Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Erev Yom Tov Succos

14 Tishrei 5771/September 22, 2010

One of the stressors about flying is the need to have an updated passport. A number of months ago when I decided to travel to Eretz Yisroel I realized that my passport had expired. It was a cumbersome process to get an appointment at the post-office for a rush order. I also needed to have an updated picture of myself to send out with the passport application. I went to a studio where they take passport pictures and posed. They were very accommodating and allowed me to take the picture a number of times. I happen to be a relatively photogenic person and it was incredible that no matter how many times he took the picture it still was a rather lousy portrait. After two or three times, I agreed to take the best of the bunch and just be done with it.

It is something that always intrigued me. I don’t think I ever saw a passport photo that truly bore a resemblance to its bearer. To be truthful, it does look like its bearer, albeit after he stuck his finger in a socket and was struck by lightning.

The same holds true for driver’s license pictures. Why can’t anyone look half decent in those pictures? I once read a story about a woman who was pulled over by a cop and then said that she did not have her license with her. When the cop informed her that she was going to get an extra hefty ticket the woman admitted that she indeed had her license with her. She agreed to show it to the cop… if he promised not to look at the picture.

I am happy to state that I now know that answer to my inquiry. Your passport picture is exactly what you look like - after a ten hour flight replete with airline meals and turbulence, passing through security, and waiting for your luggage at the carousel.

One of the focal points of the holiday of Succos is eating and living in the succah. The gemara cites a dispute as to the source of this beloved mitzvah. The noted opinion (Rabbi Eliezer) is that the succah reminds us of the Clouds of Glory which enveloped and protected our forefathers in the desert. There is a second opinion however (Rabbi Akiva) who opines that our succos remind us of the succos (literal huts) that our forefathers lived in while they traveled through the desert.

The second opinion is quite puzzling. What made their huts so fascinating that we seek to mimic them by building our own huts and living in them during the week-long holiday?

Traveling undoubtedly takes its toll on any sane person. When one is in the midst of getting bumped off his flight, is pursuing a flight, or arguing with security about the potential danger of your tefillin, he is hardly able to concentrate and study with serenity. Throughout their sojourns in the desert, our forefathers were charged with accepting and studying the Torah, and transmitting it to their children as the initial progenitors of G-d’s Word. That hardly seems feasible when you are always traveling.

That was the greatness of those huts. Despite the fact that they were nothing but flimsy huts in a parched vulnerable desert, our ancestors were able to feel at home in those huts, so much so that they were able to learn and understand the depths of the Torah which they learned firsthand from Moshe. To be able to feel at home and in the embrace of G-d, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances, to never look as bad as your passport picture even while traveling - that is the celebration of Succos.

In conclusion I am happy to report that I now understand the answer to my second question. License pictures are taken to resemble what you look like… just when you notice the blaring lights in your rearview mirror.

Good Yom Tov & Chag Samayach

R’ Dani and Chani Staum