Former Shaliach in Dayton (2004-2006)
Towards the end of Yom Kippur, we recite Maftir Yonah and learn that Yonah prepares for Succot forty days in advance. Yonah declares:
“In another forty days Nineveh shall be overturned.” (Yonah 3:4)
To his amazement and dismay, the warning actually works; the people of Nineveh do teshuva. Admittedly, their teshuva is instantaneous and exceedingly superficial, but it is teshuva nevertheless.
Furious, Yonah goes out to the east of the city – apparently to a hill overlooking the city. Convinced that Nineveh’s residents will eventually return to their evil ways, he wants to see how long it will be before they sin anew.
“And Hashem said: ‘Are you deeply grieved?’ And Yonah went out of the city and stationed himself at the east of the city; and he made himself there a succah (booth), and he sat under it in the shade until he would see what would be in the city. And Hashem, God, designated a kikayon, and it rose up over Yonah to be shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; and Yonah rejoiced over the kikayon a great happiness. And God designated a worm at the rise of dawn on the morrow; and it attacked the kikayon, and it withered. And it was when the sun rose, God designated a stifling east wind, and the sun beat on Yonah’s head, and he fainted; and he begged to die, and he said, ‘Better is my death than my life.’” (Yonah 4:4-8)
What was the point of the kikayon, which served as a “shade over his head”? After all, Yonah had just built a succah and “sat under it in the shade”?
“Because the trees of the succah that were shade for him had dried up.”
Abarbanel expands on this answer:
“’Yonah rejoiced over the kikayon a great happiness’ – because even though he already had a succah to sit under it, behold, the sun passed through the s’chach of the succah and touched his head. Also the trees of the s’chach had dried out, and he no longer had shade in it. However, with the arrival of the kikayon, whose leaves are large – when they spread out over the succah¸ they produced a great deal of shade, multifold – therefore, Yonah rejoiced over it and said, ‘to save him from his discomfort.’”
In contrast, the Malbim opines:
“Because the shade of the succah was not very protective, as it says, ‘he sat under it in the shade.’ This means the shade was not over the entire succah, because the walls of the succah only covered against the side where the sun stood. And he had to sit in the morning under the eastern wall, but in the afternoon, there was no shade at all. And the kikayon made shade above, ‘over his head, to save him,’ – that is, for his head was likely to be hurt from the heat of the sun.”
In order to better understand this matter, we will consult the Midrash (BT Avodah Zarah 3a), which states that in the future, the nations of the world will observe HaKadosh Baruch Hu rewarding Yisrael for all their mitzvot. In turn, the nations will demand that they also be given mitzvot, in order that they may be rewarded as well. HaKadosh Baruch Hu will respond:
“’I have a light mitzvah, and its name is succah. Go and do it…’ Immediately, each one gets up and goes and makes a succah on his rooftop. And HaKadosh Baruch Hu radiates the sun upon them in the period of Tammuz, and each and every one kicks his succah and exits… Immediately, HaKadosh Baruch Hu sits and laughs over them…”
Both Yonah and the nations construct succot in high and central locations, almost as demonstrations of ne’emanut (loyalty) and emunah (faith). Yonah believes that his way – the path of emet (truth – as in Yonah ben Amitai) – will win out over Hashem’s path of teshuva. Meanwhile, the nations believe that a “light mitzvah” like succah – which involves nature at its simplest – is “beneath them.”
In both cases, Hashem “unsheathes” the sun. In response, the nations kick the succah, because they are not true believers and are unwilling to live in the succah’s shade. They build it on their roofs only in order to proclaim: “We can do it too.” But they do not possess the authentic ne’emanut displayed when a person who believes in Hashem with all his being leaves his house for his succah. Hence, when nature “radiates the sun upon them,” the nations scorn it.
Yonah, on the other hand, does not believe in teshuva. Therefore, he also cannot enjoy the succah’s shade: “Tzila dimeheim’nuta” – the shade of emunah – is the belief in Yisrael’s teshuva and in HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s acceptance of that teshuva. Thus, the kikayon was meant “to save him from his discomfort (ra’ato – literally, wickedness)” and also to show him where he had erred. Because without emunah, the succah does not provide shade!
May we all merit to return with a complete teshuva and to be shielded by the succah’s shade with total emunah.