Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sukkot

As I watch the devastating pictures from Colorado, I am reminded again of the power and fury of nature.  Too often, in these past years, we find ourselves at nature’s mercy.  The holiday of Sukkot is a reminder that nothing we build, nothing we create with our own hands, is as permanent as it seems.

For one week we are commanded to live not in our sturdy homes but in frail, temporary huts.  If these structures can withstand a strong wind, or rain, then they can no longer be called sukkot.  They must be temporary.  The roof must be thin enough that stars can be visible in the nighttime sky.  If every drop of rain is kept out then it is deemed a house and not a sukkah.

The holiday’s origins trace back to our wandering in the desert wilderness.  There we lived in temporary structures as we struggled to wed our freedom from Egypt to the commitments found in the Torah.  All journeys are filled with trial and difficulties.  All travels are moments of vulnerability.  This is what Sukkot represents.

It reminds us that not everything is in our hands.  Nature is beyond our control.  Just as a mere wind can knock down a sukkah so to a storm can lift a home off its foundations.  No roof can protect us from all evil and harm.  Sitting in our sukkot we remember this.

On Sukkot we read from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, called in Hebrew Kohelet.  The book opens with the stark words: “Utter futility!—said Kohelet—Utter futility! All is futile!  What real value is there for a man in all the gains he makes beneath the sun?”  The book reinforces the message that all is like a mere breath.  Even the homes to which we devote so much time and energy and expense are fleeting.

What then is the Jewish response to this fragility and angst?  Embrace it. Build a temporary structure.  Eat your meals there.  Sleep in the sukkah.  Rejoice in your festivals.

Celebrate, despite all of life’s vulnerabilities.  No wind or rain, storm or flood, can ever banish a song from our hearts. 

Recall, the heart is far more sturdy that even the most well built homes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE: "If these structures can withstand a strong wind, or rain, then they can no longer be called sukkot."

All my life I've heard the Sukkah must be fragile - and as an adult, I understand this as you do - embrace the fragility of life ... but, in studying Masechet Sukkah and the Shulchan Aruch - I find no citation for this - where would I find it?