“That your generations may know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkos when I took them out of Egypt”. (Leviticus 23:43)
When the Torah mentions the sukkos in which we dwelt in the wilderness, it is referring to the supernatural clouds which surrounded the encampment of Israel and protected them from the threats which usually make the desert uninhabitable. Like the present-day clouds that hover over us, the sukkah of clouds in the wilderness sheltered the Jewish people from the searing heat of the sun.
But that was only one of the functions of these miraculous clouds. They also kept wild animals at bay, and when human enemies tried to attack the Jews, they found that their weapons could not penetrate the protective sukkah of clouds that enclosed the camp of the Israelites.
The experience of the years in the wilderness ingrained a profound faith in the hearts of the Jewish people. Day after day, week after week, for forty years, their eyes witnessed G-d’s caring protection for them. They learned to value His love for them and the shield He provided for them, day and night, in every situation.
This “hands-on” training was intended to prepare them to live with the impregnable faith that, come what may, G-d would provide for them. It was here that the generation of the wilderness experienced first-hand the delights of living in the shelter of G-d’s direct care. Just as we are aware, when outdoors, of daylight or darkness, so did the generation of the wilderness sense G-d’s protective shield in every aspect of their lives.
For the generation of the wilderness, the physical expression of this shield was the clouds which surrounded their encampment and traveled with them, everywhere they went. Today, rather than a shelter of clouds, it is our sukkah which commemorates this Divine protection. We dwell there – where G-d causes His presence to be felt – during the week of the Festival, so that we, too, may experience this sensation of being shielded not by wood, stone, or concrete walls, but by the protective love and concern of our Creator.
In addition, the sukkah symbolizes the events of the future, at the End of Days. Our Sages teach us: “All those who fulfill the commandment of dwelling in the sukkah in this world will be given a place by the Holy One in the next world in the sukkah of the skin of the leviathan.”
This statement is rich in symbolism. The sukkah represents the world as it will exist after the ultimate redemption. In this future, more perfect world, physical power and might will no longer hold sway over mankind. It is the utopian existence envisioned by the prophet Isaiah, in which “…the wolf will dwell with the sheep…” (Isaiah 11:6)
Likewise, the sukkah denotes an awareness of human frailty and vulnerability. Man’s power has clearly defined limits; even the most robust of us cannot live forever. However, all those who acknowledge the Creator and turn to Him as their Sovereign share a common refuge as a result of their faith in G-d.
In addition, they share the belief that the fundamental concepts of human life will change radically with the onset of the final redemption. Evil will disappear from the face of the earth, and no man will pose a threat to his fellow man. The weak and defenseless will not be compelled to succumb to those who wield power. No longer will politicians exert their influence over man’s affairs. Narrow-minded “governmental policies and objectives” arrived at on the basis of the greatest good for only one particular segment of the population will lose their significance.
It will then be apparent to one and all mankind that it is the Creator, and He alone, who reigns in this world, and, indeed, over the entire universe. All will yearn and aspire to become His loyal subjects, for they will clearly recognize that His realm, and only His, is the perfection of justice and righteousness. They will readily acknowledge that His Torah embodies His word, and is the fullest repository of Truth known to man.
At that time, all mankind will take shelter under G-d’s wing. Today, we can already have a foretaste of this exalted, enhanced mode of living during the week that we dwell in the sukkah. This is the unique privilege of G-d’s chosen people, fortunate to be party to His commandments and His ultimate goal of peace and good for all mankind.