A man was once traveling by foot in the Russian countryside in middle of winter. As he was starting to feel numb from the cold, a fellow Jew pulled up in a wagon and offered him a ride.
The driver was a whiskey merchant, and the wagon was transporting barrels to the next town for sale. Grateful for the reprieve from the bitter cold, the traveler climbed into the coach and tried to get comfortable amongst the barrels. He very quickly realized that it was just as cold in the wagon as it was outside.
He looked around the coach and the irony did not escape him. “Here I sit,” he thought to himself, “surrounded by all this whiskey, yet I am shivering in my boots. If only some of the whiskey would go into me—just one sip—I would warm up immediately.”
I often think of this story during the holiday of Sukkos. According to Kabbalah, fulfilling the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah achieves extraordinary spiritual feats, akin to being encompassed by the sefirah of Binah. In fact, this is similar to every mitzvah we perform. In addition to the physical act of the mitzvah and its reward, there is a spiritual accomplishment every time we fulfil G-d’s will.
But if that is the case, one may wonder why it isn’t always felt. We don’t usually experience any great revelation from performing a mitzvah. Of course we know that just doing what G-d commanded us is enough of an accomplishment. But wouldn’t it be nice to actually feel the holiness of the mitzvah?
So, on Sukkos we sit outdoors, sometimes in the cold, and wonder to ourselves, “I’m surrounded by this beautiful mitzvah of sukkah. But wouldn’t it be nice if some of it actually went inside of me?”
And the answer is yes! That is precisely the purpose of the sukkah. Don’t just sit there looking at the walls. Bring it inside you. Internalize it. Learn to appreciate the uniqueness of this holiday, what each part of the observance represents, and how it can make us better Jews.
Every mitzvah we do has special characteristic. We can choose to let is surround us without us being affected, or we can make part of who we are.
Using the above story as a metaphor, open the barrel, fill a shot glass of whiskey and warm yourself up. L’chaim!
(This article originally appeared in The Jewish Press.)