Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Erev Succos – Z’man Simchaseinu
    14 Tishrei 5780/October 13, 2019

            Last week, for Shabbos Shuva, the ninth graders and Bais Medrash of our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, enjoyed a special shabbaton (the rest of the yeshiva had a shabbaton a few weeks prior). The shabbaton was held on the grounds of Camp Nageela in the Catskills Mountains, in Fallsburg, NY. On Friday afternoon, not long before Shabbos, there was a very professional sounding announcement over the building’s PA system welcoming the yeshiva and everyone who came for the shabbaton, especially Rabbi Dani Staum. No one seemed to know who had made the announcement and why I merited a personal shout out., except me.

            Ironically, the announcement was made from Chesterfield, Missouri. My older brother, Rabbi Yitzie Staum, is the head counsleor of Camp Nageela during the summer. He therefore has access to the PA system, as well as all the security cameras from his cell phone. He heard that Heichal was having a shabbaton and that I would be there. After confirming that I had arrived, he made the announcement from his home in Chesterfield, MO.

            It was quite fascinating (and a bit unnerving) to have been welcomed and viewed from afar.

            The mitzvah of succah is most unique. It is the only mitzvah one performs with his entire body (with the exception of living in Eretz Yisrael). The Kotzker Rebbe quipped that in the succah even the mud on one’s boots become holy. (Symbolically, that means that even with a person’s spiritual mud - his failings and sins, he can enter the succah and bask in its holiness.)
            The Gemara Succah details many fascinating and unique leniencies that apply to succah, including lavud, (gaps of three tefachim are halachically considered sealed), gud achis and gud asik (gaps between the ground and the bottom of the wall or gaps between the top of the wall and the s’chach - even sizable gaps - are considered non-existent), and dofen akumah (invalid covering of a succah such as an overhang doesn’t invalidate a succah because it’s considered like “a bent wall” and not part of the succah). As long as there is a halachically valid succah, even if it combines all of the aforementioned leniencies, it possesses the incredible sanctity of the succah. As soon as one steps out of the confines of the succah however, none of that kedusha is present.
            Like the public address system at Camp Nageela, the holiness of the succah only extends to its own borders. As long as I was in the main building of Camp Nageela, I was within range to be able to hear my brother’s announcement, despite the fact that he was a great distance away. But as soon as I left Camp Nageela’s campus, I could no longer hear his voice or be viewed on their cameras.
            There is another mitzva we fulfill on Succos - taking and shaking the Four Species. The Gemara explains that when we shake the Four Species we are symbolizing that G-d controls the winds in all four directions of the world.
            It’s inconceivable that these two encompassing mitzvos performed during the same holiday have no connection with each other. In fact, the Arizal cites a custom to shake the Four Species specifically in the succah.
            The Succah symbolizes that there are special designated places and times that contain added levels of Shechina, places where the soul can bask and absorb added layers of sanctity and connection with its Creator. In time, we have Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. In place, there is Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim, and every Shul and Bais Medrash throughout the world. On Succos, that level of Shechina can be found wherever one erects a succah according to the dictates of halacha.
            The deeper symbolism is that our homes too can and should be places of kedusha. Perhaps better said, our homes can be islands of sanctity in an often spiritually impoverished society. Wherever a family strives to build a home according to the dictates of halacha, and whenever a family yearns and strives to make their home a place where G-‘s Presence feels “at home”, the Shechina is manifest.
            Indeed, the avodah of Shemini Atzeres is most challenging and formidable - to take the kedusha of the succah into our homes, where it will remain all year.
            In a different vein, the Four Species remind us that G-d’s “watchful eye” is over the entire world. There is no place in the world beyond His purview. Every tempest, blizzard, thunderstorm, and falling leaf is part of His divine hashgacha. Not every place is holy, but every place is within God’s view, as it were.
            In a sense, one can choose to embrace the message and significance of the succah. It’s up to us to try to absorb and imbibe the holiness of the succah. But there is no escaping the divine eye of Providence, which is the poignant message of the Four Species. (It should be added that Rekanti, an early commentator, notes that each of the four species correspond to one of the letters of G-d’s Four-Letter Name.)
            While I love my brother and admittedly don’t see him and his family enough, it would be too invasive if he would be able to project his voice wherever I go. But it was cute to have that feeling of closeness, even at a distance, while I was on the grounds of Camp Nageela.
            On a far more profound level that is the experience we pine for on Succos. What an opportunity! May we all use it well.
            Let me conclude by saying, R’ Yitzie, thanks for the personal shout out, and for giving me an idea for yet another brilliant Musings.

Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum