Home October 2011 Solidarity


“In huts you shall dwell for seven days; all citizens of Israel shall live in huts.”
From a literal reading of the text, it would appear that only citizens – not strangers – are included in the mitzvah of this holiday.  Yet Rashi, Rambam and others note that all people, geyrim v’toshavim (strangers and settlers) have an equal part in this beautiful commandment.  Quite prevalent is the commentary of the Rashbam who says that the citizen of Israel is mentioned to show that everyone, even someone with a home must leave his house and become homeless.  Taking this concept a step further, the mitzvah of sukkah shows solidarity between Jews with comfortable homes and Jews who must wander without shelter.
By understanding the mitzvah in this manner, we can easily shift it from the realm of a mitzvah between man and God to a mitzvah between man and man.  The mitzvah of gemilut chesed (loving kindness) is a two step commandment.  On one hand, we are commanded to do all in our power to assist the needy and/or the forsaken.  This is basic chesed (kindness) as we know it.  Nevertheless, our practical assistance is oftentimes useless and even impossible to provide.  After all, who can provide all of the housing, food and clothing to those in need?
When positive chesed is impractical, the Torah calls upon us to, at the very least, empathize and understand the plight of the unfortunate.  When the citizen of Israel cannot provide shelter for the stranger he must, at the very least, show solidarity with the less fortunate.  When we identify with those who do not yet have the same comforts that we have, a bonding occurs.  The stranger realizes that he can look forward to a future as part of klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael (the community of Israel in the Land of Israel) while, at the same time, the citizen looks to the past and sees that he, too, was once a stranger.  “So that your generations shall know that I placed the children of Israel in huts as I took them out of Egypt.”  The mitzvah of sukkah levels the playing field for both the stranger and the citizen.
By extending our focus to this interpretation of the mitzvah of sukkah as an extension of chesed, the entirety of the mitzvah becomes clear.  It is stated “. . . . . someone who is mitzta’er (uncomfortable) is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah.”  All of the commentators ask why this mitzvah – to the exclusion of all others – is based on comfort!  According to our chesed interpretation, the reason is obvious.  Someone who is pained while performing the mitzvah of sukkah cannot show solidarity with those to whom pain is a way of life.
The Torah mandates the happiness of the holiday of Sukkot.  We are taught that we must bring joy and happiness into the lives of the less fortunate.  We must identify with them.  Additionally, the Rambam indicates that when you eat your festival meal, you must also provide for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.  The true fulfillment of the mitzvah of sukkah in our time is solidarity with those who are less fortunate and a commitment to bring happiness into their lives.
The message of Sukkot is that we are all one:  The stranger looks forward to a bright and productive future while the citizen looks to the past and sees from where he came.

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