Supervising my somewhat willing helpers in the succah, while hanging our decorative memorabilia collected from our extensive travels all over the world, I quietly reflected to myself about the nature of this beautiful and happy holiday. Here in Israel the weather is not that much of a factor and only rarely does it play a role in our observance of the commandment of dwelling in a succah for a week. The sun usually shines here and the weather is still quite warm. So, like many other aspects of Jewish life, the Torah apparently meant for the holiday of Succot to be spent and enjoyed in the Holy Land with the special climate and ambience that exists there.
However, the holiday has been celebrated by Jews for most of our history in less than ideal weather and social conditions. I remember the snow on the roof of the succah on bitterly cold days in Chicago and later in Monsey. I also recall the oppressive heat and humidity of Miami Beach where all of our guests were issued towels in order to be able to mop the sweat off of their faces during the meal.
Since the holiday itself represents the ability to live outside of the physical comforts and habitats of ordinary life and to exist in a special spiritual “house of Godly clouds” Jews overcame all physical impediments in order to properly celebrate and commemorate this glorious and beautiful holiday.
This idea of Succot - of being able to live in the physical and spiritual worlds at one and the same time – truly encompasses the entire viewpoint of the Torah regarding human life and behavior. Most of the year we emphasize the fact that we live in a physical and rational world and conduct our lives accordingly. But even then there is a portion of us that recognizes that we are living in a spiritual and eternal world as well and that our actions influence that unseen and intangible existence.
On the holiday of Succot we actually attempt to live, at least for seven days, in this unseen world, the world that will be our true and eternal home after our “real” world ends. On Succot our real and ordinary world is sublimated to this great “other world”. Dwelling in the succah engenders within us the feeling of already participating in the sweetness of “the world to come.”
If we deal with the succah as a purely physical project then we will always experience difficulties and perhaps even discomfort. However, if we truly visualize it as being a house of “clouds of glory” then all of the travail and discomfort of not living in our home with our accustomed conveniences will somehow diminish and even disappear.
As I contemplated our succah decorations from all over the world I thought to myself that this is perhaps, in a small way, a representation of the universality of the holiday. Among the other artifacts hanging in our succah is a sheep from New Zealand, a boomerang from Australia, an Asian dancer from Thailand, a flag from Croatia, decorated eggs from the Czech Republic, Navajo pottery from Utah and Colorado, Zulu dancers from South Africa, a wooden elephant from Botswana, a cowbell from Switzerland and a pinwheel from Canada. We also have a flag from Wales, an Eiffel tower from Paris, a doll from Russia, replicas of Henry VIII from London and of Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon, Indian corn from Illinois, a sombrero from Mexico, a hat from Vietnam, a lamp from Morocco, a trinket from Japan and a few other assorted odds and ends from different parts of the globe that we have been fortunate enough to visit. All of these objects, together with our guests, will enhance our celebration of the holiday of Succot here in Jerusalem.
Additionally, as is the case every year, I know that there will be many thousands of non-Jews who will also make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The words of the prophets of Israel regarding Jerusalem and the holiday of Succot come to life in front of our very eyes. What a privilege it is to live here now and rejoice in God's festival and goodness.
Rabbi Berel Wein