintive, moving melody to which Yiddish writer Avraham Reisen’s poem was set. As a song, it is familiar to many of us who were introduced to it by immigrant parents or grandparents. And, remarkably, the strains of “A Sukkeleh,” no matter how often we may have heard them, still tend to choke us up.

Based on Reisen’s “In Sukkeh,” the song, whose popular title means “A Little Sukkah,” really concerns two sukkot, one literal, the other metaphorical, and the poem, though it was written at the beginning of the last century, remains tender, profound and timely.

Several years ago, thinking about the song, as so many invariably do every year this season, it occurred to me to try to render it into English for readers unfamiliar with either the song or the language in which it was written. I’m not a professional translator, and my rendering, below, is not perfectly literal. But it’s close, and is faithful to the rhyme scheme and meter of the original.

Here goes:


A sukkaleh, quite small,
Wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling
And now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night.
A chill wind attacks,
Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It’s so strange a thing
That as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.
In comes my daughter,
Bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking
And, her voice nearly breaking,
Says “Tattenyu, the sukkah’s going to fall!”
Dear daughter, don’t fret;
It hasn’t fallen yet.
The sukkah’s fine; banish your fright.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkeleh's still standing upright.

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The covering of the sukkah – the s'chach – must be composed of materials which grew naturally from the earth and are now detached from the earth. The s’chach must be porous enough to enable one to see the stars at night – a reminder that it is not this temporary covering which is protecting us, but the One Who protected us on our journey to the Promised Land. In this spirit, Rabbi Shafran concludes his article on the song with the following message:

So, no matter how loudly the winds and the tyrants may howl, no matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity. No, instead we redouble our recognition that, in the end, G-d is in charge, that all is in His hands.

And that, as it has for millennia, the sukkah continues to stand. 

The sukkah still stands, and it serves as a reminder that our true security is not in our human power and wealth. This is a universal message, and in this spirit, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches that our sukkah still stands not just for our sake, but for the sake of the world. Based on the teachings of our prophets and sages, Rabbi Hirsch explains that in the future age of spiritual enlightenment, humankind will finally realize that Hashem is the Source of their strength and security; thus, in this new age, writes Rabbi Hirsch, “They will move into the sukkah.” (Horeb). Rabbi Hirsch adds, “Then will the One God receive them all in the Tabernacle of Shalom, as their Father.”

During the intermediate days of the Festival, the traditional Hebrew greeting is Moadim L’Simcha – Festivals for Joy,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The Torah gives the following reason for the annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah: “So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkos when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, Your God.” (Leviticus 23:43) The Talmud cites the following two explanations of this verse:

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the Torah is referring to the spiritual sukkos – the “clouds of glory” – which protected and led us through the wilderness. (As we shall explain in note 2, the clouds of glory were a manifestation of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence.) We have an annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah in order to commemorate the Divine protection of the spiritual sukkos that sheltered us in the wilderness.

According to Rabbi Akiva, the Torah is referring to the physical sukkos that we lived in during our journey through the wilderness; thus, we have an annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah in order to commemorate the Divine protection which took place through the physical sukkos which sheltered us.

Rebbenu Bachya, the noted 13th century sage and biblical commentator, states that both explanations are true, for each mitzvah has both a revealed and a hidden aspect. The explanation regarding the physical sukkos that sheltered us in the wilderness refers to the “revealed” aspect of the annual mitzvah to dwell in the sukkah, while the explanation regarding the spiritual sukkos that sheltered us refers to the “hidden” aspect of this mitzvah – one which has deep mystical meanings. (Kad HaKemach)

2. Regarding our journey through the wilderness, it is written: “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way” (Exodus 13:21). The ancient Aramaic translation and commentary, Targum Yonasan, states: “The Glory of the Shechinah of Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud.” Midrash Tanchuma teaches that we were surrounded by seven clouds of glory: There was one above us, one below us, one on each of the four sides, and one in front of us, leading the way (B'Shalach 3). In other words, we were enveloped by the Shechinah Who led us and protected us on our journey to the Promised Land. Each year, we connect to that loving and profound experience through living in the sukkah for seven days.

As Rebbenu Bachya explained, the clouds of glory are the hidden aspect of the mitzvah to dwell in sukkos, and he adds: “Because there were seven clouds, we have been charged to perform this mitzvah for seven days in the seventh month” (Tishrei). Rabbenu Bachya discusses some of the deeper mystical meanings of this teaching in the chapter on the sukkah in his work, Kad HaKemach. Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel did an English translation of this work titled, “Encyclopedia of Torah Thoughts” (Shiloh Publishing House).

3. Rabbi Avi Shafran, through “AmEchad Resources,” sends out a weekly article to the Jewish media which offers a Torah perspective on a contemporary issue facing our people, or an article about the life and challenges of Torah-committed Jewish men and women. Individuals can also subscribe to this service, and there is no charge. Write to Rabbi Avi Shafran at: shafran@agudathisrael.org

4. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg is the name of the environmental and peace activist that we mentioned in the previous letter, “Living Waters,” who is confronting the anti-Semitism that has emerged in some leftist circles. 

5. A previous Hazon letter – “Succos and the Seventy Nations” – appears in the archive on our website, and the following is a direct link:  http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/succos.htm  

6. A related letter – “The Role of the Rainbow Nation” – also appears in the archive, and the following is a direct link: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/role.htm  

A copy of one or both of the above letters - with larger print - can be sent to you upon request.

7. The following website can provide you with additional information on the Festival of Sukkos, as well as on the concluding Festival of Shemini Ateres/SimchasTorah:: http://www.aish.com/holidays/sukkot/


Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/