Rabbi Avi Shafran: The Sukkah Still Stands

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editorial31.jpgThere is simply no describing the plaintive, moving melody to which Yiddish writer Avraham Reisen’s poem was set. As a song, it is familiar to many of us who were introduced to it by immigrant parents or grandparents. And, remarkably, the strains of “A Sukkeleh,” no matter how often we may have heard them, still tend to choke us up.

Based on Reisen’s “In Sukkeh,” the song really concerns two sukkos, one literal, the other metaphorical, and the poem, though it was written at the beginning of the last century, remains tender, profound and timely.

Several years ago, thinking about the song, as so many invariably do every year this season, it occurred to me to try to render it into English for readers unfamiliar with either the song or the language in which it was written.  I’m not a professional translator, and my rendering, below, is not perfectly literal.  But it’s close, and is faithful to the rhyme scheme and meter of the original.

Here goes:

A sukkaleh, quite small,
Wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling
And now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night.

A chill wind attacks,
Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It’s so strange a thing
That as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.

In comes my daughter,
Bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking
And, her voice nearly breaking,
Says “Tattenyu, the sukkah’s going to fall!”

Dear daughter, don’t fret;
It hasn’t fallen yet.
The sukkah’s fine; banish your fright.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkeleh’s still standing upright.

As we approach the yomtov of Sukkos and celebrate the divine protection our ancestors were afforded during their forty years’ wandering in Midbar Sinai, we are supposed – indeed, commanded – to be happy.  We refer to Sukkos, in our tefillos as z’man simchoseinu, “the time of our joy.”

And yet, at least seen superficially, Jewish joy seems misplaced and elusive these days.  Jews are brazenly and cruelly murdered in our ancestral homeland, hated and attacked on the streets of not only European cities but places like Canada and Australia as well – and here in the United States, our numbers are falling to the internal adversaries of intermarriage and assimilation.

The poet, however, well captured a transcendent Sukkos-truth.  With temperatures dropping and winter’s gloom not a great distance away, our sukkah-dwelling is indeed a quiet but powerful statement: We are secure, ultimately protected as a people if not necessarily as individuals.

And Klal Yisroel’s security is sourced in nothing so flimsy as a fortified edifice; it is protection provided us by Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself, in the merit of our avos, and of our own emulation of their dedication to the Divine.

So, no matter how loudly the winds and the tyrants may howl, no matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity.  No, instead we redouble our recognition that, in the end, Hashem is in charge, that all is in His hands.

And that, as it has for millennia, the sukkah continues to stand. 

© 2007 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]




14 COMMENTS

  1. A sukale a kleiner,
    fun bretelech gemeine
    hob ich mir a sukale gemacht
    bagedekt dem dach
    mit a bisele schach
    zitz ich mir in sukale ba’nacht

    a vint a kalten
    blozt durch di shpalten,
    un di lichtelech
    zei leshen zich fil;
    ez iz mir a chidush
    vi ich mach mir kidush
    un di lichtelech zai brenen gantz shtil.

    zai nisht kain nor,
    hob nit kain tzar
    zol dich di succa nit zain bang;
    es iz shoin gor
    bald tzvei toiznt yor
    un di sukale zi shteit noch gantz lang.

  2. Every Sukkos, my husband sings this song (in Yiddish) to elderly Jews from Russia. They love it! If this method of kiruv appeals to anyone out there, I strongly urge you to go to your local nursing home or senior center. (If you’re strongly motivated, Ocean Parkway will do.)

  3. another version:

    A sooke a klaine
    Foon bretlech gemaine
    Hob ich koim mit tzores gemacht;
    Gedekt dem dach,
    mit a bisele schach
    Un ch’zitz in der sooke bai nacht.

    Mit farzorgten gezicht
    Dos ershte gericht
    Es trogt mir mein veib bald arein;
    Zi shtelt zich avek
    Un zogt mit shrek
    Der vint varft dee sooke bald ein!

    Fun vint dem kaltn
    Vos blozt duch di shpaltn
    Mein lichtele leshn zich veel
    Doch mach ich mir kiddush
    Un — zet nor dem chidush–
    Mein lichtl brent roo-eek oon shteel

  4. The song is beautiful but i’ve heard it sung before in English with basically the same words, by Jep-LI Shabbatons. It is also on their new CD called I’m A Jew!

  5. I remember when the “RABBI’s SONS” used to sing it back in the late 60’s. They sang it so beautifully. The translation is very good but it is not exact. My husband sings it every year in yiddish in the succah. It really is a beautiful song.

  6. here are the additional stanzas:

    Tsum ershtn gerikht
    Mit a blasn gezikht
    Brengt mir mayn tekhterl arayn:

    Zi shtelt zikh avek
    Un zogt mit shrek:
    Tatele, di suke falt bald ayn.

    Zay nit keyn nar,
    Hob nit keyn tsar,
    Zol dir di suke nit ton bang;

    Es iz shoyn gor
    Bald tsvey toyznt yor
    Un di suke zi shteyt nokh gants lang.

  7. Frumblogger – Can you please retype the whole song. Put the four paragraphs from comment#11 right after paragraph 2 in comment #4. That is the correct song. In the song of comment #4 it did not say he was talking to his daughter so it doesn’t make sense. I would appreciate if you could retype it. Thanks. Have a great sukkos and let’s sing the song in yiddish the right way!

  8. as per your request – the entire song:

    A sukale a kleiner,
    fun bretelech gemeine
    hob ich mir a sukale gemacht
    bagedekt dem dach
    mit a bisele schach
    zitz ich mir in sukale ba’nacht
    a vint a kalten
    blozt durch di shpalten,
    un di lichtelech
    zei leshen zich fil;
    ez iz mir a chidush
    vi ich mach mir kidush
    un di lichtelech zai brenen gantz shtil.
    Tsum ershtn gerikht
    Mit a blasn gezikht
    Brengt mir mayn tekhterl arayn:
    Zi shtelt zikh avek
    Un zogt mit shrek:
    Tatele, di suke falt bald ayn.
    Zay nit keyn nar,
    Hob nit keyn tsar,
    Zol dir di suke nit ton bang;
    Es iz shoyn gor
    Bald tsvey toyznt yor
    Un di suke zi shteyt nokh gants lang.