Why Sukkot Reminds Us of the Need for a Jewish State
The Duke of Manheim once asked Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Levin why children ask the “Four Questions” on Passover and not Sukkot.“After all, on Sukkot you have more customs than on Passover, since you leave your homes and live in temporary booths.”
The rabbi replied, “On Passover, a child sees the family seated around a table with many tempting dishes, and they are freely relaxed in a way we Jews are not always permitted to be. Therefore, the child is surprised and asks the questions. But what does the little one see on Sukkot? The people of Israel leave their homes and sit in the outdoors without a roof over them. This is no surprise, because even a child knows that this is the way of Jews in the exile.”
The wanderings of Bnei Yisrael in the Sinai wilderness — which is commemorated by the Sukkah — can be seen as a microcosm of the future travels of Jews in the Diaspora throughout history. The Torah states, “These are the journeys of the Israelites who had left Egypt in organized groups.” (Numbers 33:1) The Israelites traveled to 42 different locations en route to their final destination, the Land of Israel. Each place is specifically mentioned, and each presented its own specific challenges to Bnei Yisrael. That experience was instrumental in strengthening their identity as a Torah nation.
Just like their ancestors in the Sinai wilderness, Jews throughout history have been in frequent transit as a result of many expulsions and flights from persecution. In the 20th century alone, millions of Jews fled pogroms and discrimination in Eastern Europe, followed by the rise of Nazism in Germany and persecution in Arab countries.
During the wandering period in Sinai, Bnei Yisrael was encamped in one place — Kadesh Barnea — for 19 years. (Devarim 1:46) Similarly, throughout history, there were times when an abode for the Jews lasted for an extended duration. Among the examples are ancient Alexandria, Egypt, and Poland and Spain during the Middle Ages. But soon they would be persecuted and forced to move on.
In today’s times, Jewish communities in the Diaspora are again imperiled and many Jews are again in flight. Antisemitism, once deemed under control in post-World War II Europe now threatens Jewish communities, with the increasing Islamization of Europe. The current situation is so bad that many European Jews did not attend synagogue for the Rosh Hashanah holiday out of fear. But this time — unlike in past millennia — the modern state of Israel awaits every Jew’s arrival, if necessary.
The Sukkah, with its flimsy walls and open roof, is an embodiment of Jewish existence in the Diaspora, and also a reminder to world Jewry that their homes — as the Sukkah itself — are temporary, part of a larger journey that inevitably leads to the Land of Israel.