Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2000 / 17 Tishrei 5761

Sukkos paradise

By Yaffa Ganz -- I HAVE a collection in my house. It's a strange collection --- of hard, old, bumpy, once-yellow-but-now-mousy-brown, dried-out esrogs – remnants of many years of Sukkos in the Ganz household. They still emit a faint, tantalizing aroma of autumn, Sukkos holidays, blesings on lulav and esrog, Jewish joy and thanksgiving and ancestral memories of the thrice yearly pilgrimage to the Beis Hamikdash – the Temple in Jerusalem. If you don't know about sukkas and esrogs and Temples, you might think they are just rotten old lemons, laying around as the result of some really sloppy housekeeping.

I started keeping them because my paternal grandmother, Bubby Gitel, kept her old esrogim (plural for esrog in Hebrew). She kept them in a big green glass jar. (Mine are in a copper dish.) As a child, I thought it was a wonderful way of holding onto happy holidays and memories long past. The esrog, unlike other fruits, does not rot. It dries up and turns into an enlarged walnut-like stone creature and can stay for – who knows? Unto eternity? Just like the Jews. (We're a hard nut to crack, too!)

I love our sukkah. I love praying there alone in the quiet mornings, the bright Jerusalem sunlight glinting through the leafy s'chach. My home is warm, comfortable, protective, solid, but our sukkah transports me to a different dimension where walls and rugs are supplanted by Divine Light and Clouds of Glory. In the sukkah, I am outside the house, but inside the heart of things; in the welcoming embrace of G-d, my Father; in the mainstream of Jewish thought, history, belonging. For me, the sukka is, like the synagogue, G-d's house. Each night we welcome another holy guest – the Ushpizin - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moshe, Aaron, David. Where else can one invite such personalities and know that they have really come? I know. The sukkah brings them in.

I love the esrog and lulav. The lulav with its pointy end stretching out to the four corners of the universe to show that G-d is everywhere. The esrog with its tantalizing smell and its soft, velvety feel. Why are these particular commandments so beloved to the Jewish people? I could write a detailed analysis, but I don't have to. When I hold them together and say the blessing, I am filled with a feeling of love for my Father and my people, concern for all G-d's creatures, rootedness in my land, and overwhelming thanksgiving for the privelege of being who I am, where I am, when I am. I am filled with the essence of the holiday of Sukkos – with joy.

I don’t want to rush off anywhere, to travel, to run, to do or to busy myself with any of the proffered advertised Sukkos activities. Holiday trips at home or abroad; free tickets to a water park, a helicopter ride, a play, a concert; a jeep ride, a shopping tour, bargains galore at the nearest or furthest mall, and unprecedented offers for better living. I am in paradise, living great, right here, outside my kitchen door, in my glorious, quiet, bright, airy, holy sukkah, decorated with messy cutouts and colored pictures made by my grandchildren. What more is there to ask? Where else to go?

It is difficult for me to put the lulav and esrog down when I finish making the blessing. I like the feeling of holding them in my hands. The Four Species, symbolizing the four types of Jews – all the Jewish people – bound up together in one united sheath. We aren't always so bound in reality, but here, in my very hands, I am holding the prototype, the goal, the unity of my people.

It is always difficult for me to end the holdiay – to say the blessing on the lulav and esrog the last time, to take the sukkah apart, to put the s'chach and the pictures away. It's like breaking up a home, G-d forbid. Like going out into the cold, dangerous world. Like going into exile.

The Third Temple doesn't exist yet, but until it does, the sukkah is the closest we can come to finding shelter in the Divine Presence.

Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of Cinnamon and Myrrh and All Things Considered (Mesorah Publications N.Y.). She has written more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars --- a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. You may contact her by clicking here.


© 2000, Yaffa Ganz