“He will hide me in His Sukkah on the day of evil.” (Psalm27)
Why is the sukkah our protection? And what is “the day of evil?”
As I write, the Americas have been battered by two gigantic hurricanes, scores of wildfires and a major earthquake, each one a disaster of epic proportions. At the other end of the world, in the words of the headline, “North Korea fires missile over Japan.” This is a world in which crisis is coming to seem normal, a world which seems to be waiting for the next blow to fall.
Do you remember the story I told several years ago, about the highway patrolman I met near the Goethals Bridge? (No, I had not been pulled over!) He turned out to be a touchingly thoughtful person. I will never forget what he told me: “Today, ‘crazy’ is the norm.”
As the year 5778 commences, challenges are increasing. Sensitive people are concerned.
How can the sukkah protect us? What does it mean that “He will hide me in His Sukkah on the day of evil?” Hide me in what? A flimsy structure through whose open roof the heavens are visible? A sukkah offers no physical protection. If it rains, the interior gets soaked. If the sun beats down, it can feel like an oven. Yet the sukkah is our protection!
It is so simple, my friends. We have to know that the source of our protection – even our physical protection – is not physical. Protection depends on a world we cannot see.
What is “the day of evil?”
In just over a week, with G-d’s help, we will read the words, “Hashem saw that the evil of man upon the earth was great, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was only evil always.” (Genesis 6:5) The Ohr Hachaim asks why the Torah associates evil with “the earth?” He discusses the concept that all matter is made of four elements: earth, water, fire and air. Of these four, earth is the “most dense and crude” and air is the “most spiritual.”
Man is primarily earth. Isn’t this ironic? You would think that man, the most spiritually advanced of all creations, would be primarily air, but the opposite is true.
The Ohr Hachaim explains that man “had to be made [from] earth” because man’s purpose is to raise the entire material world to its highest possible level. To accomplish that, man needs to be on the lowest level in order to raise all of creation to its intended state. “If [man]would have been built primarily out of the other three [elements], which are more spiritual in comparison to the [element] of earth, [then Hashem’s] intent in creating [man] would not have been completely fulfilled!” (Ohr Hachaim on Genesis 5-6)
When we fail to fulfill our mission and sink to the level of the earth, then all creation is endangered, G-d forbid. This is what happened before the Great Flood in the days of Noah. “Hashem saw that the evil of man ‘upon the earth’ was great.” (ibid) In the words of the Ohr Hachaim, Hashem saw that mankind had lowered itself to a “great degree of abomination.” When man fell to this level, Hashem said,“I will blot out Man whom I created from the face of the ground, for I have reconsidered My having made them.” (Genesis 6:7)
Do we understand the gravity of this situation? If mankind sinks to this level, the entire existence of life in this world hangs in the balance and Hashem considers annihilating – G-d forbid – all of creation!
What does one do at such a terrible moment? How is man to save himself?
There is only one way: we rush into the sukkah!
The sukkah is open to the sky. If we cannot see the sky through the s’chach (the plant material on top of the sukkah), then the sukkah is not kosher. In order to raise ourselves from the dust, we have to build a house with no roof! We become part of the sky! The houses in which we live during the rest of the year have solid roofs through which the sky cannot be seen, but if the roof of our house is open to the heavens, that indicates we understand that our expected role in this world is to rise to the heavens. “Shake off the dust! Arise! Don your splendid clothes, My People.” (Lecha Dodi) When we rise toward the heavens then we become like the air, the “most spiritual” element.
Hashem will do this for us when we enter the sukkah. “Mikimi mai’afar dal …. He raised the needy from the dust; He lifts the destitute from the trash heaps.” (Psalm113)
When disaster threatens the world, there is only one shelter, and that is the sukkah. As our Rabbis say, “all ends have passed, and the matter of the Messiah’s arrival depends only on repentance and good deeds.” (Sanhedrin 97b)
My friends, this is all that is left. Sukkos is the culmination of the Yom Tov Cycle and the beginning of a new year. Everything ends here in the sukkah and everything begins in the sukkah. We invite Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David to dwell with us. They are the heroes of history who rose from the dust and sanctified mankind. They were the ones who prevented catastrophe from overwhelming the earth, who counteracted mankind’s headlong lunge to destroy itself by sinking to the level of the dust.
The sukkah is open to the sky! Our feet are on the ground but our head is in the Heavens. If we dwell in the sukkah, we will be saved. “Kavai el Hashem ... Hope to Hashem! Strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem!”