Roy Neuberger - Sep. 21, 2018

The sukkah is the most amazing place in the world.


Why? Because it is not in this world.


In the sukkah, the Reality of ruchnius (the spiritual world) is manifest. You are protected without any physical means of protection; you are elevated while you are seated on the earth; you seem alone, but you are surrounded by tzaddikim. The Four Species are also not from this world: these flimsy plants which we wave in six directions (during the Yom Tov of Sukkos) constitute a weapon of such towering strength that those who wield it are invincible.


The mitzvos of Sukkos demonstrate the complete dominance of ruchnius. They demonstrate that “ain od milvado… there is nothing else beside Hashem.” Is this not the very essence of our Holy Nation? Do we not demonstrate by our very existence the complete mastery of the King of the Universe over every aspect of creation?


If secular logic ran the world, not a single Jew would exist today, and there would certainly be no Jew who lives according to the Torah. We are the nation whose remnant was scattered to “arba kanfos ha’aretz … the four corners of the earth” some two thousand years ago. It seemed clear at that time that we could never retain our cohesive existence and adherence to the Laws given to our ancestors at Mount Sinai.


But no! Am Yisroel Chai, the Nation of Israel lives forever! The Jewish soul cannot die; the flame cannot be extinguished. Amidst the destruction and impurity, the sukkah sits eternal and untouchable. From within its walls emanates a light which illuminates the entire world.


I would like to tell you a story.


Dr. Stephen Trokel is a world-famous ophthalmologist. Why is he famous? For one thing, he is a principal pioneer, inventor and innovator in laser vision correction. According to the “History of Optometric Surgery” from the Optometric Professional Network, “Dr. Trokel introduced Photorefractive keratectomy … He also patented the Excimer laser for vision correction and performed the first surgery on a patient’s eyes in 1987.” In addition, Dr. Trokel is a renowned specialist in thyroid-related eye disease. He is a physician, surgeon and professor at New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, who still practices medicine at the age of 83! It also happens that he has been my eye doctor for about forty years.


Although Dr. Trokel’s parents were born in Europe, he grew up in America without the benefit of an observant home or yeshiva education. However, unlike so many contemporaries, and despite his tremendous success, he felt the darkness of a world which tries to forget its Creator. He built a sukkah inside his heart, from which an unquenchable light emanated.


Several months ago I received a phone call from a distinguished Rav in Lakewood named Rabbi Aharon Zuckerman Shlita”h, who also happens to be a patient of Dr. Trokel. Rabbi Zuckerman told me how Dr. Trokel continually brought up questions in Yiddishkeit and was fond of discussing his recent trip to his father’s shtetl. Rabbi Zuckerman wondered whether we could work with Dr. Trokel to make up for the Torah which he had missed in his youth.


From this conversation grew a most amazing event. Several weeks ago, we organized a small minyan in the Upper West Side of Manhattan at which Dr. Trokel put on tallis and tefillin and was called up to the Torah for his bar mitzvah, seventy years after his thirteenth birthday! Rabbi Zuckerman came in from Lakewood, and we had a small festive meal afterwards at which Dr. Trokel spoke, and he stated that he wanted it to be known that he was “born, lives and will die as a Jew.” He said something which made a big impact on me when he described what he called the “cold spot in the core of man without Hashem.”


These are extremely graphic and powerful words. Here is a person at the pinnacle of the medical profession, a physician, a surgeon, an inventor and professor at one of the country’s most prestigious medical schools, but that was not enough. Dr. Trokel discovered that, at the core of the world, unless Hashem is invited in, there is only lifeless darkness, “tohu vavohu … astonishing emptiness.” (Genesis 1:2) Dr. Trokel built a sukkah in his heart. He invited our Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to join him. The world of Sukkos exists only for those who know Hashem, and Dr. Trokel desired to know Hashem.


At the meal, I mentioned that soon we will read the Torah Portion of Beraishis, in which the world’s creation is described. What are literally the first words of Creation? “Let there be light … and Hashem saw that the light was good, and Hashem separated between light and darkness.” All creation begins with light. “[Light] is the elevated soul, whose light is immense because it is carved from under the Throne of Glory.” (Ohr Hachaim on Genesis 1:3)


Dr. Trokel’s career is dedicated to bringing light to others. Thousands, perhaps millions, can see and see clearly because of him! I told this story to Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Weinfeld Shlita”h, Rosh Kollel of Lev Avraham in Yerushalayim, who said, “He who brought light to others, Hashem brought light to him!”


And so, the year begins, a year which we all want to bring light into the world. Dr. Trokel has done it and we can do it. We can build a sukkah in our heart.

“I will build a tabernacl​​e in my heart to glorify God's honor. And in the tabernacl​​e I will place an altar dedicated​ to His divine rays of splendor.​ For the eternal flame I will take upon myself the fire of the Akeida (the Sacrifice of Isaac). And as a korban(offering)​ I will offer my soul, my unique soul.” (“Bilvovi,” based on a passage in Sefer Chareidim with well-known niggunim composed by Rabbis Yitzchok Hutner zt”l and Shmuel Brazil Shlita”h)

Cain, y’hi ratzon … may it be Hashem’s will!


The author with Dr. Stephen Trokel and Rabbi Aharon Zuckerman 
(Photo Credit: Tsemach Glenn/Ira Thomas)


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