Sukkos 5784


Perfectly imperfect[1]

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkos] a beautiful fruit (an esrog), date-[palm] fronds, braided branches (hadassim), and willows of the brook. You shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days; every citizen of Israel shall dwell in Sukkos[2]

It’s Sukkos time. The two main mitzvos associated with the Festival are the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days, and to take the four species, namely the lulav (palm frond), esrog (citron), aravos (willow), and hadasim (myrtle). What’s surprising is that, although these two mitzvos are adjacent to each other in the Torah, and they coincide on the same festival, they are polar opposites of each other. Jews are so careful about their four species that they are so perfect. Some spend hours making sure they are blemish free and as beautiful as can be.

In contrast, the laws of building a Sukkah are quite unique in the Torah. There are many leniencies in its construction, making it possible to almost have no walls at all. First of all, gaps less than three fist-widths are discounted[3]. The walls don’t have to reach the sechach roof[4]. If there’s invalid roofing near the walls but it’s valid in the center of the Sukkah, sometimes we look at the walls as if they are touching the valid part[5]. We would never allow holes in our esrog or half-length lulavs. And yet the halacha is totally fine with all of these imperfections with the Sukkah. What’s the difference?

Our Sages compare[6] the four species with four body parts. The lulav resembles the spine, the esrog resembles the heart. The aravos resemble the lips, and the hadassim resemble the eyes. The intent here is I want to serve Hashem with my entire body. I want my heart to be pure. I want my eyes to be proper. I want my lips to be appropriate. I want my spine to be perfect. We want to approach our Divine Service of Hashem with complete perfection. We try our best, and that’s all that’s expected of us.

On the other hand, the Sukkah represents the Divine Presence[7]. We are entering Hashem’s domain, so-to-speak, when we enter the Sukkah. As such, the laws of the Sukkah tell us that Hashem accepts us for who we are. No matter what our blemishes are, our imperfections, that’s okay. Hashem will take us in lovingly, either way.

Both approaches are true. It’s all about perspective.

Wishing you a Chag Sameach, a joyous Yom Tov!

[1] Based on a devar Torah from Rav Shraggi Kallus, available here: (end)

[2] Leviticus 23:40, 42, with Targum Onkelos and Rashi

[3] Known as “Lavud

[4] Known as “Gud achis

[5] Known as “Dofen Akuma

[6] Vayikra Rabbah 30:14

[7] See Zohar III parshas Emor p. 103b (with HaSulam), Neizer HaKodesh to Bereishis Rabbah 70:8, and Pesach Einayim to Sotah 11a s.v. שנאמר. See also Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:1