06. A Temporary Residence

God wanted to bestow good upon us, so He chose us from among all the nations, brought us out of slavery, and gave us the Holy Land – a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So that we uphold the Torah and mitzvot in this land, we plant trees and build homes in it, eat of its fruit, and are satisfied by its bounty. In the land, we live our entire lives in holiness, thus fully revealing the divine, through body and soul, in all areas of life.

However, a great danger lurks as well, waiting to ambush us: as we reside in sturdy homes and enjoy abundant harvests, we are prone to becoming arrogant and forgetting the Lord our God and our mission in this world (which, after all, is the reason God took us out of Egypt). Sins could multiply to such an extent that we would lose the good land and be exiled. We would be forced to live among the nations, growing their fruits, and enriching them. Indeed, the Torah warns us about this danger:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God – Who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; Who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, Who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; Who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end – and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is the Lord your God Who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case. If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish…. (Devarim 8:11-19)

This is why we are commanded specifically during the festival of ingathering, when we celebrate all the produce that grew in our fields, to dwell in a sukka, a temporary residence. We are thus reminded of the fleeting nature of human life, of being slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and of the forty years we wandered in the wilderness and resided in makeshift booths (based on Rashbam to Vayikra 23:43).

Let us elaborate further. Comfortably living at home is likely to mislead a person to believe that the walls of his home can protect him from all trials and tribulations. However, in truth, one’s life in this world is temporary, and even the strongest and best homes cannot protect one from disease, natural disaster, and war. And even if someone survives all these and lives to a ripe old age, eventually his time runs out; it becomes clear that his stay in this world was temporary. And even during all the years when he was privileged to reside tranquilly in his secure home, the tranquility and protection were from God. One who does not live with this awareness is living a lie; he thinks that the more he invests in the frivolities of this world, the more stable and the better his life will be. The truth is that the more he connects his activities in this world to the Source of life and to eternal values, the more meaningful, good, and truly happy his life will be. (See section 9, below, about Kohelet.)

Leaving our secure homes and entering the sukka on Sukkot allows us to absorb all these foundational lessons. It is for this reason that the sukka is referred to as “the shade of faith” (tzila di-mehemnuta). The timing of Sukkot is precise. Just before the winter arrives, and just as we are about to return to our homes for protection from the cold, wind, and rain, we are commanded to sit in the sukka and remember that God is our true guard and protector. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain on it; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain” (Tehilim 127:1).

In the merit of our living in temporary residences which connect us to faith, God will allow His Shekhina to dwell in our midst. He will spread His canopy of peace over us and rebuild for all time the fallen sukka of David (the Davidic dynasty) and the Temple. We will live securely in permanent homes in the good land that God promised to our ancestors and to us, as we read:

On that day, I will set up again the fallen booth of David, I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old…when the mountains shall drip wine and all the hills shall wave [with grain]. I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; they shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them – said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:11-15)

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman