There’s a story about Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker) that I always think about around Sukkos. Here’s the version I know:
Once, one of his Chassidim came to see the Kotzker because this chassid was having problems with kavanah during davening (I can relate). The chassid told the Kotzker that when he davens he can’t help but think about his business, or his kids, or other thing he needs to do during the day.
The Kotzker said, just push those things out of your mind. You are in control of your thoughts, not the other way around. Things will work out. Frustrated, the man went home.
The next day a group of the Kotzker’s Chassidim came over to the man’s home and started removing all of his furniture and his belongings. “What’s going on here!” the man exclaimed. The Chassidim only told he to go see the Kotzker. Of course, this chassid ran to his Rebbe.
He said, “I don’t understand. Why did you take everything out of my house?”
The Kotzker asked him, “Who owns all of these things?”
“Why, I do”, replied the, now angry, chassid. “These are mine.”
The Kotzker told him that he was wrong. These are now mine. See how easy it is to take things from a person. If you can’t stop yourself from taking away your own kavanah during davening, then, of course, you can’t stop things like furniture from leaving your own home.
As I build my Sukkah every year I think about the fact that during the year it’s not so easy to control what comes in and leaves our homes. Media, pop culture, conversations on the school bus… you get the idea. On Sukkos we have an opportunity to control what comes in our own Sukkah, our daled amos. This is one of the reasons I love Sukkos. It’s a ‘back to basics’ Yom Tov.
It’s us, our family and friends, our Sukkah, and Hashem dwelling with us. We strip away all pretense and materialism. I could not think of a better way to really start my year off. Have a Sukkos full of simcha!