Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Ghosts in the Succah

Zalman Velvel
Ben placed the four metal bars that formed a 9’ x 12’ rectangle on the ground. Then he connected the uprights and metal rails for the top and bottom and middle. He stared up at the sun and smiled. The weather was perfect during early October in Israel – cool, breezy mornings and nights, sunny and dry daytime hours, hardly any insects around. At his home in the United States, it was hot and humid at this time of year, and if you were outside, your blood would be slowly drained by mosquitoes.
Ben threaded four large pieces of material through the top and bottom rails for walls. Each “wall” had either a cloth window or a door to let in air. He bent down, ignoring the pain in his back, picked up seven wooden boards and rested them along the top. He hoisted up the roll of schoch, thin wooden sticks 3 meters wide that were tied together, and unrolled the schoch along the boards to make the roof. While he did this, he tried once again, to pronounce schoch. It was very difficult for an English speaker.
He stood inside the booth, and looked up. More than half of the sunlight was shaded out, which meant it was kosher … it was correct. He stepped outside the booth and raised two of the corners by placing flat stones under them. The structure was now level. He then stepped inside once again and spread an old mat that he had borrowed over the dirt floor.
He went into his house and retrieved a table and four chairs, a cot, and an overhead light. He set the table and chairs in the middle of the succah, the cot on the side against the wall, attached the light to one of the top rails, then connected it to an extension cord.
Ben stood back and admired it – his first succah. After a half a century, he built his first succah alongside his house in Israel in the hills of the Shomron. It was the first succah in his family in almost 70 years.
70 years.
That was 30 years more than the 40 years the Jewish people dwelled in succahs while they wandered around in the dessert more than 3,000 years ago, completely taken care of by God.
God provided manna and clouds of glory as cover from the elements. There were no challenges of finding food, staying comfortable, replacing clothes, even going to the bathroom. There were no challenges at all until the generation with a slave mentality died off. God wanted that generation to disappear from the earth, they were a generation with little faith, not much courage, ungrateful to the core, who wanted all their needs to be taken care of like children.
Ben broker the holiday down to five basic commandments that were listed in the Bible : 1) dwell in the succah for seven days 2) do not do any work the first or last day 3) wave the lulav and esrog 4) be happy with one’s harvest and 5) celebrate God.
2) was welcome. Ben could use a good rest after working hard during the  year.
3) was taken care of by the lulav and the expensive esrog he purchased from the local Chabad rabbi that were waiting on the table.
4) was easy. It was a profitable year in his real estate business, his bank account showed it, and he felt quite happy with his harvest.
5) for this, he had a large expensive bottle of Gray Goose vodka chilling in the freezer. He planned on toasting l’chaims to God, while thanking Him for the ability to provide well for himself in a world that oftentimes felt selfish and unyielding.
As for 1), dwelling in the succah, that was entirely another matter.
What was meant by dwelling in a succah?
One Jewish authority stated that dwelling meant that you waved the lulav and the esrog inside the succah each day, as well as eating all your meals, entertaining company, praying and studying there. Another rabbinic authority stated all of the above were good, and added that one must also sleep each night in the succah.
That was the tough one. Ben never liked camping out, and this was exactly what it felt like … but even less protected. A tent could be closed up tight at night. A succah was open to the world at the corners, through the soch in the roof, and under the metal bars near the ground.
For what possible reason could God want me to go through this experience, Ben wondered? I’m not a wandering Jew anymore, I’m a bal tchuvah, a returnee. I most certainly am not a dweller in booths that are open to the world. But … in order to perform the commandments of Sukkot, Ben had to be a dweller in a booth, and if God ordered it that way, then so be it.
Perhaps God knew what He was doing after all, he thought. Then he laughed.
Ben looked at the clock. It was an hour before sundown. He showered and changed inside the house, and then headed for the synagogue in the yeshuv. He nodded hello to the people he knew while attending the evening service. He stayed after and read the Torah, postponing the dwelling experience as long as he could.
He walked back to his home alone in the dark, the only person on the street. On each side of him were the succahs of the people in his community. Every house had a succah. Every house. Back in the United States, he shared a large succah that his synagogue built. Few people there had their own succah. Here in Israel, in this little town, everyone had one.
Families were singing songs and laughing. Ben could see their shadows on the material that made up their walls. They were not isolated and disconnected in their houses, they were open to each other. People were having a good time together, and Ben could hear it and share in the joy.
When Ben arrived at the small Israeli town three days ago, word spread through the community of 100 families that he was alone; Ben’s family did  not join him. He had been invited to various friends’ succahs in the yeshuv, but he politely turned the warm and generous invitations down, saying he wanted to spend the time in his own succah … he wanted to be alone with God. His religious neighbors smiled and nodded their heads, knowingly.
But what they did not know, and Ben did not tell them, was that he had an appointment with three ghosts.
© Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
You may print this story for yourself, but not make copies without author's permission.

Über den Author: stuv