by Seth Brooks (UAlbany 2020) at Sukkot Nights I and II Farbrengens 2019 UAlbany

LAVUD – The Gap in the Wall

As someone growing in my Jewish learning and observance, we often feel that there are gaps and spaces in our knowledge and observance. Sometimes we may feel that we can never catch up or close the gap, we have all these holes. The Sukkah law of LAVUD can be very reassuring. It says that gaps in Sukah walls (under certain conditions) can be legally considered closed and connected. Don’t let the gaps make you think that your “Sukkah” isn’t legit or won’t work. Same with our Jewish growth, don’t worry too much about or overthink those gaps, if you keep at it, it won’t feel empty and void, somehow it all comes together. It really does. 

DOFEN AKUMAH – The Dotted Line Wall-Schach Connector

The law of Dofen Akuma is relevant in cases where Sukkah walls and Sukkah schach don’t align. For example a house with an awning or protruding rooftop. You want to utilize the sturdy house wall as one of your Sukkah walls, but the Kosher rooftop of the Sukkah doesn’t begin until a foot or two out where the home’s awning or rooftop ends. Mishna Sukkah’s Dofen Akuma law allows for that, it creates kind of a legalistic virtual dotted line from the wall to the Schach, a diagonal connection which makes it work and makes the wall still count. But here’s the thing about walls and Schach. The rules for Sukkah walls are much more flexible. Sukkah walls can be made out of almost anything: plastic sheeting, wooden panels, old doors, canvas tarps, existing exterior walls of a home – you name it. But the rules for Schach are much more particular and restrictive. It has to be cut vegetation, it has to be in a raw state (not made into something specific). And Schach is the more spiritual or holy part of the Sukkah. 

This is very important in my life and for those like me. My parents gave me a solid foundation, they raised me with values and taught me so much. And Rabbi Mendel keeps telling me to give them more credit, he keeps insisting they’ve instilled so much in me in so many ways that I don’t even realize. Family is a huge part of our life, and throughout our lives. But as I’ve grown along my own spiritual and religious journey and life path, I sometimes find that the wall they built for me and my own Schach don’t exactly align. They don’t always match up. So you might think that we’ve grown apart in this regard, maybe it’s too different, it doesn’t line up exactly, it doesn’t connect, could it be that the wall they built for me doesn’t reach and support my Schach? You could think that old wall of my youth doesn’t work for me anymore. That’s where the Dofen Akuma law comes in and teaches us something really important and beautiful: The wall my parents built for me still works! It connects, it aligns, it remains my support. So much of who I am today is because of what they’ve shown, done and continue to do for me over the years. The dotted line of Dofen Akuma brings the wall my parents built for me and my personal Schach spiritual growth together as one.

A BEAUTIFUL FRUIT – why Etrog is so vaguely mentioned in the Torah

The Torah specifies in the verse all the four species of the Lulav and Etrog set: date palm fronds, myrtle twigs and willow-brook branches, but when it comes to Etrog, the prince of the set, it doesn’t say Etrog. All it says is “a beautiful fruit”. Now, we know from the Oral Tradition, the Rabbis and the Talmud all about the Etrog, down to its smallest details, rules and preferences. So why is the Torah vague and just says “a beautiful fruit”. Perhaps its telling us something about people (which are often likened to the four species of the Lulav set): Yes, the Rabbis will tell you this preference and that disqualifier, and all that is true. But we ought to remember that overall – all Etrogs are beautiful, and all people are beautiful! People love to judge Etrogs and will dismiss this one or snub their nose at that one, and that’s OK with your Etrog purchase, but don’t do the same with people. Yes, people have their qualities and shortcomings, strengths and weaknesses, but the Torah’s opening words on Etrog is: remember! it’s a beautiful fruit! 

TAKE TO YOURSELF – Bring Together, Make it Your Own

The wording that Torah uses for the Lulav and Etrog set is to “take for/to yourself” the four species/kinds. I think this reflects what a Chabad House does on campus. It takes this person and that one, each with it own story and brings them together for a Mitvzah, makes them a unit, builds community. “Take for yourself” can mean, don’t look at what it looks like out there on the surface or but how you can bring them together for a nobler, higher cause. Make it special. Unity is a big Sukkot theme but it’s more than just togetherness, it is about bringing things or people together. The act of togethering, making something out of the individual parts that weren’t really there before. Build something almost out of nothing, but it’s not nothing, because it is put together of the Jews on this campus, that somehow, they find in each the soul, the unifying factor, and make something beautiful out of us. 

SUKKAH HAS NO CLOSER – unlike Passover…

We have two biblical holidays, pilgrimage holidays, that have a Chol Hamoed (in-between weekday days) after the initial day or two days (depending on Israel or diaspora): Sukkot and Passover. At each the holiday days start up again after the Chol HaMoed weekday days in between, but in different ways. On Passover the last day or two are Passover again. There’s even a name for the last day of Passover, Achron Shel (the last day of) Pesach. But Sukkot kind of ends on Chol HaMoed without a Sukkot holiday closer. Instead there’s a new holiday that begins called Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah which conclude Sukkot, but they aren’t really Sukkot. So it appears that Sukkot never really properly closes… what we can learn from this is that the efforts toward unity and togetherness (messages of both the Sukkah and the Lulav) never really end. There’s always more to do…