By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Sukkos, 5634
Let's work with the first ma'amar of 5634.
A central feature of the sukka -- indeed, the feature that gives the
sukka its name -- is the sekhach (the materials used to make the roof
of the sukka). The Sfas Emes begins by showing us something that is
totally obvious once he has pointed it out; but was totally
non-obvious until he did so. The Sfas Emes notes that the sukka
resembles a chupa (wedding canopy). And just as the wedding ceremony
under the chupa completes the binding of a wife and her husband
together, so, too, the sukka completed the sanctification (the
kiddushin) of our special relationship with HaShem. For, continues
the Sfas Emes, HaShem's taking us out of Egypt was in the nature of a
marriage. Thus, HaShem says (Vayikra, 22:32-33): "Ani HaShem
me'kadish'chem, ha'motzi es'chem meiEretz Mitzrayim ... ".
(ArtScroll: "I am HaShem Who sanctifies you, Who took you out of the
land of Egypt ...")
As you see, faithful to its mission of presenting the pshat pashut --
the simple rendering of the text -- ArtScroll reads the word
"me'kadish'chem" as "sanctifies". By contrast, faithful to his mission
-- giving us access to new, mind-stretching insights -- the Sfas Emes
is reading "me'kadish'chem" as "Who has taken you as His wife". This
is standard usage for the word "me'kadesh"; for example, in the
expression "chupa ve'kiddushin". And with the Sfas Emes's reading of
me'kadish'chem, the sekhach on top of the sukka becomes the chupa of
Bnei Yisroel with HaShem.
But in the Heavenly Court, kitrug (criticism) is heard: Why should
Bnei Yisroel be selected over all other nations for this special
relationship with HaShem? Looking objectively at the proposed
shidduch, one might conclude that it was unfair. Even worse, the
shidduch did not seem to make sense as a viable long-term
relationship. Note that the issue of Klal Yisroel's special
relationship with HaShem -- our being the "chosen people" -- continues
to bother some people to this very day.
The Sfas Emes draws our attention to the way HaShem -- the presumptive
choson (bridegroom) -- dealt with this criticism concerning His
singling out Bnei Yisroel to be His kallah (bride) The Choson reacted
not with words or with reasoning. Rather, recognizing that what was
involved love -- which can be impervious to words or to reasoning --
the Choson reacted by proceeding swiftly to the wedding ceremony.
That is, by having us come forward immediately to the chupa! Thus,
recounting what happened soon after the Exodus, HaShem tells us
(VaYikra 23, 43): "Ki ba'sukkos ho'shavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzi'i
o'sam MeiEretz Mitzrayim". ("For when I took Bnei Yisroel from the
Land of Egypt, I had them dwell in Sukkos".)
The Sfas Emes has given us a powerful "take-home" lesson to deepen our
understanding and enjoyment of the Yom Tov. The message is simple:
when we enter the Sukka, we should feel the sentiments that a choson
(or a kallah) feels when he/she stands under the chupa.
What might those sentiments be? Three possibilities come to mind. One
possibility is a feeling of great joy. That state of mind comes from
being next to one's beloved, with whom he/she is about to commit for a
Another possibility -- these are not mutually exclusive -- involves
one's relationship with HaShem. That is, standing under the chupa, a
person may feel great gratitude to the One Who made the shidduch . In
turn, this sense of gratitude can bring the person extraordinarily
close to HaShem. Indeed, so close that this is a very favorable time
to daven for any special request.
A third possibility for a person's feelings under the chupa also comes
to mind. He/she may be quivering with doubts about the wisdom of the
step they are taking. This case resembles the experience of HaShem and
Bnei Yisroel -- the case that the Sfas Emes discussed earlier in this
ma'amar. There, too, there was cause for much uncertainty about the
suitability of the marriage.. Chazal tell us that bringing a couple
together in marriage is similar to the miracle of splitting Yam Suf.
As we know, that miracle had to be triggered by a leap of faith:
"Nachshon kofatz le'soch hayam". So, too, recall how the choson and
kallah discussed earlier in this ma'mar dealt with their uncertainty
and doubts about the shidduch. They questions and doubts. They
plunged forward, committing to a deeper, more solid relationship, one
which -- history has shown -- could be made to last forever.
A Post Script.
As we have seen, the Sfas Emes views the choson and kalla coming
together under a canopy as a symbol that concludes acquiring
something. In the present case, he has in mind HaShem's kinyan of Bnei
Yisroel. But to conclude his discussion of this issue, he cites
another case in which someone completed a kinyan by providing sukkos.
The context in that other case is Ya'akov Avinu's return from Lavan to
Eretz Yisroel. The Sfas Emes quotes the pasuk in Bereishis (33:17):
"... u'lemik'neihu ahsa Sukkos". ("ArtScroll: "... and for his
cattle, he made shelters.") The Sfas Emes notes the "sound-alikes"
("mi'kneihu" = "his cattle"; "kinyan" = "an acquisition ").
Accordingly, he makes the obvious word-associations. Thus he reads
this phrase as saying: " ... he made sukkos for what he had acquired".
The Sfas Emes offers us this non-pshat in support of his idea that a
sukka can complete and solidify a relationship. Truly a thought to
bear in mind when we dwell in our Sukka this Yom Tov.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.