The Chovos HaLevavos starts out Shaar Habitchon’s introduction with the following idea, “If someone places trust in any entity other than Hashem, Hashem withdraws His Providence from upon him and leaves him in the hands of the one in whom he placed his trust.” Meaning that if you trust in God, He will always have your back. But if you trust in something else, i.e the stock market, your boss, your own wits…. well good luck to you.
How far are we expected to take this mitzvah? Ideally, to its ultimate end. But are we really going to keep that mindset say… when you just bought a new house and then you lose you job? That’s a huge challenge and hopefully we’re never tested in such a way. But imagine if you were and you stuck it out. Then low and behold, God had your back! You got a new job, with better pay, and it was with someone you admired in your field! Not only did you come out ahead, but you developed your bitachon. Then to top it all off, you get MERIT for doing it because it’s a mitzvah to trust in God.
Well, what if there were a way to get the merit for trusting God in such a scenario, but you didn’t really have to go through the danger of losing your job? Well guess what…
Enter The Sukkah
I was helping my friend Joshua build his sukkah this year. As he lowered his zip tied metal poles and wrapped straw from his balcony, his neighbors passed us on the way to their cars. The perplexed look on their 20 something faces prefaced their question, “What are you guys doing?” To which I replied with gleeful sincerity, “Building a hut for our religious festival.” Their expressions seemed to communicate, Oh how nice. But then upon thinking about it a half second longer, wait what? Which prompted their next question, “Why?”
“Because we believe when we were living in the desert, God protected and comforted us and this is a way to get back in touch with that.” I don’t know if that’s actually the reason, but it sounded good. The neighbors continued on and Joshua and I proceeded to construct his sukkah.
But the mitzvah of sukkah is so bizarre, you do kinda have to lean into the absurdity of it when talking to people unfamiliar with the holiday. For one week we leave our houses, not when it is in comfortable spring time, but just as it is starting to turn cold and rainy (in most regions) and we essentially camp out. It’s pretty odd. Silliness aside, it really is an act of faith. What if it rains? What if it is really hot? Ants? Mosquitos? Air quality from fires? But you see that’s where the bitachon comes in. That’s the scenario that is like being fired but still trusting in God.
When we go through uneasy and unsure times, it forces us to reflect and redefine everything. Do I really need to be spending $15 a month on Netflix when all I watch is The Office? Do I really need to spend money on a gym when there are a thousand Youtube fitness videos? In essence, uneasy times pulls us out of our comfort zones. Which by definition is uncomfortable.
However, the miracle of the sukkah is that it takes us out of our comfort zone while being not only comfortable, but joyous and beautiful. Sukkot gives us the opportunity to experience living with the bare minimum and in doing so we rediscover what is really important. It’s like we’re being thrown out on the street in a holy and joyous way! But then to top it all off, if it is too hot, there are too many mosquitos, or it starts raining… you don’t have to do it! You still get the mitzvah points. What other mitzvah is there that if it is too uncomfortable you get excused from the obligation? It’s a pretty sweet deal!
Source of Protection is a Source of Power
As I alluded to above, God took care of the Jewish people during their 40 years in the desert. The 12 tribes were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, which shaded, cooled, and protected them. It’s these Clouds of Glory which is what the sukkah harkens back to and its that protection in particular which we aim to recapture.
But there’s something even more profound given by the sukkah as the Ramchal writes in Derech Hashem (The Way of God).
Besides the physical benefit of providing shelter and protection, these Clouds also provided an important spiritual benefit. Just as these Clouds caused Israel to be set apart and elevated physically, they likewise were responsible for the transmission of the Essence of Illumination that make them unique. As a result they were differentiated for all peoples and literally elevated and removed from the physical world itself. Israel thus became the highest of all the nations of the world…. This is the concept that is renewed every Sukkos through the sukkah itself.
It’s a pretty mind blowing sentiment to think that the prominence of the Jewish people comes simply from sitting in the sukkah. But I think what the Ramchal is getting at is that bitachon/trust is one of the most powerful character traits one can aspire to master. When you meet someone who is truly secure and clearly “not in it for themselves” they radiate a sort of charisma. And given the Chovos HaLevavos’s statement I opened the blog with, that when a person trusts in nothing else other than God, they are always cared for and supported. Then we can appreciate that the sukkah is a powerful tool to exercise that bitachon, bestowing upon us this distinguishing power of illumination.
The Test of the Non Jews
Lastly, there is a prophecy discussed in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2b). In the end of days when God judges the world, the non Jews will get one more test and they’ll be given the mitzvah of sukkah to complete. Then while sitting in the sukkah God will make the sun scorchingly hot. At that point the non Jews will give up and go back inside, but not before kicking the sukkah in anger, losing out on the mitzvah.
But as I said before, if the sukkah is uncomfortable you’re free from the obligation. So why would they lose out on the mitzvah? It’s all in the kick which demonstrates they missed the entire point of the sukkah; trusting in God.
As we go into the holiday, we are taken out of our homes, given a new perspective, and an opportunity to realign in the most special and joyous way. Dwelling in the sukkah allows us to recharge while appreciating what we have, opposed to focusing on what we don’t. We rely on God for a comfortable and refreshing experience and in doing so we recharge our bitachon batteries. And if it isn’t pleasant, we’re free to abandon our spiritual shacks, knowing we still get the benefit. Because really what bitachon is all about is knowing that even if it looks bad, everything God does for us is actually a tremendous kindness. When we can appreciate life on that level, we become the shining inspiration we were always meant to be.