There was once a Melamed (Cheder teacher) whom a well-to-do industrialist engaged to serve as the village resident tutor for a period of time (Zman). It so happened that during this same period the prosperous businessman built himself a magnificent mansion.
During the housewarming festivities all the household members were, as can be expected, in highly celebratory and cheerful spirits. When the owner of the new home noticed that the visiting Melamed was quite caught up in the joyous festivities as well, he turned to him in surprise: "Why so much joy? After all, you are only here temporarily!"
The Melamed, who might have been of humble means but not of humble mind, quickly glanced back at the Bal-Habayis (owner/employer) and rejoined: "And you Sir? Do you think you're here forever? You too, are only here temporarily!"
Much attention is paid these days to our nation’s security. Ever since September 11, 2001, focus on securing the homeland has taken-on new significance and urgency.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, with its approximately 50,000 employees, were formed to secure the nation's transportation systems, including 450 U.S. airports.
Our nation can take true comfort in the bold measures implemented by the TSA in order to ensure the safety of the traveling public. The list of hazardous materials now banned or limited on commercial airlines, has been expanded to include items such as water, soft drinks, gels, aerosols, fingernail clippers (especially with metal file), corkscrews and lighters.
Violators, even if only accidental, may face stiff fines and even prosecution. In some scenarios it may land them on the dreaded “no-fly list.”
Oh, lest I forget, we can also be grateful for the additional protection resulting from the requirement for passengers to partially undress when passing through security check points – belt, cap, coat, and of course shoes.
Yet, there is a lingering sense of apprehension and unease. The stellar efforts of the TSA and the Homeland Security Administration notwithstanding, people find themselves worried over their security.
There still appears to remain a gap or two in our air travel safety, not to mention the hundreds of other venues and opportunities rife for terrorism and the host of additional vulnerabilities to which we find ourselves continually exposed.
9/11 seemed to have shattered the sense of security that many of us have created for ourselves. Why, I’ve heard people demand, can't the most powerful and wealthy country in the world – in this most scientifically advanced era – put an end to the nagging threat stemming from a bunch of robe-clad barbarians?
More than a desperate cry for security – a reaction to fear and vulnerability – there seems to be something far greater at stake here. There appears to be the emergence of a bitter and disappointing epiphany – the realization that man is after all not in control of his own destiny.
We have come so close to believing that we have finally been able to replace G-d with our own might – our advanced technology and skill – only to have it once again slip away. We are faced with the discovery that our ability to provide our own security and longevity is an illusion, after all.
"For heaven’s sake! we lament, will we ever be in control of our own fate? If a mighty Super-power like America cannot protect itself from a band of rouge fanatics, of what worth is all its power and might?
There is much that can be learned from the holiday of Sukkos concerning this vital topic.
During this most verdant season of the year – the time of the harvest, we are called upon to leave our comfortable, secure homes and move into temporary booths. It is difficult to understand the manner in which this festival is celebrated.
Prosperity and the power it provides are usually employed towards man's instinctive quest for security and comfort. Governments, like individuals, spare no amount of wealth and skill to acquire well-equipped and well-trained military forces, gated communities and good security devices for the sake of protection.
If we are, in fact, celebrating the festive harvest season – a time of abundance and assurance – why are we asked to leave our secure and comfortable environments in exchange for temporary frail huts? Why, in this most affluent time of year, should we take-up residence in a non-secure, non-insulated, rickety shed?
Even more perplexing is the fact that the holiday of Sukkos is synonymous with joy and happiness – it is actually referred to in our prayers as "The time of our joy." Does a flimsy, unprotected Sukkah, with a fragile and porous roof, truly symbolize prosperity and gladness?
Our observance of Sukkos is a stark reminder that our security is not complete even with the harvest reaped and our barns filled to overflowing, nor are we safe in our well fortified homes and mansions.
Judaism has, from its earliest inception maintained that security ultimately lies in the hands of the Almighty, and to place our trust and faith therein, not in our own fortresses. By dwelling in the Sukkah we are reminded that all material riches and power are illusory – here today, gone tomorrow. We understand that true safety and security are at last in the hands of a "Higher Authority."
While our insulated, centrally heated and air conditioned and gated (even alarmed) brick homes may provide a good measure of bodily comfort, its sense of security and durability may be false. There are so many threats, both natural and manmade, that can penetrate, even shatter, our secure havens in an instant.
We need only consider the events of the last few years – the most modern and scientifically advanced era in history. Of what use were our fortresses when Kassam rockets came raining down on Northern Israel?
Of what use were our secure domiciles when hurricane Katrina came barreling through Louisiana and Mississippi, or more recently, when Ike wreaked havoc in West Texas? Of what use were the mighty Twin Towers when vicious terrorists decided to fly commercial airliners into their majestic structure? And, for that matter, of what use was our mighty and sophisticated military?
Our religion has, from time immemorial, steered us away from this delusion. The Sukkah and the holiday of Sukkos teach us not to put our faith in our own power and might. Not to place all our trust in mortar and brick. It is not enough to depend solely on military and technological capabilities or, for that matter, wealth, even when our silos are filled; when we feel mighty and prosperous – and most importantly not to develop a false sense of permanence and longevity in this world. The phrase: “Happiness is ignorance – not knowing what to worry about” is truly applicable if our fate and security were left to our own devices.
This holiday underscores the fact that life is fragile and fleeting, that every moment we have on this earth is a gift from G-d and that it should be appreciated and recognized as such.
The Festival of Sukkos is a call to get our priorities in life straight.
A story is told of a visitor who chanced upon the home of the great Chassidic master Rabbi DovBer of Mezheritch. The traveler was utterly stunned by the poverty he beheld. Rabbi DovBer's home was devoid of any furniture, save for a few rough wooden planks and blocks that served as benches for his students during the day and as beds for his family at night. "How can you live like this?" exclaimed the visitor. "I myself am far from wealthy, but at least in my home you will find, thank G-d, the basic necessities: some chairs, a table, beds..."
"Indeed?" said Rabbi DovBer. "But I don't see any of your furnishings in your coach. How do you manage without them?"
"What do you mean? Do you think I would schlep all my possessions along with me wherever I go? At home it's one thing but when traveling it is a different matter altogether!"
"Ah, yes," said Rabbi DovBer. "When traveling it is a different matter altogether, you see, I too am traveling here on earth."
As we enter our fragile and volatile Sukkah with its porous and exposed covering, let us remember that our ability to secure the four sides notwithstanding, the roof always remains gaping and unsecured. Only the Creator of the Universe can control the heavens. And by the way, as you step inside don’t bother to remove your shoes.