14 Sep OUR TEMPORARY DWELLING
There is a famous story told of an overworked, underpaid wagon driver who once found himself helplessly lost in a land with no light. He finally met a group of people who warmly welcomed him and offered to help him find a job in their “dark land,” so that he could earn enough money to live comfortably without having to drive wagons ever again.
The man eagerly accepted the natives’ offer, and, as they walked together toward the city, he noticed diamonds strewn all over the streets. He quickly fell to the ground and began stuffing his pockets with diamonds, until he heard the local residents laughing.
“Why are you collecting these stones?” they asked. “These aren’t worth anything here. We have so many of them. Nobody would pay a cent for them!”
“What, then, is considered a valuable commodity here?” the man inquired.
His escorts explained that given the absence of sunlight, wax is the largest industry in that land. And so, the newly ambitious wagon driver found a job in a wax factory. With hard work and dedication, he gradually climbed the corporate ladder, until he had his very own wax business. As time went on, he moved ahead of one competitor after another, and ultimately became the leading wax producer in the country. Before long, he was the wealthiest resident of the land.
Finally, he decided it was time to return to his family. Brimming with excitement, he loaded several wagons full of wax to sell upon his return home. But when he pulled up at the house and proudly showed his family his assets, they began shouting, “What? This is what you brought us? This is what you’ve worked all these years for?” Suddenly, the man realized he had made a terrible mistake. Wax is indeed a valuable commodity in the land of darkness, but back on earth, it is worth next to nothing.
“What did I do!” he cried. “I spent all my time there collecting wax, hoarding something that has no value back home! How foolish could I have been?”
An hour or so later, he heard his wife shout with excitement.
“We’re rich!” she jubilantly exclaimed.
She showed her husband the small handful of magnificent diamonds that she discovered at the bottom of his wagons of wax. The value of those diamonds was more than enough to support them and their children respectably for the rest of their lives.
“Oh,” the man groaned, “if only I had spent time collecting those diamonds, which were so readily accessible, rather than working so hard to make wax, imagine how wealthy we could have been…”
Like the wagon driver in this story, we come to earth, to the “land of darkness,” where there are diamonds strewn all over the ground, where we have unlimited opportunities to fulfill Misvot. Unfortunately, however, people in this world do not afford value to these priceless “diamonds.” Instead, it is the “wax” – material wealth – that is regarded as valuable here on earth. And so, rather than spending our time collecting the “diamonds,” involving ourselves in Torah and Misvot, we instead focus our attention on accumulating wealth, on expensive clothes, extravagant homes, luxurious vacations, and fancy cars. When, after one hundred and twenty years, we leave this land and move on to the next world, we will realize our mistake. We will show up in the next world with wagons full of “wax,” with all the wealth we amassed during our lifetime, only to be told that all this has no value there. All we will have will be the small handful of Misvot that we collected along the way, and we will agonize over the fact that we worked so hard to amass such valueless commodities, rather than picking up the “diamonds” that are everywhere here on earth.
On the holiday of Succot, we leave our permanent homes and move into the temporary dwelling of the Succa. This experience is meant to remind us of the transient nature of life, that we inhabit this world only temporarily. The entire earth, we must realize, is just a Succa, a temporary structure, which we eventually leave, making our way to the eternal world.
We must therefore remember to spend our time collecting diamonds, instead of wax. When we reflect upon the message of the Succa, we will turn our attention to the true commodities of the world, to the myriad of opportunities we have to study Torah and perform Misvot, rather than exert ourselves in the endless pursuit of material goods.