Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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My wife is a public-school teacher. In that capacity, she has introduced many of her non-Jewish students to a charming Jewish children’s book, “Something from Nothing,” that describes how a tailor recrafts old “nothing” rags into new usable “somethings.”

“Something from Nothing,” isn’t, of course, just about one tailor making usable clothes. It’s also about how we can all turn nothings into somethings by finding value in overlooked things, people and ideas.

And that, I believe, includes the commandment to build special Sukkos huts. That commandment is outlined in the following possuk: “Build your sukkos from your granaries’ and vineyards’ … leftovers.”[1]

The possuk’s specification of “granaries and vineyards” indicates that we must build these huts from agricultural material.

And the possuk’s specification of “leftovers” indicates that we can’t build them from edible fruits, finished wooden products and other usable items – even though those items that are agriculturally based.[2]

The Torah, then, wants our holy sukkos to be made from valueless debris. And that’s because the Torah wants to demonstrate that valueless debris can become holy sukkos.

Yes, those huts are holy. They’re holy enough to be compared to holy sacrifices. It’s the following Gemara: “Just the way holiness imbues a korban, so too holiness imbues a sukkah.”[3] And they’re so holy that we parallel their laws to those that govern holy sacrifices. It’s that Gemara’s continuation: “just like it’s forbidden to repurpose animals that were consecrated for sacrifices, so too it’s forbidden to repurpose sukkah wood[4] [5] for other construction projects.[6]

Yes, our sukkah huts turn “nothing” wood into “somethings.” And that’s so apropos because Sukkos is all about turning “nothings” into “somethings.”

That’s made obvious by even briefly comparing Sukkos to our other Yomim Tovim, Pesach and Shavuos. Those other Yomim Tovim commemorate miracles. Pesach commemorates the miracles of the Exodus. And Shavuos commemorates the miracles that occurred when we received the Torah. Pesach and Shavuos, then, commemorate “somethings” – because those Yomim Tovim’s miracles were “somethings.”

Sukkos, on the other hand, commemorates the simple huts that housed us when we wandered the desert after we left Egypt.[7]

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

Those “nothings,” though, recall how we courageously followed Hashem into the desert even though we only had simple huts for protection. That display of courage turned “nothings” into holy “somethings.”[8]

It’s a display that we replicate every Sukkos when plain wood become holy sukkos. And it’s a display that reminds us to constantly strive to turn nothings into somethings. On Sukkos. And all year long.

Nothings can be made into somethings at meals.

Make a beracha or host needy people at your meals. That will turn your tables into altars and your homes into temples.

Nothings can be made into somethings in conversation.

Converse with someone lonely or compliment someone. That will turn simple words into everlasting mitzvos.

Nothings can be made into somethings in business.

Take a small risk and offer someone an opportunity. That can secure a family’s future.

Nothings can be made into somethings in self-perception.

Find a personal strength and build on that. That will allow for an entirely new self-perception.

Yes, nothings can become “somethings.” And those “somethings” can be powerful enough to save lives.

It’s the following story.

Two frogs once fell into a vat of milk. The frogs couldn’t climb out of the vat because its sides were slippery. Desperate to avoid drowning, the frogs began treading milk. After an hour of treading, one frog told the other: “I’m tired! And we’re not leaving this vat. I’ll just accept the inevitable. I’ll stop treading. I’ll just let myself drown.” And then the frog stopped treading and drowned. The other, more energetic frog, kept treading.

And then, amazingly, that frog felt something solid beneath his feet.

That solid item? It was butter. All that treading had churned liquid “nothing” milk into solid “something” butter.

He just pushed down on the butter and jumped out of the vat.

Treading took time. And treading took effort. But it created a “something” that saved a life.

It’s not just frogs.

And it’s not just milk.

So many other nothings – of marriages, of relationships, of businesses and of self-perceptions – can become somethings.

Sure, to do that we’ll have to to tread.

And isn’t it worth a bit of treading if we can, thereby, turn nothings into somethings?

[1] Devarim 16:13

[2] Sukkah 12a

[3] Sukkah 9a

[4] Specifically wood that used for the sukkah roof

[5] For the length of Yom Tov

[6] Sukkah 9a

[7] Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, Sukkah 11b

[8] Aruch HaShulchan, OC, 625:2