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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Essence of Sukkot

The Strength of a Sukka

Rabbi Stewart WeissTishrei 12 5781
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Why do we sit in Sukkot?

Well, like most Jewish practices, there is a dispute! Rabbi Akiva, following the pasuk in Parshat Emor, says it is to remind the generations that Hashem placed us in Sukkot as He took us on our journey from Egypt to Israel. In this way, we are climbing into our time machine and "re-living" history, much as we do when we eat Matzot, or light the Chanukiya. It is a "you are there!" experience.

Rabbi Eliezer - perhaps because there are so many reference in the Torah to our dwelling in tents in the desert - offers a different idea. He says that these booths are meant to represent the Clouds of Glory that surrounded us as we traveled. These were more than just clouds; they were a kind of force-field that stopped any attacks upon us, that flattened mountains in our way and that even killed any dangerous snakes or scorpions in our path.

Rabbi Eliezer's opinion is so very meaningful this year of Corona. We human beings believe that we can build walls around us that guard and protect us from any danger - "a man's home is his castle," we say, implying that we are invulnerable behind these walls. But the pandemic brings home the harsh reality that we are quite vulnerable, indeed, and that the tiniest microbe can attack and harm us no matter how grand our home may be. It is only through Hashem safeguarding us that we survive, and flourish.

And so the humility that emerges from our little Sukka puts us "in our place" and prevents us from being too arrogant or self-assured of our own mortal powers.

And yet, as I helped my intrepid son build our Sukka, another thought occurred to me. WE are creating this Sukka! That is, while the command comes from the Torah, if we ourselves did not put up the walls and cover the roof, there would be no Sukka at all. This tells me that even as I acknowledge my allegiance to Hashem and His commandments, I affirm my own role in this ritual, and my own place in the universe. I am, in a very real way, Hashem's (junior) partner.

What this says to us, particularly regarding this Mitzva of Sukka, is that not only do we look to Hashem to watch over us, we need to also watch over ourselves! Gathering in groups for any reason - including to study Torah or to pray - or not wearing a mask in public is tantamount to saying to G-d: "We don't need Your help, we'll take our chances with our health and roll the dice as to whether we live or die."

Is that really the message we want to send?!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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