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or a seven-day period you shall live in succahs. Every resident among Yisrael shall live in succahs.” (Vayikra 23:42)

 

The Gemara in Succah (53a) tells us that Hillel Hazakein would rejoice at the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah saying, “If I am here, everything’s here; and if I am not here, what is here?”

The “I” of a person — his unique identity — is located in his heart. If the identity of a person is found in his actions, praises, and happiness, stemming from the depths of his heart, then he has everything. As Hillel said: “Everything is here.”

Conversely, if a person’s emotions and actions do not stem from his unique identity, if they are only surface deep, then what’s there? Nothing. (Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, Zichron Shmuel)

When my girls were young, I had bedtime down pat. Showers, storytelling, lullabies, and then sweet dreams. Sure, they giggled a little, but they settled down quickly enough.

Then my boys entered the scene. Bedtime these days resembles a three-ring circus. The baby’s in pajamas, but he’s in his stroller, being pushed from room to room to say goodnight. Yitzi’s tucked in, but he’s managed to “fall” out of bed three times so far and needs kisses each time. The older boys are supposedly “almost ready,” which means they’ll reach blessed slumber somewhere between tonight and tomorrow morning.

Now add Succos into this equation. My boys all sleep in the succah starting from the tender age of three. They all love it; me less so. If it’s hard to tuck them in when they are spread across several bedrooms, picture the scenario in a succah with cots and lights, the night air alive with music, singing, and sometimes even firecrackers.

It’s a no-win situation. Night after night they’re awake, long past the tolling of midnight, and I’m left with hyper zombies (no, that’s not an oxymoron) the entire week. I’ve even pleaded with my husband to ask our rav if they’re pattur, because I become a choleh from the situation.

The Ramchal tells us that it’s not enough for Hashem that our mitzvos should just be actions. Our mitzvos should stem from the heart; pure emotion must direct our service. If the heart cannot bring itself to serve Hashem purely, then the limbs’ service is not genuine, like it says in Mesillas Yesharim (ch. 17): “My son, give your heart to me.”

Finally, I stumbled across a solution. A simple lullaby and good-night are not going to do the trick. Instead, I sit on one cot and tell story after story, sing song after song, in the corner of the succah where it’s the quietest and most isolated. Bit by bit I watch their eyelids droop, their little bodies relaxing with the sound of my voice. It works wonders. The flipside of this is that I lose my evenings, my time to prep tomorrow’s seudos, wash up today’s residue. Time to sit over tea. Time for me.

Hashem doesn’t want service based on human logic. He has enough of such service as the angels serve Hashem from a purely logical perspective. From humans, He seeks service that springs from the heart. This is the unique quality of man.

Finally, I chanced upon a perfect solution. Before the Yamim Tovim started, I worked for several nights recording my most riveting stories and favorite songs on an MP3 player. The first night of Chol Hamoed, after they’d all been tucked in, I pulled it out.

“Tonight, instead of me singing here, I’m going to be singing right here,” I said, tapping the MP3. “There are loads of stories and songs and you can listen to them again and again.” I laid it down on Binyamin’s cot. “Tomorrow I have more for you. Enjoy.” Kissing them each on the forehead, I made my grateful escape. Finally, a Succos evening to myself.

Silly mommy, tricks aren’t for kids.

The MP3 player was soon abandoned for pillow fights and plain old fights. The screaming reached the kitchen, and I ran out to save my progeny from a herd of wolves or coyotes.

Pandemonium reigned. “What happened? Why aren’t you listening to my songs?”

“We don’t want this.” Binyamin gestured to the MP3 player with disdain. “We want you!”

Lesson learned. Tell the world to have no fear: Technology will never replace humans.

If there’s no heart, there’s no love — and there’s no point.

 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610)