Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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My wife, a public-school teacher, has introduced many of her non-Jewish students to a charming Jewish children’s book.

That book is “Something from Nothing.” It describes how a tailor takes old rags – “nothings” – and recrafts them into valuable new garments that are “somethings.”

“Something from Nothing,” in my mind, also describes our sukkah huts. Why? Because those important huts – which are clearly “somethings” – can only be made from “nothings.”

The nothings from which these huts are built are useless agricultural debris like branches and chaff. Useful items, even agricultural items – like edible fruits and finished wood products – can’t be used for building sukkos.[1] It’s the possuk that teaches: “Build your sukkos from your granaries’ and wine-presses’ leftovers.”[2]

Yes, our sukkah huts start out as “nothings.” They, nevertheless, become very special “somethings.” So much so that they are equated with korbanos, as our Gemara notes: “Just as holiness imbues a korban so too holiness imbues a sukkah.”[3] That equation exhibits itself in the halachic arena of “misappropriation,” i.e., in the ban against using a consecrated koban for mundane purposes. We equate sukkah to korban in how “just as a korban can’t be appropriated for mundane uses, so too wood used for a sukkah can’t be appropriated for mundane uses.”[4]

Our sukkah huts, then, make valueless items not just valuable but, also, holy. And by doing that, they create “Somethings from Nothings.”

And such a “Something from Nothing” motif is especially appropriate on Sukkos which – more than other Yom Tovim – is about turning nothings into somethings.

Our other Yomim Tovim, Pesach and Shavuos, commemorate extraordinary, miraculous historic events – “somethings” events. Pesach, our first Yom Tov, commemorates the miracles that occurred in Mitzrayim and at the splitting of the sea – those miracles were real “somethings.” Shavuos, our second Yom Tov, commemorates the miracles that occurred when we received the Torah – those miracles were also real “somethings.”

Sukkos, our third Yom Tov, on the other hand, commemorates the huts that we lived in the desert after we left Egypt.[5]

Those huts weren’t holy. And they weren’t valuable. They were just plain huts that we built with our own hands – “nothings.”

They’re still commemorated, though.

And that’s because Sukkos commemorates the human things that we did “for Hashem.”

Sukkos recalls the effort and the courage that we displayed when we built huts so as to follow Hashem into an inhospitable desert. Sukkos reminds us that such effort and courage turned “nothing” huts into holy “somethings.”[6]

It’s not just Sukkos, is it, where nothings become somethings?

Nothings can become somethings in all places and at all times.

Nothings can become somethings at our meals.

Make a beracha or host needy people at a meal and our tables become altars and our homes become batei mikdash.

Nothings become somethings in our conversations.

Converse with someone lonely or compliment someone and simple words become everlasting mitzvos.

Nothings become somethings in business.

Take a small risk by giving a young person a break and that small risk can secure a family’s future.

Yes, nothings can become somethings that can even save lives. It’s the following story.

It once happened that two frogs fell into a vat of milk. Once in that vat, those frogs couldn’t climb out because the vat’s sides were slippery. The frogs began treading milk so as not to drown. After a while, one of those frogs – who was lazy – told the other frog: “There’s no way out of this vat – we’re destined to drown. I’m going to stop treading and accept the inevitable.” The lazy frog stopped treading, slipped below the surface and drowned. The other frog – who was energetic – kept treading in the hope that he’d be rescued.

And then – a miracle! – the energetic frog felt something solid beneath his feet. The frog placed his leg on that solid thing and pushed himself out of the vat.

What was that solid thing?

It was butter that had been churned from liquid milk by all that frog’s treading. “Nothing” milk became “something” butter.

Treading took effort but it created a “something” that saved that frog’s life.

So often, treading can turn a nothing of a marriage, of a relationship, of a business – or of a self-perspective – into a solid something.

But for nothing to become something, we must expend effort treading.

Do we always remember to tread?

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, to sign up for his weekly email message, for information on his live or zoom shiurim or his Montebello shul. Rabbi Weber is scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Hotel for Sukkos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000. Rabbi Weber is scholar-in-residence in Richmond, Va. on Nov 11 & 12. Please email to have him as scholar in residence in your community

[1] Sukkah 12a

[2] Devarim 16:13

[3] Sukkah 9a

[4] For the length of Yom Tov

[5] Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, Sukkah 11b

[6] Aruch HaShulchan, OC, 625:2.