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Is Your Sukkah Cramped or Spacious? It Depends on You

on Tuesday, October 3 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

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The Shulchan Aruch (634:1) rules that the minimum size of a kosher sukkah is 7 tefachim by 7 tefachim or approximately 2.5 x 2.5 ft.  To you give you an idea of how small that is, it’s less than half the size of my desk.  Indeed, the Mishna Berura says as long as the sukkah can hold rosho v’rubo v’miktzas shulchano, as long as the sukkah can hold your head, most of your body and part of your table, it is kosher.

Rav Yankele Galinsky notes that Pesach and Sukkos have many similarities and parallels such as having to eat a certain measure the first night and waiting to make Kiddush until nightfall.  Nevertheless, there is a glaring difference.  On Pesach we spread out, recline and dine like royalty. By contrast, on Sukkos, we squeeze and squish into our fragile, flimsy temporary small huts.  Once we are all inside, pressed up against one another, what do we do?  Azamin l’seudasi ushpizin ila’in, we invite guests to come join us.  Not only do we welcome Avraham, Yitzchak, etc. but v’imach kol ushpizei ila’ei, come one, come all, plenty of room for everyone.  Where?

Israeli war hero and Statesman Moshe Dayan was once stopped for speeding by a military policeman. Dayan argued:  “I only have one eye.  What do you want me to watch – the speedometer or the road?”

The quality of so much of our life experience is contingent on which eye we use to see.  It is not so contingent on what we see, but rather how we see.  The Mishna in Avos (5:22) encourages us to be the students of Avraham Avinu and not Bilam HaRasha.  Avraham is characterized by having an ayin tova, a good eye, while Bilam lived with an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye.

Living with a good eye, a kind, optimistic, positive and magnanimous view, and an ayin ra’ah, a negative, stingy, judgmental, pessimistic, and intolerant view, are not mutually exclusive.  In reality, we all have both, and employ different pairs of eyes depending on the moment, the circumstances, and our mood.

In marriage, in parenting, in friendships, and in life, there are times we are in a place with someone in which they can do no wrong.  We feel particularly close to them for whatever reason at that moment and so when they do things that would otherwise bother us, we don’t notice, we give them the benefit of the doubt, we laugh away their idiosyncrasy, we excuse their behavior, and we see them only with our ayin tova.

Other times, however, when we feel alienated or distanced from someone, we see them exclusively through our ayin ra’ah, negative eye, and they can do absolutely no right.  They have wronged us even before they get out of bed in the morning.  The smallest slight, otherwise normal behavior on their part, grates at us, irritates us, and drives us crazy.

What determines if we are looking at our husband or wife, our son or daughter, our friend, neighbor or co-worker, the person sitting next to us in shul, with an ayin tova or an ayin ra’ah?  Certainly their behavior and choices influence how we see them, but all else being equal, in circumstances when they are behaving the same way but we are in a different place, the only thing that determines our perspective and viewpoint—and by extension our relationships and happiness—is us.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (7a) says that when a couple’s love is strong they can sleep on the edge of a sword with room leftover.  When their love is weak, a bed that is sixty amos (90 feet wide) will feel cramped. The bed is an objective size; the blanket has fixed dimensions.  What determines if it feels cramped or spacious?  Our perspective and our view.

Rav Galinsky explains that Sukkos is the holiday of unity.  We have spent the Yamim Noraim bonding, reconciling, repairing our relationships and striving for a level of v’yeiasu kulam agudah achas, to be together as one.  We feel a closeness, a bond and a love and therefore we see with an ayin tova, giving others the benefit of the doubt, being tolerant of our differences, choosing to dismiss slights and hurts and see the good in each person.

On Pesach we have four sons and four cups. On sukkos we have four species, but there is a huge difference.  Each of Pesach’s four sons has his own independent question and we give each an individual answer.  The four cups at the Seder are invalid if consumed in combination and must instead be taken in one at a time, sh’saan b’vas achas lo yatza. (Pesachim 105b).

The four species of Sukkos, however, must be taken b’agudah achas, in one unit to be Kosher, they have to be bundled together.

Our sukkos are objectively small, close quarters.  We have a three-day Yom Tov, we are eating six meals in a row with family, and in many cases extended family.  Will we feel cramped, crowded and confined?  Will we be going crazy, needing our space, craving a break?  Or, will our sukkah feel roomy, spacious, and with plenty of room for others to join?  Will we look forward to the next meal and more conversation?

The answer is not found in the dimensions of our sukkah, or in the quality of the food or even in the behavior of our guests.  It is found in ourselves.  If we put on our ayin tova, there will be all the room in the world.  If we are seeing through our ayin ra’ah there isn’t a sukkah big enough in the world we will find comfortable.

Howard Schultz, the former Chairman of Starbucks, visited Israel in 2011. He wrote an article upon his return, in which related an encounter that he and a number of high-powered executives had when they met with Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir.

Gentlemen, the elderly rabbi began, who can tell me the lesson of the Holocaust? The Rabbi called on one of the men who was surprised to be singled out and he began meekly “We will never, ever forget …” the Rabbi indicated this was not the right answer…No one wanted to be called on next. Schultz avoided eye contact with the teacher so he wouldn’t be recognized. Another man spoke up saying “We should never be a victim or a bystander.”  The elderly Rabbi dismissed this answer as well.

At this point, Schultz said the entire group felt reduced to a group of elementary school students.  Then the Rabbi responded in gentle but firm voice, “Let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.  As you know, during the Holocaust, people were transported in the worst possible inhumane way, by cattle cars, convinced they were going to prisoner of war camps but ultimately they ending up in death camps. After hours and hours in the stifling crowded cattle car with no light, no bathroom, nowhere to sit, they arrived in the camps freezing cold and hungry.  The doors of the rail cars were swung wide open and the people inside were blinded by the light.

Men and women were separated, mothers were torn from their daughters and fathers from their sons, and they were herded off to bunks to sleep.  Only one person out of six was given a blanket. And at that moment, that person, who was fortunate enough to be handed that blanket, had a choice; am I going to push the blanket to the other five people who didn’t get one or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?  Am I going to give or am I going to take?  It was during this defining moment that we learn the power of the human spirit, when people pushed the blanket to five others.” With that, the Rabbi stood up and said “take your blanket, take it home and push it to five other people.”

This Sukkos, let’s see our blanket, our sukkah and our love as big enough to share with other people.


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