In the midst of the unfathomable turmoil and brutality that typified the Nazi era, R. Reuven Grozovsky (1886 – 1958) eloquently addressed the townspeople of Rassein who welcomed him and his students as they attempted to escape the Germans. While doing all in his power to survive himself and aid in the survival of myriads of other Jews, the well known Torah scholar, who took over the reigns of the Kamenitz yeshiva from his famed father-in-law R. Barukh Ber Leibowitz, took a few moments to express his appreciation in particular and reflect on the Jewish scene in general (Tzvi Zev Arem, The Story of Reb Baruch Ber, pp. 105-106).
In his speech, R. Grozovsky declared, amongst other things: “The momentous occasion we are celebrating today is not one that should bring joy merely to the people of Rassein, but rather to the entire Jewish nation…During these troubled times, when barbarism and cruelty have raised their heads with unbridled haughtiness, and evil fills every corner of the earth, G-d wonders, ‘Has this foolish world no place for My Torah? If so, there is no place for the world either.’ Consequently, the very pillars of the world are trembling, and we have been plunged into void and darkness. The Torah itself pleads with us: ‘Don’t think that I am an old and poor mother; I am full of youth! Give your children to me, not to those who inject poison into their bloodstreams. I will make them rich and happy. Stop assimilating with those who wish to tear pieces from you! The more you lick their boots, the more they will trample on you. Stop running after their styles, their fashions, their theater, their ideals! Return to me – your mother who loves you!” If there are people in such a time who can bear the banner of Torah aloft – such people require courage and strength, intellectual and moral greatness. Such people are filled with vigor. During wartime they are concerned with how they will keep Shabbat and kashrut. While Nazi bombers attack, they dedicate their lives to Torah study. Under the Soviets, they study in caves like the martyrs of old, eating dry bread on tables far from their parents and their homes, wandering from place to place, and hiding like fugitives – all to study Torah! When such young men come to Rassein, and the community greets them with open arms, they have given a place…for the future of the Jewish people.”
Of principle importance, according to R. Grozovsky, is abiding by G-d’s Word, adhering to His precepts and accepting His guidance. That done, we can feel content. No other pursuits will give us true happiness.
It is a concept similar to the above that we garner when celebrating the special joyous holiday of Sukkot. On Sukkot, as R. Moshe Sternbuch relates (Daniel Y. Travis, A Voice in the Darkness, p.330), “we leave our permanent homes to enter temporary ones. Our relocation to makeshift huts symbolizes the recognition that our stay in this world is fleeting. Lasting fulfillment cannot be found in this world; it can only be had in the World to Come.” Only the understanding that true tranquility is dependent on G-d can provide us with true joy. The knowledge that all the amenities and luxuries in the world cannot provide true contentment and safety without the protection of G-d is reflected in sitting in the sukkah. R. Sternbuch continues, “This concept is beautifully illustrated in the famous story of a wealthy individual from overseas who visited the house of the Chofetz Chaim in Poland. The guest asked his host why his home was so bare of furniture and comforts. The Chofetz Chaim replied by asking his guest where all of his furniture was. The traveler answered that he was just passing through and naturally had left most of his belongings at home. The Chofetz Chaim responded, ‘I am also just passing through this world on the way back to my real home, and I also do not want to overburden myself with belongings on my travels.’ The Chofetz Chaim’s perspective on life shows us how we can experience true joy on Sukkos. By temporarily ‘leaving behind’ all of the furniture and conveniences that fill the rooms of our homes, we hope to taste the eternal pleasures that lie in store for us in the World to Come. If we incorporate this outlook into our daily living, we can experience the pleasure of Sukkos all year long.”
Our building and living in a sukkah during Sukkot is meant to bring us “back to basics”. All the furniture and all the conveniences and all the luxuries may make living more pleasant but life and true joy is dependent solely on G-d and nothing else – not even expensive security systems – can protect him other than G-d. If we allow this holiday to bring us “back to basics” and to instill in us a true and meaningful relationship with G-d, then we can have true happiness and true security – and only then.