For the week ending 11 October 2014 / 17 Tishri 5775

The Miracle of Nature

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“You shall dwell in succot for a seven day period. So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in succot when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am the L-rd your G-d.” (Vayikra 23:42-43)

The holiday season culminates with the festive days of Succot, z’man simchateinu (the time of our joy). Growing up in Miami, I couldn’t help feel that, as joyous as everyone was, something was missing ― air conditioning! After all, that’s what it was like for the Jews in the desert. Surrounded by “Clouds of Glory” that protected them completely from the harsh sun, they experienced pleasant environmental conditions throughout their extended desert stay. The Clouds of Glory also smoothed out the ground for easy travel and cleaned and pressed their clothing. Food and drink was hand delivered, and to top it all off, they ate Heavenly bread. Better than a five-star hotel, and all at no extra charge.

So why do we sit in hot and humid shacks with our own live nature show of exotic flying things. As all things in Judaism, the answer is ― it’s a machloket (matter of dispute).

Clouds of Glory

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the succot (shelters) mentioned in the verse refer to the Clouds of Glory that provided everyone with complete shelter and protection. This was an open miracle that continued for forty years without interruption.

Thus, according to Rabbi Eliezer the holiday of Succot symbolizes two fundamental principles of Jewish faith: 1) G-d’s great love and concern for the Jewish People, taking personal care of them throughout their forty year stay in the desert. 2) The knowledge that G-d is constantly present and in total control of the forces of nature.

By showing the Jews in the desert constant miracles that transcended the laws of nature, G-d, in effect, trained them to live on a higher level of reality than the rest of the world. As Rabbi Chanina said, “He Who commanded the oil to burn will command the vinegar to burn.” This is the reality that the Jews of the desert lived with.

When miracles become the norm, they are no different than nature itself, which is in reality no less a miracle. Making water fall is no less a feat than making it stand. To put it simply, if G-d was able to make everything out of nothing, then He can make everything into nothing, and everything in between.

Desert Booths

According to Rabbi Akiva the succot we are commanded to build represent the physical booths that we built in the desert after the Exodus to protect us from the blistering desert heat. The question is asked, why make a holiday to celebrate dwelling in hot and humid huts?

According to Rabbi Akiva, the succa, symbolizing life in this world, represents the fusion of Divine providence and man’s effort. Thus, despite the fact that G-d was present in the desert, the Jews still had to build huts to live in. And so, in today’s dark world, we must find G-d within nature. This is what the “non-miraculous” booths of the Festival of Succot represent ― finding G-d’s Divine Hand in the natural world.

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