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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 lifetime together.

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



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