Based on Likutey Halakhot, Beheimah v’Chayah Tehorah 4:23–25
“Everything comes from the dirt; everything returns to the dirt”
The sukkah is meant to protect us (Sukkah 2b). This is startling because most every sukkah is an amateurish production with flimsy walls and every sukkah has a skhakh (covering) rather than a roof. So what is it protecting us from? How?
One of the challenges we face in choosing between right and wrong is the prior challenge of distinguishing between truth and falsehood.
The idea of permanence is one of the biggest falsehoods we face.* We think we will live forever (Zohar 3:126a ); that our possessions will always be with us (Avot 6:10); and that the “truths” we believe in will never need to be abandoned or modified. We spend too much time trying to get things to be “just right,” forgetting the fact that nothing lasts forever.
After praying on Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and the days in between for life and blessings, the awareness that all things are impermanent should have sunk into our consciousness. The idea of impermanence is manifested by the sukkah (and the festival of Sukkot). The sukkah’s seeming weakness—impermanence— is its strength. By reminding us that life’s pleasures quickly pass, the sukkah protects us from falling prey to them.
Our Sages define the sukkah as a “temporary domicile” (Sukkah 2a, 7b) in which we are to perform the temporary activities and pleasures of eating, drinking and sleeping. (Yes, sleeping in the sukkah is a mitzvah [Shulchan Arukh HaRav 639:4]. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.) The essence of the sukkah’s temporariness is its skhakh which must be made of material that grows from the earth and cannot become tamei (spiritually impure). These qualifications remind us dirt’s the truth because dirt also lies.
Dirt is dirt, but despite its sameness around the globe it produces a vast variety of stuff: cherries and copper, guava and gold, and more, including human being and animals. As different as things are from one another, they (we!) all share the same origin. The spiritual origin of this physical fact allows for all manner of deception. People, values and things can assume an identity that is not theirs with an air of truth because, in fact, at root all of creation is one. The resulting confusion places us in grave spiritual danger. We may devote our lives to impostors, God forbid.
But, Reb Noson writes, dirt gives us the ability to see through the lies. Earth reminds us that everything passes away, that everything has the same spiritual destiny; eventually everything (we!) will get reabsorbed into the earth and into the Origin of creation. The skhakh, a product of the earth which is impervious to tumah (spiritual impurity), protects us by reminding us that we—our pleasures and our bodies—will also pass away, and in the meantime to be focused on Heaven and honest with ourselves as we search for God.
agutn yom tov!
Copyright 2009 Breslov Research Institute
*There is a difference between this-worldly permanence and eternity.