We say it; it seems like it fits – but one suspects that we are essentially clueless (an admitted projection) to its Sukkos significance.
I refer to the strange recitation at the very end of the grace after meals, where we customarily insert a special request throughout Sukkos:
Harachaman hu yakim lanu es sukkas David hanofeles-
May the Merciful One raise up for us the fallen sukkah of David
What exactly is that fallen sukkah of David? More pointedly, of what relevance (other than the obvious sukkah word play), does it have to our Sukkos holiday?
It’s a long story – but here is the short version:
First, the phrase Sukkas David is based on a verse in Amos:
On that day will I raise up the fallen Sukkah of David, close up its breaches, raise up his ruins, and build it as in the days of old1
Most commentators (Targum, Rashi, Maharal, Malbim) understand David’s fallen Sukkah to be an oblique Messianic reference to the rejuvenated Davidic dynasty. A cryptic Talmudic piece calls the messiah a bar nafli, (son of the fallen one) while recording a fascinating conversation:
R. Nahman said to R. Isaac: “Have you heard when Bar Nafli will come?”
“Who is Bar Nafli?”, he asked. “Messiah”, he answered.
“Do you call the Messiah Bar Nafli?”. “Yes”, he responded, “…as it is written, “on that day I will raise up the fallen Sukkah of David””
To Maharal, the Davidic line cast as a sukkah and not as a house, is a crisp and purposeful formulation. Precisely because of its flimsiness can the sukkah be rebuilt. One builds (boneh) a fallen house while one resurrects (yakim) a floored sukkah. Since the Messianic line dare not start afresh, the Sukkah’s resurrection symbolizes a continuity and loyalty to its past. Much more needs to be stated here 2 – but with this we must suffice.
To R. Yosef Kara however, David’s fallen sukkah refers not to David’s messianic progeny, but rather to his house; more precisely, His house, a veiled reference to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). On the holiday of huts, we petition God to rebuild the big Hut.
Two items need clarification: Why is the Temple called a sukkah and not a house? More pressing, why is it David’s sukkah and not Shlomo’s (Solomon) sukkah, given that Shlomo actually built the Temple.
Nor is the Davidic appellation for the beis hamikdash a one time phenomenon! Consider the opening of the famous psalm thirty:
Mizmor shir chanukas habayis l’david-A Psalm dedication song for the house of David .
Even as Ibn Ezra (somewhat unsatisfyingly) understands David’s house as a reference to David’s personal home, most commentaries take it to mean the Temple. Consider the poignant notion of Metzudas David’s that this chapter of tehillim presents David’s special musical composition, to be sung at the Temple inauguration, an event that David never made and yet so desperately wanted to attend. In spirit and in song he was there!
One final David – Temple connection: a remarkable Talmudic account of King Solomon’s first foray into the mikdash.
For when Solomon built the Temple, he desired to bring the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whereupon the gates stuck to each other. Solomon uttered twenty-four prayers, yet he was not answered. He opened [his mouth] and exclaimed, Lift up your heads, O gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors: And the King of glory shall come in. .. yet he was not answered. But as soon as he prayed, ‘O Lord God, turn not away the face of Your anointed one, remember the good deeds of David thy servant,’ he was immediately answered.
David’s merit alone opens up the gates of the Temple. My Rebbe once put it all together on the basis of a most moving Psalm, 132:
A Song of Ascents. LORD, remember unto David all his affliction; How he swore unto the LORD, and vowed unto the Mighty One of Jacob: ‘Surely I will not come into the tent of my house, nor go up into the bed that is spread for me; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids; Until I find out a place for the LORD, a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.
David’s turbulent life makes our crises seem oasis-like. Pursued by his father-in-law; children, and enemies alike; dogged by allegations impugning his lineage; plunged into depression over the loss of his sons; witness to internecine familial strife, the Batsheva story, etc. – David weathered it all. Consider that even at the height of his power, King David needed to politic with heads of state, wage war, govern and levy taxes. In short, he had to deal with stuff. Thus Tehillim remains the book for all seasons – of our lives.
Through it all, King David teaches us that key to menuchas hanefesh (serenity) is making a place for God in one’s life – wherever, whenever; not just a material Temple, but more subtly a mikdash of the mind 3. David’s ability to see his troubles and myriad tasks as places to find Hashem, allowed him to constantly grow – and yet continue to pine for God’s more pristine presence.
What then is the connection between King David and the Temple? Home is where the heart is. And no matter where David was, his heart was always Temple bound.
In effect, King David opens up Temple gates, composes its inaugural song and is the Temple’s namesake, for even as he is physically constrained from building the Temple, that is where he always was.
Sukkos – that gateway between the rarefied purity of the Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur world and the mundane ordinary of everyday life – reminds us: As we cross the portal, we dare not allow our minds and hearts to forget the extraordinary holiness of those awesome days.
No wonder that on the last day of Sukkos, we mystically (think ushpizin) invite King David in. Who better to teach us to never sleep without desiring, to not surrender to routine without infusing within it a yearning for sanctity?
With Sukkos as the gateway and with King David at our side, we are ready to confront our world through His world.
Let us take the leap!
1 Amos, 9:11
2 Cf. Malbim who explicates the verse to be referring to three stages of rebuilding. The house of david is the kingdom and the sukkah of david refers to the nesi’im who had more influence than power. Thus it shall be at the end of days that the line will start as nesi’im and eventually progress towards kingship. See also R. Hutner, Ma’amarei Pachad Yitzchak and Maharal Netzach Yisrael.
3 Perhaps this is why it is called a sukkah of David and not a bayis – for the latter implies greater materialism
Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.