Don’t Kick the Sukkah on the Way Out!
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3a-b) records an enigmatic dialogue between G-d and the Nations of the World that will take place in the Messianic Age. The Nations will demand the same reward as given to the Jewish people for their observance of Torah and Mitzvos throughout the ages. G-d responds that the Nations missed their opportunity because they haven’t fulfilled all the commandments the Jewish nation has kept. The Nations will then demand that G-d give them a Mitzvah so that they could earn that same reward. G-d chooses the Mitzvah of Sukkah, which the Talmud characterizes as an “easy” Mitzvah. The Nations proceed to build Sukkos on their rooftops. As they are dwelling in their Sukkos, G-d causes the heat of the sun to pierce through their Sukkos, which makes staying there intolerable. On their way out, the Nations kick their Sukkos in anger.
The Talmud then asks: wouldn’t a Jew be exempted from the Mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah under those conditions, for the law is that one who is put in distress by sitting in the Sukkah is exempted from the mitzvah? The Talmud answers that while a Jew would be allowed to leave the Sukkah under those circumstances, a Jew would never kick the Sukkah upon leaving.
One of the many questions asked by commentators on this enigmatic exchange between G-d and the Nations of the World relates to the characterization of the Sukkah as an easy Mitzvah, when in reality G-d proved that it was, indeed, a difficult Mitzvah to observe under the sun’s scorching heat.
An even bigger question arises: if G-d chose the Mitzvah of Sukkah for the Nations because He wanted to prove that they would fail even an easy Mitzvah, why then did He make the Mitzvah so difficult? Didn’t that undermine His original intention?
The Only Mitzvah with an Exemption for Distress
One simple way of answering these questions is that, on the contrary, forcing them to leave the Sukkah because of the scorching heat actually reinforces how simple is the Mitzvah of Sukkah. What other Mitzvah exempts a person from its fulfilment when it is distressful to do the Mitzvah?
For example, even if it is distressful to affix a Mezuzah on one’s home that does not allow one to neglect the Mitzvah. Similarly, keeping kosher, observing Shabbos and following the laws of ritual purity, to name just a few Mitzvos, are indeed difficult to observe for many and yet there is no dispensation to neglect these Mitzvos. the Mitzvah of Sukkah is unique in allowing an exemption due to distress.
On a deeper level we must first understand why G-d chose an easy Mitzvah with which to test the Nations when the real test turned on the attitude they exhibited upon leaving the Sukkah. If G-d had not allowed the sun to shine so brightly, the Nations would have, most likely, succeeded in observing the Mitzvah of Sukkah. So what was G-d’s intention?
The answer lies in an understanding of the way we Jews relate to fulfilling our unique purpose in this world.
When our soul descends into a body it is on a mission. In general terms, each and every soul has the mission to fulfill all of the commandments that are in effect. However, each soul also has a specific mission and challenge which, when met, instills light and vitality into all the other commandments that one observes.
How does a person know their soul’s special Mitzvah and specific mission?
There are generally two paradoxical scenarios that can help us in discover our subjective mission. If a person feels excitement, exhilaration or passion in the performance of a given Mitzvah that is a sign that the specific Mitsvah is the key to one’s soul’s mission. Don’t abandon that Mitzvah or cool your ardor; embrace and cherish it.
The other scenario is when a person finds that observance of a certain Mitzvah is particularly taxing and onerous. Feeling resistance to the performance of a specific Mitzvah is a telltale sign; that is precisely the Mitzvah for which one’s soul came into this world. And because it is so crucial for this person to fulfill that Mitzvah in particular, the forces of adversity (known as the Yetzer Hara-the Evil inclination) put the greatest pressure on the person to neglect those pivotal Mitzvos.
There is however a problem with this test. Frequently people can find certain Mitzvos difficult to observe because they are truly difficult; physically, financially or psychologically. How do we know that this Mitzvah is our special mission if the difficulty is not generated by the forces of adversity when most people will experience difficulty in the observance of these commandments?
It stands to reason that the way we can determine the significance of a particular Mitzvah is demonstrated primarily when we are called upon to observe a relatively easy Mitzvah. If even then we experience hardship and resistance that it is a sure sign that it is a crucial Mitzvah. If we fail that one, it proves that we have not fulfilled our mission.
Thus, when the Nations asked for a Mitzvah, G-d purposefully gave them an easy one that does not involve great expense and, more significantly, is one from which a person may be exempted in the event that its observance is distressful. If the observance of this easy Mitzvah proved difficult then it would be a clear sign that the Nations did not have the ability to fulfill the mission that G-d gave them.
Thus, kicking the Sukkah upon leaving demonstrated their negative attitude towards the “easy” Mitzvah. It proved that they had failed a crucial test; they could not deal with the forces of resistance that stood in the way of observance and fulfilling their mission.
A Semblance of Fairness
This answers another obvious question. Why did G-d not give them a Mitzvah that they could perform easily and reward them accordingly?
The answer is that to do so would be insulting. Here the Jewish people remained loyal to the Torah through thick and thin but the Nations of the World expect an equal reward for doing one Mitzvah, one time?
It is clear that to have some semblance of fairness, the Mitzvah chosen by G-d had to be one that was physically and financially easy to perform but simultaneously difficult because of the internal resistance it would stimulate. If the Nations passed this test, it would show that they had the potential to observe all of the commandments and would thus be entitled to receive a reward commensurate with the reward given to the Jewish people. By failing that test the Nations demonstrated that they were not in the same spiritual league as the Jewish nation.
As we prepare to welcome Moshiach it is crucial that we add to our observance of the Mitzvos. But it is particularly important that we embrace those Mitzvos that we find more challenging than the others. A challenging Mitzvah may the one final Mitzvah that will validate us, tip the scales in our favor and, indeed, bring salvation to the entire world.