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Shabbat Parashat Sukkot| 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Exile?

What is the idea of the festive mitzva of going out to the sukka at this time in the calendar? The Yalkut Shimoni (Emor, 643) has a surprising explanation: “On Rosh Hashana, Hashem sits and judges the world, and on Yom Kippur He seals the judgment. Perhaps Israel’s ruling was for exile, and by making a sukka and going into exile from their houses, Hashem considers it as if they were exiled to Bavel.”

It is somewhat counter-intuitive to view the beautiful mitzva of sukka as a punishment/atonement, especially when the Torah explicitly describes it as a way of remembering and commemorating Hashem's protection of us when we were in the desert. Is eating matza also a punishment?! (Yes, there are times we have made that joke, but presumably that is just a joke.) In practice, most people indeed find sitting in the sukka enjoyable.

One can give a simple answer based on a careful reading of the midrash. The midrash is not saying that the purpose of the mitzva is to serve as exile but that in case we are in need of exile as a result of our judgment on Rosh Hashana/ Yom Kippur, this can and should do the trick. The practical nature of being in the sukka is also provisional. The weather can be beautiful or very hot or very cold, depending on the day and depending on the place. We are willing to leave it up to Hashem to determine for us which experience we are to get, instead of staying in our house, where we primarily insulate ourselves according to our desires. The same can be said about exile, including the one the midrash refers to, in Bavel. The much dreaded exile of Bavel depressed the exiles of Zion in the beginning to the point that at least some did not want to build homes and beget children (see Yirmiya 29). But as time went on, people apparently enjoyed elements of the experience enough that they did not want to return with the returnees at the time of Zerubavel.

Rav Chaim Friedlander (Siftei Chayim, Moadim I, pp. 328-331) gives another explanation. A major cause of sin is a feeling of haughtiness. Exile is one means to combat haughtiness as one is made to realize that he is not in control of his circumstances. The proper way to look at the lack of control is as a reminder that actually everything is dictated by Hashem, and it is not just about us. However, realizing our place in relation to Hashem need not be oppressive. We can feel dependent on Hashem and feel close to Him and glad to be able to rely upon Him as well. Thus, sukkot can give us the necessary lesson of undoing haughtiness, like exile, without the pain.

May we enjoy our Sukkot holiday and use it as an additional way to further a positive relationship with our Maker through the “shade of the sukka” and the “shade of Hashem.”

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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
Harav Hagaon
Moshe Botschko
who passed away on Yom Kippur.


R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.


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