According to a recent study, the estimated number of Jews in the world increased from about 3 million a century ago to about 16 million today. Many of these are descendants of Jewish immigrants who came to the United States a century ago.
This begs the question: when we consider the fact that most of the Jewish immigrants were observant Orthodox Jews, why don’t we find millions of Jews in synagogues all over America? Where are the millions of Jews in America?!
The answer lies in an interesting story related by a leading Rabbi regarding Jewish life in America in the early period following the initial waves of Jewish immigration.
At that time, it was very difficult to keep Shabbos. It was so bad that Jews who observed the Sabbath had to look for a new job every Sunday. After letting the owner of the factory know on Friday that he keeps Shabbos and does not intend to come to work tomorrow on Saturday, he immediately received a “pink slip” from his employer stating that he was fired from his job. This meant that next week he had no bread for his children.
In the neighborhood of this particular Rabbi, there lived two Jewish families, both of which were very diligent in their observance of the mitzvos, particularly the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. Both heads of these households exhibited tremendous mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) in keeping Shabbos, to the point that they gave up their jobs every Friday. Nevertheless, one of these families merited having their children continue in their path, keeping the glorious tradition of mitzvah observance, while the other family saw their children abandon the path of Judaism.
When the Rabbi investigated the reason for this, he realized that the root cause of the issue was the particular approach which the respective fathers took to keeping Shabbos and observing the mitzvos.
The father of the first family would be filled with joy when he reached the Shabbos table. He rejoiced in the fact that he overcame the challenge of not desecrating Shabbos, and he would sing zemiros with his children in great joy. This imbued his family with clear faith and trust in Hashem that He is the Source of everyone’s livelihood and He would not let them go hungry on account of keeping Shabbos. He kept all of the “pink slips” that he received every week, and Erev Sukkos he made a chain out of these pink slips to decorate his Sukkah, because he understood this to be the most beautiful decoration he could find. This is why he was worthy to have his children follow in his footsteps.
On the other hand, when the father of the second family would come to the Shabbos table, his family saw him with a sour face, filled with sadness over his situation, and he filled his house with an atmosphere of defeat and depression. Throughout every Shabbos meal, he would moan and groan in worry over how they would have nothing to eat in the coming week. In the end he growled: “Oy! It’s hard to be a Jew! It is so hard to keep Shabbos!” This “oy!” issued from the depths of his heart, and his sadness and feeling of loss shattered all of his children’s faith. This made his children believe that mitzvah observance was a sad thing that causes loss, causing them to think “we don’t want to lose out!”
In light of this story, we can answer two questions as to why Hashem commanded us to keep the mitzvah of Sukkah to remember the Clouds of Glory which Hashem gave us when we left Egypt: (1.) Why do we have to actually dwell in the Sukkah? Why is it not enough to tell the story of the miracle? (2.) Why does this come right after Yom Kippur, and not another time of year (such as Pesach when we remember leaving Egypt)?
The answer is that when we left Egypt there were also two types of Israelite families. When Hashem told the Jews to leave Egypt to receive the Torah, they knew they were going to a desert with no food or water, lack of shelter from the heat of the day and the cold of the night, as well as nothing to feed their children. This divided the Jewish people into two camps; some did not want to leave Egypt under such conditions, while others had faith and trusted in Hashem Who told them to leave, and they fulfilled the Will of Hashem.
What happened in the end? The first group died in the three days of the Plague of Darkness, because this thought pattern demonstrated that they were neither worthy, nor ready, to receive the Torah and mitzvos. The other group remained alive and left Egypt. Hashem placed them in shelters made of the Clouds of Glory which were like a Sukkah for each family. These Clouds also provided their other needs, such as laundering their clothing, etc. They received the Torah and learned how to live according to the Torah when they would enter the Promised Land. Through knowledge and observance of the Torah, they became worthy of entering the Holy Land and receiving all of its blessings.
I already noted in my last week’s composition for Yom Kippur that every Jew, regardless of level of observance, has a holy neshamah (soul). During the High Holyday season, the neshamah arouses each person to start to do mitzvos. However, after the days of judgment pass, the Yetzer Hara entices a person saying: “Good, you already went to shul and fulfilled the mitzvos, and you even pained yourself by fasting, but what will happen to your livelihood, for you and your children, if you continue to keep the mitzvos?”
Therefore, immediately after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hashem commands us to perform an action to remember how the Jews became a nation. It was due to their placing their faith and trust in Hashem and going out to the desert in joy to receive Hashem’s Torah! Hashem reciprocated by blessing the newly formed nation with wealth and happiness. They lived miraculously in the desert in a supernatural way that defied logic and natural science. Thus, we learn how to live today, to fulfill the mitzvos perfectly according to Hashem’s Will.
As the continuity of Judaism among our children is based upon the foundation of keeping mitzvos with joy, faith and trust, as evidenced by the aforementioned history of American Jews, it is not enough to talk about this. Children naturally are impressed by action, as this makes a strong impression on their imagination and enters deeply into their hearts. This is why Hashem commanded us to live in a Sukkah, to tangibly demonstrate the events so that they be remembered and transmitted to future generations.
This is the true meaning of the verses in the Torah: “and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days”, after which is written: “you shall dwell in a Sukkah for seven day, in order that your generations should know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in a Sukkah when I took them out from Egypt”. Sitting in the Sukkah and keeping Hashem’s mitzvos with joy will ensure “that your generations should know,” that future generations will also follow the true proper path.
May Hashem bless us with all good blessings and hashpaos tovos, in the merit of learning and keeping the Torah.