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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Cutting the umbilical cord

Sukkah 23

“I can’t keep up,” said Jake, “it seems like every other parent is paying their kids’ graduate tuition, supporting them for years in kollel, buying them a house, taking them and the grandchildren to Pesach hotels, paying for grandkids’ school fees.   When do these kids start fending for themselves?  At this rate, I’ll be working till I’m 95!”

If three walls of the sukkah are man-made and the fourth is a tree, then it is a kosher sukkah so long as “if the tree were taken away, it could stand on its own.”

The imagery here is powerful.  The Mishnah is asking us to picture the uprooting of a tree – an object that may have been there for many years and is permanently situated in that place – in order to see if the flimsy, temporary sukkah can stand on its own!

As parents, we are often scared to remove ourselves from our children’s lives.  Today, more than ever, parents support their children – from helicopter parents who hover over their children’s teachers and coaches, to parents who feel obligated to bear their kids’ financial burden through multiple university degrees and kollel.

Many parents feel that they must help their children buy their first home and if they’re not yet ready then they must continue to provide room and board for their adult children through their twenties and thirties. 

But the Mishnah teaches us that sometimes we must be prepared to uproot ourselves to ascertain whether the sukkah can stand on its own.  The solid tree with its deep roots and its powerful trunk and flowing branches must cease its support for the sukkah and allow it to test its ability to stand independently. 

It is an awesome responsibility to remove the tree, but without that decision, it is impossible to tell whether or not the sukkah is kosher.  Without stepping back as parents, we are hindering our children’s ability to thrive as independent human beings.


Today, I pledge to provide my children with the tools to achieve success.  But then I shall take a step back and watch them develop on their own.  Not every sukkah will stand immediately without the tree’s support, but unless we uproot the tree, we will never allow any sukkah’le the ability to succeed in life.