Once upon a time there was a small sukkah that lived in Jerusalem. The sukkah wasn’t really a proper sukkah at all, more like a half-sukkah constructed on a tiny balcony overlooking an alley off a road in a tucked-away neighborhood. But it was a happy sukkah, because it was faithfully used each year and its family, the Lelovers, would sit in it each day of Sukkot and eat hot butternut squash soup and sing Hebrew songs. Each year the children brought home projects and decorations from school and hung them up, and it was a happy place.
Years went on and the Lelover children grew up. One by one they left the small apartment to spread their wings, but they all came back for Sukkot. The sukkah saw the evolution each year, and noticed.
The youngest Lelover child, Ari, was not like the others, it seemed. He had an angry look on his face most of the time pretty soon after his bar mitzvah. He didn’t stay in the sukkah long after dinner, singing, as he used to. He left early and stayed away.
Ari had a lot of complaints over Sukkot. It’s too hot, it’s too cold. The food isn’t what I like. Why did we have to invite these guests? And, the worst, this sukkah is too small.
The sukkah took private umbrage at this last one. It had served the family faithfully and didn’t really deserve this treatment. But it quietly absorbed the words in its timeless walls.
One Shabbat afternoon in the middle of the holiday when Ari was 14, the sukkah was quiet and empty. Everyone had gone their own way after lunch; some were napping and some had gone for walks or to friends. And then Ari ventured into the sukkah, alone. The sukkah watched as Ari walked around the narrow perimeter, looking at all the old decorations he and his brothers and sisters had brought home over the years. And there was a photo of Ari, at the age of 4, from preschool, beatifically holding a lulav and etrog in his tiny hands, beaming. His innocent, sweet eyes shone forth from the battered photo.
Ari fingered the photo and then, inexplicably, began to cry. He didn’t make a sound, but the tears slowly slid down his cheeks and onto the photo. He stood there, stock-still, for several long moments, sobbing into his photo. Then he turned, and was gone, the photo fluttering to the ground.
The sukkah did not see Ari for five years.
Where was Ari? There were snippets of conversation. America. Boarding school. An uncle, an aunt. New beginnings. But a sukkah doesn’t ask questions. A sukkah just sees and absorbs.
And then one night the family was sitting around the table in the little sukkah, singing a song in Yiddish:
“A sukkaleh, quite small, wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling, and now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night …”
And then there was a knock at the sukkah. Who could be coming in in the middle of the meal? And the door opened, and it was Ari. Twenty-year-old Ari. Big, tall Ari with the same sparkly eyes as in the preschool photograph.
“A chill wind attacks, Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It’s so strange a thing, that as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.”
Without missing a beat, Ari walks into his sukkah, back to me, sits down with the family and sings along:
“In comes my daughter, bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking, and, her voice nearly breaking,
Says, ‘Tattenyu, the sukkah’s going to fall!’”
Mr. Lelover on one side of Ari, his wife on the other, drew their arms around Ari and huddled close as they finished the song:
“Dear daughter, don’t fret; it hasn’t fallen yet.
The sukkah will be fine, understand.
There have been many such fears, for nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkahleh continues to stand.”
It’s true, you know. I have seen it all, weathered it all. I’ll be here. I’ve been here all along. We don’t go anywhere, us sukkahs. We are patient. And we wait.
Note: Translation credit to Rabbi Avi Shafran