I was walking through the main shopping district in my neighborhood this past Tuesday, erev Yom Kippur, and a woman approached me to ask if I had a minute to answer a few questions for her. She explained that she is a local reporter for a newspaper and was doing a story on a particular store in the area and asked me for a few thoughts about the establishment. I happen to be a regular at that store and I spoke very highly about the place. The service, friendliness and quality of the experiences are all "A-1" in my book!
As we continued our conversation, I understood that although her newspaper covers our neighborhood, which has a very strong Jewish "buzz" on any day of the week, let alone on erev Yom Kippur, she had no idea that we were only hours away from the holiest day of the year. During our conversation she shared with me some information about her background. Though she was biologically born to Jewish parents, she was adopted by a non-Jewish family and had almost no knowledge of anything Jewish.
As the conversation was winding down, I gave her my contact information and told her that if she wanted to do a story on a Succah or even just to visit one she should let me know because my wife and I would love to welcome her in. "A Succah, what’s that?" she asked. As I began to describe it she realized that she had seen random Succot around town but had never visited one. With a look of intrigue, she then said: “Tell me…what makes your Succah so special?” So I stopped and reflected for a moment. I love my Succah! I built it from scratch with a few friends. FYI- it was designed by an NCSY Alumus! It is made of wood, with a place to light candles built into the walls of the Succah. It is decorated with posters of Israel, projects that my children made and even a couple of plug-into-the-wall pictures that light up. The prize of my Succah is the eight by twelve foot mural depicting each of the special Biblical guests that we invite into the Succah each night of the holiday (see picture).
But how did I respond to the reporter’s question of “what makes my Succah special?” I said: "Nothing is special about my Succah…every Succah is special!" The Talmud tells us that
a Succah can be made from just about anything, even from the leftover trimmings on the threshing room floor. This, interestingly enough, is the complete opposite of what Succot's counterpart holiday, Passover, asks us to do. On Passover, we are to prepare our table with our very best table ornaments. However, this is not required on Succot. One of the main purposes of the Succah is to have "alone time" with Hashem; to be in His special place where we bask in the shade that He provides for us on a daily basis. I hope this reporter comes over to mySuccah so she can see the beauty of the Succah.
Let me know if you would like to join me and my family in our Succah or if I could connect you with an Alumus in another Succah around the country.
Have a great Succot, and remember—Succot is the Zman Simchateinu, the period during the year designated for overwhelming joy!
Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck