I am writing to you from my Succah in Jerusalem, late Motzay Shabbat,
Leil Hoshana Rabba, after returning from Nishmat, where I said a few
words to a full Beit Midrash before the all night learning began.
It's Hol HaMoed, and so we are forbidden to give eulogies. Those words
for Eitam and Na'amah will come after the festival. In fact the halacha
states that the mourner is obligated to sit in the succah. The gemara
(Succah 25b) says that even though the mourner is "mitz'taer" (suffers)
they must sit in the Succah – because only those who suffer from the
Succah itself are exempt (such as if it is too cold or hot etc) – but
the mourners makes themselves suffer, when in fact they must "settle
their minds" and sit in the succah.
Rashi understands this to mean that the mourner has to somehow "settle
his mind" out of mourning and focus on the mitzvah of succah. But
sometimes it seems to me that, try as I might, my mind and heart won't
settle, and I cannot reach such a level where I can find my heart at
rest and dwell in the mitzvah of the succah.
However the Ritvah explains the gemara completely differently. He says
that mourners are obligated in the succah because the succah itself will
comfort them, and settle their minds. The mourners are suffering, but
rather than this suffering exempting them from the succah, we obligate
them to sit in the succah, because dwelling in it will itself "settle
the mind", and bring comfort to the bereaved.
What is it about the succah that comforts us? There are many answers –
let me share one with you. When I sit in my succah and look around me, I
see that the roof is cracked and incomplete. My dwelling is temporary,
shaky, a-torn. I look at the roof and see the holes and know that my
world is lacking, incomplete, and painfully shaky. And yet – through
those very holes I see the heavens. I see the completeness of Hashem's
grandeur, and His perfection. And still – my glimpses of that Heaven
are snatches of light, the glimpse of a star through the torn holes of
my transitory roof. They too are incomplete. But, in this limited
fashion, through this tiny hole, I see the hints of a perfect Heaven,
and I know it is above me, residing above my Succah. And this comforts
My pain is real, but it is not despair. My pain is the pain of living in
an incomplete and transitory world – in a succah. My pain is the pain
of the holes in the se'chach. But only through them do I truly see the
completeness of the Heavens. And so my pain calls on me to lift my eyes
towards those shafts of light, towards a world more complete and
perfect. My pain – when comforted by the shade of the succah – urges
me on to complete the world in G-dly perfection. To continue the journey
of the Succot, in our as yet uncompleted voyage towards Succat Shalom
– a Succah of Perfection.
I spoke on Shabbat to Rabbanit Henkin (when I paid a call to her and the
Rav in their Succah – may they be comforted amongst all the mourners
of Zion). I asked her if there was anything I should say to the Beit
Midrash for her.
She would like us continue and increase in our learning of Torah.
Because the Torah is a tree of life to those that grasp it. Because the
more Torah there is in Am Yisrael the more life there is in Am Yisrael
– and while the evil in the world strives to diminish our lives, we
will increase it. Because the Torah is light. Because the more Torah we
learn the more light there is in t