In the Talmud Sukkot 27b it says:
חכמים אומרים: …יוצא ידי חובתו בסוכתו של חבירו, דכתיב כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת – מלמד שכל ישראל ראוים לישב בסוכה אחת.
The Sages say: … a person can fulfill his obligation [to sit in a Sukkah] in the Sukkah of his friend, for it says “every citizen of Israel shall dwell in Sukkot” – teaching that all people of Israel are able to dwell in one Sukkah.
But what Sukkah is that, that can encompass all Jews?
During the Festival of Sukkot, Israelis are on the move. Hol Ha-Moed is a time for family outings, טיולים, hiking the Land of Israel. If you’re already living out in the Sukkah, spending time outdoors feels natural. But getting out in nature does not, at first glance, seem to be in the talmudic spirit of Sukkot. In the Gemara Sukkah 28b it says:
גמרא. תנו רבנן: כל שבעת הימים אדם עושה סוכתו קבע וביתו עראי. כיצד? היו לו כלים נאים – מעלן לסוכה, מצעות נאות – מעלן לסוכה. אוכל ושותה ומטייל בסוכה. מנא הני מילי? דתנו רבנן: תשבו כעין תדורו. מכאן אמרו: כל שבעת הימים עושה אדם סוכתו קבע וביתו עראי. כיצד? היו לו כלים נאים – מעלן לסוכה, מצעות נאות – מעלן לסוכה, אוכל ושותה ומטייל בסוכה, ומשנן בסוכה.
The Rabbis taught: all seven days a person should make his Sukkah permanent and his house temporary. Howso? If he has fine dishware, bring them into the Sukkah. Fine bedding, bring it into the Sukkah. Eat and drink and walk around in the Sukkah. Where does this come from? As the Rabbis teach: “you shall sit (Lev. 23:42),” like you dwell.
The halakhah seems to stipulate that we spend most our time in the Sukkah, as we would in our house. But the commentators are a bit perplexed by the requirement to “walk around in the Sukkah,” literally “hike around in the Sukkah.” Most Sukkot don’t have much room to move at all, much less “hike.” The idea seems to be that, though the mitzvah is defined in the Torah as “seven days you shall sit in the Sukkah,” sitting need not be taken literally, it can include all activities we would normally do in the house, including walking around – in the Sukkah.
The director of the Israeli tour society Eshkolot, Tzachi Dikstein, takes some liberty with the language here and suggests in an article in Shabbaton that the phrase “hike around in the Sukkah” is not referring to our little, personal Sukkot, but rather hiking the great Sukkah of the Land of Israel. He can be forgiven his strained interpretation – he directs a government-supported tour society dedicated to cultivating “Israel consciousness.” But he gets a bit of support from the Gemara’s interpretation that all Israel could theoretically sit in one Sukkah. What Sukkah is that? Figuratively speaking, the Land of Israel itself, the Land under the protection of divine Providence that encompasses all Jews.
So during Hol HaMoed Sukkot Israelis are inspired to get out and hike the Land. We complied and joined a tour of Nachal Rosh Pina, hiking with a large group of Israeli families, couples and individuals from all over the country up the valley into the mountains above the town. The young and enthusiastic tour guides gave us background on the history of the Rosh Pina, one of the earliest Zionist towns in the Galil, founded in 1882 by thirty families from Romania. They also gave us insight into the natural environment, the trees and plant life of the area.
The festival of Sukkot focuses on trees and tree-lore – through the mitzvah of shaking the date-palm, the myrtle, the willow and the etrog. The rabbinic tradition has endlessly creative interpretations of the meaning of these trees and why we bind them and hold them together and shake them in all directions. Our tour guides pointed out that all the trees of the Land of Israel have lessons to teach us. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov spoke of this in his Shirat HaAsavim, put to music by Naomi Shemer.
Citing those common to the area – the kerm oak, the plane tree, the reed, the willow, they noted that these trees have a variety of strategies for surviving the challenges of their environment. Some, like the oak and plane tree, sink deep roots to resist being displaced. Others, like the reed, bend flexibly and spring back into place. The willow, if cut, can quickly sprout new shoots from its extensive root system.
Our guides compared these to the strategies that the Jewish people have used through the ages to survive the challenges we have faced. We have struck deep roots of spirit through the Torah, we are flexible when necessary, and we are resilient, able to start over when we are displaced. Then the guides pointed out a unique tree nearby – an olive tree that had taken a direct hit by a rocket from Lebanon during the war of 2006. The charred stump was still there – and all around it, new shoots had grown up from the roots and created a new trunk surrounding the old one, and the tree was fully flourishing once again – a poignant symbol of the spirit of Am Yisrael. In truth, the deep lesson that all trees teach us, especially at the beginning of the year, is the ability to rejuvenate, to find new sources of growth within us, new sources of hope at every stage in life, in every situation. It is the divine gift of life itself.
It’s moving to see the love that Israelis have for their Land. As we hiked together, learning from the God-given life around us that is nurtured and sheltered by the Land of Israel, it really did feel like we were “hiking around” in a great Sukkah , the Sukkat Shalom, the Sukkah of Peace for which we pray.