Thursday, 13 Oct 2016

Written by Kath Vardi

I would like to offer a song:

Zalman  wandered the world in confusion. Asking himself – who am I?

I am the person that owns land and grows crops,

 I look after the land well and its all under control.  

But then a voice called from Heaven and said – “Zalman that’s not what you are. It’s the Shmeita year now, the land will blossom and bear fruit without your help”.  

 Zalman  was busy calling everybody up and he said to himself ,

“I control my time, I only have to do is pick up the phone and its all organised, I have shares and money, Nothing can surprised me. I have a non stop career”

 then a voice called from heaven and said –“ Zalman that’s not what you are –its Shabbat now and the Shabbat Queen is here. You are one of the people who pray, you are not your land, nor your career, you are simply Zalman”.

Zalman then looked at his beautiful and attractive wife of many years. He said to himself, “we have created the ideal family, she is my Eshet Chaiyal. And me? Who am I? I’m her  husband”.

 Then a voice called from Heaven and said, “Zalman you are not that, your wife is not yours and anyhow she is in Niddah right now, you  couldn’t be more mistaken about it all,  your wife does not belong to you,  you are not your career, you are not your land,  you are simply Zalman”.

So  then Zalman lay on his couch and looked at his walls and out of his window and  he said, – “my home is my castle – it is my kingdom”

 – and then again a voice came from Heaven and said  “Zalman this is not what you are – its Sukkot right now, go out to the Sukkah, don’t start getting upset with Me. Look at the stars through the fronds of the Sukkah. You are not your house, your wife does not belong to you, you are not your career, and you are also not your land, you are simply Zalman”.

So then Zalman went to his poorly father and said to him “Father who am I”? And his father replied – “  you are my son” and then he died.

 Zalman’s father left his name to his grandson and not Zalman and so Zalman was still left with his questions. And then a voice called from Heaven, this time with the  answer and said,” Zalman you are always getting confused between what you are and who you are. When are you  going to understand the connection for yourself?  You are not your land,

 nor your wife,

nor your social standing

– you are not even your questions –

you are simply

you”. [1]

Poor Zalman.

Trying to find his way in the world he looked to all those areas of his life that he had succeeded in. His work, his green fingers, his marriage and his home, but for all this he was still filled with existential questions. Who am I? What makes my life meaningful? What is my worth bound up with?

The Bat Kol tells  him to go his Sukkah, to look up at the stars – into the vastness of space through the fronds of greenery covering the roof. God is suggesting to Zalman that he take a moment to consider his place in the universe. All his trappings of success, those things that he feels make him powerful and of significance are maybe not quite so consequential after all.

For us too, maybe sitting in our succah, partially exposed to the elements, but with our brick and mortar house just yards away, maybe this contrast also encourages us to consider the part we play in this great drama we call life.  Having petitioned God to seal us in the Book of Life, we immediately go out to build a temporary structure in which we are commanded to leshev – to sit. For many traditional authorities this ‘sitting’ includes not just eating our meals but also sleeping, as we are instructed to see this temporary structure as our home. We have just marked one of the most profoundly introspective 25 hours of our calendar, where we have pondered our own mortality and fragility as human beings. Perhaps it is quite appropriate therefore that we should move almost immediately to build a temporary residence, which only provides partial shelter from the elements.  No central heating, or cavity wall insulation. No five lever lock doors to shut out the world, but we do have at least three wall and a roof capable of providing shade – if not shelter from the rain. Sat outside in our succot we extend our sense of liminality that we experienced at Yom Kippur. We are neither quite outside, nor quite indoors; we are neither secure nor completely  captive to fortune.

Outside of our castles, separated from the elements by only a thin and flimsy structure maybe we are freed to look more closely at where our foundations as individuals lie. Like Zalman maybe the voice from Heaven calls and tells us that we are not what we do, nor what we own.  Maybe the voice asks us what is it that really sustains and nourishes us?  Sat in our succah, we invite others in and, devoid of the trappings and comforts of material wealth, we are simply there. There is little to hide behind, little material evidence of our worth and success. Sat in our succah, we are the evidence of what makes us special. There is no beautiful new kitchen to eat in. We invite others to join us, to spend time with us. We share our food and our stories – we share ourselves.

We are unique as individuals, in and of ourselves, beautiful, non-replaceable and uniquely complex. The Mishnah tells us that whilst human beings mint their coins from the same mould, and they are therefore all identical, God, on the other hand has minted us all from His unique seal and we are therefore all different, all unique and, as a result we need to keep in mind that the world was also created uniquely for us alone[2] – and also I would add, that we were created uniquely for the world. This is our worth. Our connectedness to one another, to nature, to the seasons, to the wider universe in which we live.

We are not our work, our castles, nor what and who we are able to influence.  Like Zalman, sat in his Succah we too are simply us. In all our complex beauty, with all our questions, we each of us bring something valuable and enriching to the feast.


Kath Vardi LBC rabbinic student


[1] Adapted from the Hebrew.’ ZalmanZe Lo Ata’ Taken from Kobi Oz –Mizmorey Nevochim

[2] m. Sanhedrin 4.5

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.