Iphicrates, a famous Athenian general, once fitted out his own fleet in the enemy’s manner, and sailed to a people he viewed with suspicion. When they welcomed him effusively and enthusiastically, he sacked their town, now that he had unmasked their treason. (Frontinus, Stratagems 4.7.23)
I decided to copy Iphicrates and use my Succah as a disguise. I am not your typical Jewish man; I can build a solid structure. (OK, I cheated and used a prefabricated structure.) I even bought some WD-40 and duct tape, although I have no idea what to do with them. I considered picking up a table-saw at Home Depot, but was too intimidated.
Tomorrow night I will pretend to be an outdoors kind of guy, tough enough to move outside when everyone else is moving in. No one will now that I am Jewish and I will be able to discover what “they’ think of us.
The Holocaust survivors who were the parents and grandparents of most of my friends growing up always spoke of them and us. “Them” meant Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and pretty much everyone who wasn’t Jewish. There are few survivors still alive, but the “they”s and “them”s are still part of my vocabulary.
Who are “they”? The answer depends on whom you ask. “They” could be the soft-spined ‘statesmen’ who sat in the UN and, with the New York Times, ignored Bibi’s powerful speech. I don’t need a disguise to learn what they think of us.
“They” could be the J Street lobbyists intent on battling AIPAC and Israel, but I wouldn’t need a disguise to figure out what they think of me.
“They” could be the CEO, of a company for which I worked, a former congressman, who would spew his hateful bile towards frum Jews whenever drunk, which was quite often. No disguise necessary there.
“They” could be Jews who are embarrassed when we build our Succot and walk on the streets with our Lulavim and Etrogim, but “they” are usually not an enemy and no Iphicrates strategy is required.
The “they” is we. “They” are the people who observe the same laws and customs, but without passion and joy. “They” pray three times a day, every day. “They” thrill to Torah study, but often forget that God speaks to them through His Torah. “They” forget that we must sanctify God’s Name when we walk on the streets, when we interact with all the other “they”s of the world, when we do business with “them”; everything we do and say.
The Succah is not our Iphicratesian disguise to find our enemy; it is our opportunity to uncover the disguises we wear the rest of the year when we imagine that we live in our own little world enclosed by the walls of our homes and synagogues. The Succah, derived from the same root as “Yiskah” – to see – provides the clarity of vision to evaluate whether our Service of God is a masquerade or if it is real. Are we hiding in the safety of Torah or are we empowered by Torah and Avodah – Service – to engage the world with joy and confidence.
So, hand me the biggest table-saw you can find, and I will cut away the masks, costumes and camouflage, and you will see with me the beauty and promise of all the things we do within our walls and without.
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