Living it Up

October 21, 2016

 


A Jew who lived on Park Avenue, built a Sukkah on his balcony.
 

Some of his neighbors brought him to court. They claimed that the Sukkah on his balcony was an eyesore and was having a negative impact on the value of their homes in this posh neighborhood.
 

In court, the man was very worried about the outcome, the eight-day holiday was about to begin, leaving him no time to make alternative arrangements, in case the judge ordered him to take down the Sukkah.
 

He prayed for help.
 

And Hashem listened.
 

Judge Ginsburg, who was Jewish himself, had a reputation of being a very wise man. After hearing both sides, he turned around to the observant Jew and scolded him:

"Don't you realize that you live on Park Avenue, and not in Brooklyn? There is a certain decorum which is expected on Park Avenue. You have no right to be putting up a hut on this lovely street without a building permit authorizing it. I hereby rule that you remove the hut, you have eight days to do so! Next case!"

 

*** 

 

On how many days of the Jewish calendar can relaxing in a lounge chair be a mitzvah? What about reading the paper and smoking a nice cigar? 

Our usual experience of a mitzvah is doing a specific deed whose only purpose of doing so is simply to fulfill G-d's will. So we take special boxes made exclusively for this purpose and wrap them on our arms and heads, and this is the mitzvah of Tefillin. Or, on Passover, we eat a round, flat cracker called matzah, and this is a mitzvah. Or on Rosh Hashanah we take a ram's horn and blow it in a specific way at a specific time, and this is the mitzvah of Shofar. 

But on the Jewish calendar, there is a block of time, eight days to be exact, in which we don't really have to do anything special to be doing a mitzvah. Eating, sleeping, reading - just living - in fact, becomes an active mitzvah. When is this, and how? On the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, when you do it in the sukkah! 

Sukkot is the holiday in which we move out of our homes and into a little hut, called a sukkah, made of four walls and a ceiling of greenery. In the days leading up to Sukkot, you can see, in Jewish communities throughout the world, huts and shacks and sheds of all kinds going up - made of plastic, wood, fiberglass - all with the characteristic evergreen leaves on the roof. And once Sukkot begins, all we have to do is enter the sukkah-and whatever we are doing, be it reading, smoking, or just spending time with family and friends- we are doing a mitzvah.

This is especially important coming from Yom Kippur, when the theme of the day is refraining-from food, drink, leather shoes, etc. Given that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, we may think that this level of asceticism is one we should always aspire to. If it's good for Yom Kippur, it should be good every day. But the order of the holidays teach us that the purpose of the asceticism of Yom Kippur is so that we could come back down from the heights of Yom Kippur to this world, rejuvenated and refreshed, and serve G-d with our entire body! Thus the holiday following Yom Kippur has not just the usual mitzvoth that we perform with our various limbs, at various times in the day. The sukkah surrounds and envelops us, reminding us that a mitzvah is not just about doing a discrete deed for a specified time- everything we do-our very living-can be holy. 

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