I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Is Judaism a meritocracy or an aristocracy?
Why do we dwell in our Sukkos on Shabbos but do not fulfill the mitzvah of Lulav on Shabbos?
Why is a stolen Lulav invalid for performing the mitzvah when one does fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah in anothers Sukkah?

[The nation of] Israel was crowned with three crown: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Ahron merited the crown of priesthood, as the passuk-verse; declares: “And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants following him.”(Bemidbar 25:13).  David merited the crown of royalty, as the passuk declares: “His progeny will continue eternally, and his throne will be as the sun before Me.” (Tehillim 89:37)

The crown of Torah lays at rest; waiting and ready for all, as the passuk declares:  “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4).  Whoever desires may come and take it. Lest you say that the other crowns are superior to the crown of Torah, consider that the passuk declares: “By me [Torah], kings reign, princes decree justice, and nobles rule” (Mishlei 8:15,16).  Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two.

— Rambam: Laws of Torah Study 3:1, 2


Today is to do them (the mitzvos) and tomorrow is NOT to do them. Today is to do them and tomorrow is to receive their reward.

— Eruvin 22A

Judaism contains elements of both an aristocracy and a meritocracy. On the one hand being a Kohen, a Levi or a candidate for Moshiach– the Messiah; is purely an accident of birth.  Jewish identity itself is determined by biological matrilineal descent while tribal identity is determined by patrilineal descent.

But on the other hand our sages teach us that a mamzer-one born from a kares prohibited union; who is a talmid chacam-Torah scholar; takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol-High Priest; who is an am haaretz-ignoramus. Anticipating sociological patterns, Chazal comment “take heed of [the dignity of] the children of the impoverished, for Torah [scholarship] shall emanate from them”(Nedarim 81A) and “[why is it] that the sons of talmidei chachamim are rarely talmidei chachamim themselves?” (ibid).  Some of history’s greatest Jews e.g. Onkelos, Rabi Meir and Rabi Akivah were geirim-righteous converts; or their descendants.  On this level Judaism is the ultimate meritocracy with no glass ceilings that impede upward social-spiritual mobility.

We will see that paradoxically; the aristocratic, heredity-based aspect is actually the more egalitarian, classless of the two elements whereas the meritocracy creates a stratified, multi-tiered hierarchy. Based on two Halachic differences between Sukkah and Lulav-the four species; the Izhbitzer understands the two mitzvos of the holiday in light of the hereditary- and merit-based components of kedushas Yisrael-Jewish sanctity.

On Shabbos the Halachah exempts us from fulfilling the mitzvah of Lulav whereas we are still obligated in the mitzvah of Sukkah.  The reason for the contrast is that Shabbos is a scintilla of Olam Haba-the Coming-World wherein avodah-serving the Creator through the exercise of free-will; no longer exists. There (then?) all that the person toiled to acquire in the here-and-now world through his choices and actions are secured in his heart. This is why all 39 categories of creative activity are prohibited on Shabbos. Whether we are speaking of our weekly Shabbosos or “The Day that shall be entirely Shabbos and eternal rest”, only one who has exerted himself on Shabbos eve will enjoy the fruits of his labors on Shabbos (Cp. Avodah Zarah 2A). Sukkah is an effortless mitzvah, one is merely “there.” Sukkah represents the hereditary kedushas Yisrael present in the heart of every Jew passed along like spiritual DNA from the patriarchs. The mitzvah of Sukkah resonates with same the kind of “all our work is done” sensibility that inform Shabbos and Olam Haba.

But Lulav, which we take up in our hands and move in every possible direction of human endeavor, is characteristic of all mitzvos maasiyos– the mitzvos requiring decision-making, exertion and activity. The Izhbitzer’s disciple, Rav Laibeleh Eiger points out that the gimatriya-numerical value; of Esrog is 610. When we count the other three species used to fulfill the mitzvah along with the Esrog the sum is 613, the precise total of all of the mitzvos. The 4 species embody every possible avodah endeavor. There is something very proactive, workmanlike and this-worldly about Lulav that makes it inconsistent with Shabbos.

This qualitative distinction also explains the halachic difference between a stolen Lulav and a stolen Sukkah. A stolen Lulav is invalid to perform the mitzvah with (Sukkah 30 A) whereas one does fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah in another person’s Sukkah. The gemara teaches that this is because real-estate cannot be stolen. But the Izhbitzer offers another profound difference.  All Jews are created equal in terms of their relationship to, and spiritual heredity of, the Avos. Sukkah is representative of this inherited kedushah and as such, there is public ownership of the means of kedushah production under the shade of the Sukkah.  The Sukkah is a reshus harabim-a public domain and no member of the public can be said to be stealing anothers property. A reshus harabim is commonly owned and must be commonly shared by all. Under the shade of the Sukkah “what’s your is mine and what’s mine is yours” is no longer the scofflaw attitude of the ignorami (cp. Avos 5:10), but a reflection of the pan-Jewish legacy of the Avos.

According to the Izhbitzer the Sukkah embodies the classless eschatological vision of Olam Haba described in the gemara “In the future HaShem will form a circle dance for the righteous and He will sit in the very middle” (Taanis 31A).  The geometric definition of a circle is a set of points equidistant from a central point.  Were even one point of the circle closer to or further from the center than the other points it might become some other geometric figure, but it would cease to be a circle. Similarly, all of Israel, “and every member of your nation is righteous” (Yeshayahu 60:21) will have a portion in Olam Haba that is completely classless, all forming individual points of the circle, pointing to HaShem in the center and exulting “And it will be said in THAT day: ‘Behold, this is our L-rd, whom we waited for, that He might save us; this is HaShem, for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Yeshayahu 25:9). In this G-d centered circle dance no soul will be either closer to, or further from, HaShem than any other soul.

But the mitzvah of Lulav is a reshus hayachid-a private domain.  The mitzvos maasiyos are intensely personal and address the inimitable strengths and weaknesses of every individual. Reuven can no sooner fulfill the mitzvah of Lulav with 4 species that he stole from Shimon than he could see properly through Shimons prescription eyeglasses. When considering Lulav, the legacy of the Avos is the starting point not the terminus. When serving HaShem through free-will exercise in the mitzvos maasiyos each individual can advance through endless stations of spiritual progress and conceive Torah matters that were formerly beyond him. There are no glass-ceilings, no points beyond which one cannot progress. The Izhbitzer goes so far as to say that Lulav can enable ones reach to exceed their grasp, to attain levels that transcend the limits of his inborn nature.

Perhaps, I  might add, that the minhag yisrael kedoshim-the sacred Jewish custom; of bentching Lulav in the Sukkah is to sensitize us to both the universal/ aristocratic and the only one of its kind, merit-based aspects of our spirituality simultaneously.  The flimsy , insubstantial s’chahch-Sukkah roofing material; fails not only in keeping the rain from coming down but in keeping us from  going up.  Sukkos is the Festival of our Joy. Lulavim in hand, waving the 4 species to the all directions and the fullest range of our individuality, we are as happy in the Sukkah as in a room with no hermetically sealed, impregnable glass roof.

~adapted from

Mei Hashiloach II maseches Sukkah 6B  D”H  Inyan
Toras Emes Sukkos D”H Ashrei SheEl

2 comments on “I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

  1. but as it makes its way from the blogsite to the highly individualized mind and heart of every unique and inimitable reader/ learner it becomes a מןציא מרשות הרבים לרשות היחיד a decidedly un-shabbosdige activity …..

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