The Talmud in Tractate Avodah Zarah talks about the future. It details for us a scenario that will occur after the final redemption, when the G-d of the Jews and His Torah are known and accepted by all of mankind. The entire world will see the great reward meted to the small nation that endured an incessant exile while following the Torah scrupulously. Then the idol-worshippers from other nations will line up before G-d and complain, “what about us?” Had we been given the Torah we, too, would surely have kept it! Why are you only rewarding the Jewish people?” The Talmud tells us that G-d makes a deal. “All right,” He tells them. “I’ll give you one easy mitzvah. If you observe it correctly, fine. However, if you do not, then your complaints are meaningless.
The Talmud tells us He will give them the mitzvah of Sukkah. G-d will then take out the sun in all its glory and the protection of the Sukkah will be no match for its rays. These idol-worshippers, predicts the Talmud, will kick the walls of the Sukkah and flee in disgust.
There are many mitzvos in the Torah. 613 to be exact. And there are quite a number of difficult ones. Some are conducive to despair and disheartenment without a broiling sun. Why, then, was the mitzvah of Sukkah chosen to be the cause celebre that differentiates our commitment to that of an idolator?
Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his first book of the Magid Series tells the story of a Reb Avraham who was about to enter a restaurant one late spring afternoon. Upon entering, he noticed a familiar vagrant Jew, known to all as Berel the beggar, meandering outside.
Reb Berel, rumor had it, was a formidable Torah scholar back in the old country, but had his life shattered physically and emotionally by Nazi atrocities. He was a recluse, no one knew exactly where or how he lived: but he bothered no one, and not too many people bothered with him.
Reb Avraham asked the loner to join him for a meal. He was about to make a business trip up to Binghamton and figured that he might as well prepare for the trip with more than a hot meal – he would begin it with a good deed.
Reb Berel gladly accepted the offer; however, when it came time to order, he asked for nothing more than two baked apples and a hot tea. Reb Avraham’s prodding could do nothing to increase the poor man’s order. “All I need are two baked apples and a steaming tea,” he insisted.
Reb Avraham’s trip to Binghamton was uneventful until the rain and the darkness began to fall almost simultaneously. As if dancing in step, the darker it got, the heavier the deluge fell. All Reb Avraham remembered was the skidding that took him over the divider and into oncoming traffic on Route 17 in Harriman, New York. He came to shortly after two tow trucks had pulled his wrecked car from a ditch and lifted him to safety. Refusing hospitalization, he was driven to a nearby motel that was owned by the Friedmans, a Jewish couple who were readying the place for the summer migrations.
Mr. Friedman saw the battered Reb Avraham and quickly prepared a comfortable room for him. His wife quickly prepared a little something for him to eat. She brought it out to a shocked and bewildered Reb Avraham. On her serving tray were two baked apples and a glass of steaming tea.
When the Jews left Egypt, they had nothing to look at in the vast desert but faith. They built simple huts, almost in declaration: “Hashem we will do ours, we are sure You will do yours.” And those simple huts, those Sukkos, protected them from the heat, the cold, the wind, and the unknown. Hashem tells the prophet Jeremiah to tell his folk, “I remember the kindness of your youth as you followed Me in an unsowed desert.” (Jeremiah 2:2)
Perhaps when the final redemption arrives, it will again be the simple Sukkah that will stand as the protectorate and advocate of the People who stood for 2,000 years in the face of idolators, who invited the Jews to join them… or die. So, when we enter the Sukkah this year, let us remember that it is only a small Sukkah stop on a long journey home. And when we arrive there, the Sukkah will be there once again to greet us as it was more than 3,300 years ago in the Sinai Desert. After all, it’s nice to be served at the end of a 2,000-year-long journey with just desserts.
Many people wrote to me about the first words of my Yom Kippur drasha in which I labeled Yom Kippur, “the penultimate day of repentance.”
They correctly commented that penultimate does not mean the final day, rather it means the next to last.
That so, they responded, Yom Kippur is the ultimate day of repentance.
Good News. According to many commentaries the final — final day of judgement is Hoshana Rabbah. (That is when the messengers go out to do their job) So perhaps we can call Yom Kippur, PENultimate. Otherwise, I do apologize, consider it a slip of the pen!
Have a wonderful Yom Tov!
Mordechai Kamenetzky – Yeshiva of South Shore
516-328-2490 Fax 516-328-2553
for drasha http://www.torah.org/learning/drasha
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
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Books by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky: