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לימוד תורה

The Sukkah and the illusion of a hermetic protection

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life – Ha’azinu - Sukkot 5782

The holiday of Sukkot and the Mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah are very popular in Israel. Jewish creativity was put to use throughout the ages to build the sukkah and its ornaments. Among the images engraved in my memory of the Sukkot holiday during the Yom Kippur War, are pictures of creative and improvised sukkot erected on half-track armored vehicles*1 in Sinai and on the tanks in the Syrian enclave. Another special creative sukkah was the sukkah of our dear student Shiloh Levy (who fell in the 1997 Israeli Helicopter Disaster). The late Shiloh served on Sukkot at a penetrating post in Lebanon as a fighter in the Sabotage and Engineering Unit of the Nahal Division, and since there was no sukkah there, he improvised one. The three sides were made of talc (a nickname for a high, hard cardboard that opens to three, which is usually used to display maps and commands) and on it he placed a schach.

The Mitzvah of sukkah commemorates the sukkot that sheltered the people of Israel in the wilderness:

בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כׇּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃ לְמַ֘עַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹקיכֶֽם׃

"You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths,

in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Hashem your G-d". (Vayikra 23:42-43)

These were  עַנְנֵי כָבוֹד’clouds of glory’ (Sukkah 11b) a miraculous defense system that shielded the people of Israel and protected them from all directions from natural disasters and a variety of security threats: "This is what the Scripture said:

אלקים ה' עֹ֣ז יְשׁוּעָתִ֑י סַכֹּ֥תָה לְ֝רֹאשִׁ֗י בְּי֣וֹם נָֽשֶׁק

O G-d, my Lord, the strength of my deliverance, You protected my head on the day of battle”. (Psalms 140:8).

R. Pinchas HaCohen ben Hama said, and where were Israel when the population of Pharaoh were throwing arrows at them (when they camped on the Red Sea)?

But the Almighty G-d covered them with the ‘clouds of glory’ and shielded them and would not be harmed, as it is written  וַעֲנָֽנְךָ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד עֲלֵהֶ֔ם “Your cloud rests over them” (Bamidbar 14:14). (Pesikta D'Rav Kahanna appendix Perek 2)

It was a miraculous system that disrupted the armament of the enemy that came to attack them.

This defense system is mentioned singing listened to our Parasha:

כִּ֛י חֵ֥לֶק ה' עַמּ֑וֹ יַעֲקֹ֖ב חֶ֥בֶל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ׃ יִמְצָאֵ֙הוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִדְבָּ֔ר וּבְתֹ֖הוּ יְלֵ֣ל יְשִׁמֹ֑ן יְסֹֽבְבֶ֙נְהוּ֙ יְב֣וֹנְנֵ֔הוּ יִצְּרֶ֖נְהוּ כְּאִישׁ֥וֹן עֵינֽוֹ׃ כְּנֶ֙שֶׁר֙ יָעִ֣יר קִנּ֔וֹ עַל־גּוֹזָלָ֖יו יְרַחֵ֑ף יִפְרֹ֤שׂ כְּנָפָיו֙ יִקָּחֵ֔הוּ יִשָּׂאֵ֖הוּ עַל־אֶבְרָתֽוֹ׃

“For Hashem’s portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment. He found him in a desert region, in an empty howling waste. He engirded him, watched over him, guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, gliding down to his young, so did He spread His wings and take him, bear him along on His pinions” (Devarim 32:9-11)

A defense system that shields, rotates and creates the people of Israel, as a parable of an eagle that spreads its wings and protects its chicks:

כְּשֶׁבָּא לִטְּלָם מִמָּקוֹם לְמָקוֹם אֵינוֹ נוֹטְלָן בְּרַגְלָיו כִּשְׁאָר עוֹפוֹת, לְפִי שֶׁשְּׁאָר עוֹפוֹת יְרֵאִים מִן הַנֶּשֶׁר שֶׁהוּא מַגְבִּיהַּ לָעוּף וּפוֹרֵחַ עֲלֵיהֶם, לְפִיכָךְ נוֹשְׂאָן בְּרַגְלָיו, מִפְּנֵי הַנֶּשֶׁר, אֲבָל הַנֶּשֶׁר אֵינוֹ יָרֵא אֶלָּא מִן הַחֵץ, לְפִיכָךְ נוֹשְׂאָן עַל כְּנָפָיו, אוֹמֵר מוּטָב שֶׁיִּכָּנֵס הַחֵץ בִּי וְלֹא יִכָּנֵס בְּבָנַי, אַף הַקָּבָּ"ה (שמות י"ט) "וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים" — כְּשֶׁנָּסְעוּ מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵיהֶם וְהִשִּׂיגוּם עַל הַיָּם הָיוּ זוֹרְקִים בָּהֶם חִצִּים וְאַבְנֵי בָּלִיסְטְרָאוֹת, מִיָּד "וַיִּסַּע מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים וְגוֹ' וַיָּבֹא בֵּין מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם וְגוֹ'" (שמות י"ד):

יפרש כנפיו יקחהו “[As an eagle …] spreadeth abroad its wings, taketh it — When it comes to remove them (the young) from one place to another, it does not take them with its claws, as other birds do: because other birds are afraid of the eagle that soars so high and flies above them, therefore they carry them (the young) by their (the mother’s) claws for fear of the eagle. But the eagle is afraid only of an arrow, therefore it carries them (the young) on its wings, saying, “It is better that the arrow pierce me than that it should pierce my young''. So, too, the Holy One, blessed be He, says, (Shmot 19:4) “I bare you as on eagles’ wings” (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 19:4:3): when the Egyptians marched after them and overtook them at the Red Sea, they threw arrows and stone missiles at them, whereupon at once “The angel of G-d moved … and came between the camp of Egypt [and the camp of Israel]'' that it might receive the arrows etc. (Shmot 14:19—20) (Rashi ibid).

It was the only system in the world that provided hermetic protection, miraculously! And this we have to remember every year.

In recent weeks, there has been a lively public discourse regarding several security incidents and operational and security malfunctions. There is no doubt that the role of the defense system is to create a maximum of protection and a minimum of malfunctions. To do this, all the necessary efforts should be invested without negligence, G-d forbid. On the other hand, in any case where there was a malfunction, all the more so if as a result, there were injuries and casualties, the incident should be thoroughly investigated, in depth and without bias, and lessons drawn, to prevent the recurrence of such cases in the future.

And if G-d forbid it turned out that the fault was caused due to a failure of values ​​even using up the law with those responsible.

However, it is precisely in this context that it should be emphasized: the faults must not be legitimized, but the expectation of producing an operational, human or technological protection system that will provide hermetic protection, with zero faults, is a dangerous illusion.

One of the rules of defense combat is: חזקה כי קו המגע לעולם ייפרץ

The line of contact, i.e. the line of demarcation between the forces of attack and defense, will be breached. At some point, the attacker will be able to cross the line. This crossing is tolerable, as long as it does not harm vital areas and is reversible.

The goal of the defense system is to reduce this as much as possible. And create layers of protection so that they provide an additional solution in case the initial protection ('contact line') breaks out.

We believe that one of the layers of protection that has surrounded the people of Israel since time immemorial is the miraculous Divine Providence. If He wants, close the 'loopholes' in human defense systems. We were privileged to see it in our generation, in abundance, in times of emergency and in routine. However, we are commandedוְאֵין לִסְמוֹךְ עַל הַנֵּס  “Do not rely on miracles" on the contrary:

ועל כן תצונו התורה, לשמור משכנותינו ומקומותינו, לבל יקרנו מות בפשיעותנו, ולא נסכן נפשותנו על סמך הנס, ואמרו זכרונם לברכה (תורת כהנים אמור פרשתא ח), שכל הסומך על הנס אין עושין לו נס. ועל הדרך הזה תראה רוב עניני הכתובים בכל מקום, כי גם בהלחם ישראל מלחמת מצוה על פי השם, היו עורכין מלחמתן ומזינים עצמן ועושין כל ענינם, כאלו יסמכו בדרכי הטבע לגמרי, וכן ראוי לעשות לפי הענין שזכרנו, ואשר לא יחלק על האמת מרע לב יודה בזה.

“…therefore, the Torah commands us to guard our dwelling places and our locales, lest death encounter us in our negligence. And we should not endanger our souls by reliance upon miracles; and they, may their memory be blessed, said (Sifra, Emor 8) that a miracle is not performed for anyone who relies on a miracle. And according to this approach will you see most matters written in every place. Since even in Israel's fighting of a war commanded by the word of G-d, they would [still] organize their war and equip themselves and do all of the [required] matters, as if they were completely relying on natural processes [to win the war]. And so is it fitting to do according to the matter that we mentioned. And the one who does not argue with the truth from a perverse heart will concede this. (Sefer HaChinukh 546)

We must act and defend ourselves to the best of our ability, as if there are no miracles in the world, and on the other hand, pray for the miracles as when we left Egypt, hoping G-d will spread forth a sukkah of peace over us.


*1 A half-track is a civilian or military vehicle with regular wheels at the front for steering and continuous tracks at the back to propel the vehicle and carry most of the load. The purpose of this combination is to produce a vehicle with the cross-country capabilities of a tank and the handling of a wheeled vehicle.

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