Thoughts on Judaism: Monsoon Shoteh
This past Yom tov I spent among Chabad chevra. It is their custom to eat in the sukkah, even in the rain, and the weather was not disappointing. Baseball players would have safely in their hotels. All non-shotehs had long gone inside. After all, it is only shmini Atzeres, and even stalworts do not make a blessing. I remember only one such monsoon before, when I was a young whippersnapper in Crown Heights. I was amazed as they set up the sukkah. You mean, we are eating .... OUT THERE???!!!! 50 mph gusts and 45 degrees and a cold, whipping rain racked the little sukkah on the 3rd floor porch, as the paperwares went flying around together with the plastic on the table covering them. I point out that it says that only a Shoteh would eat in the rain according to the Gemorrah. Well, replied my host, it is a good thing that it is not raining that hard. Sukos in CH is only for the most weatherresistant, I decide.
This year, I had the pleasure to host and be hosted by two Lubavitchers for whom I have the utmost respect. The first, a chasid from the early days of CH, sat down in the sukah and recounted the flavor of life in the Bedford Yeshiva. Not only did he devise a way fo us to eat in the driving rainstorm, but he recounted nostalgia that was so intriguing, I might have stayed yet another hour to hear more. Alas, my guest finally became too waterlogged himself and decided he needed to bench and leave. His stories and his life reminded me vividly of what I had loved about Chabad, back when I did indeed love it. I would add that this gentleman was one of those whom I had in mind when I wrote the "foundation of kindness" paragraph of "Defending Chabad". I realized why he had wanted to sit in the sukah that evening. This connected him with his Rebbe, in an unbreakable way, in the way that a million nonsenical slogans cannot. No Yechi. No Ad Mosai. No "we want Moshiach now". Just a Bedford Yeshiva veteran doing what chasidim do, because he could not conceive of doing otherwise nor a reason for doing otherwise. Ah yes, we used to call that "TRUTH" didn't we?
By the daytime meal, the rain had slowed to a steady cold shower, but the soup still suffered and the cutlery still flew. This sukah was full, our host, the venerable shliach and ardent Moshiachist, his son, a young budding shliach, brilliant and kind, but interested in apologetics (we must cure the boy quickly), some alter Ruskies and some other non-Chabad types like myself. I attempted several innovative methods to keep myself dry and mobile enough to eat, to a chorus of laughs from a certain rebeltzin and her daughters who shall remain nameless. Hmph! The host wore a long black "kopata" and wide rimmed 1940's Fedora, as is customary in Chabad, and nothing at all in the way of raingear. Again, surprisingly, no slogans, a few Chasidic stories of the formula variety, and some rather interesting Torah discussion from the jillions of verter that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had said, dictated and edited. I noticed that our host seemed to gain strength from the rain.
So, I suppose at the end, the food was a little soggy, the clothing was ready for dry cleaning, and an adventure was had by all. There is a lot more to being a Shoteh than meets the eye.