Parashat Sukkot 2011/5772

By April Akiva, MAJE

The weather forecast for this week is sunny and hot, thank God!  Last Tuesday and Wednesday, as I felt the cooling off of fall and the first rain of the season, I began to worry about Sukkot.  What if it rains during Sukkot?  Where will we have services?  What if it rains on the Religious School’s Sukkot Family Day this Sunday?  How will our indoor space accommodate all the guests that we expect for the holiday celebration?  What is “Plan B?”

Ironically, we actually begin to pray for rain on Sukkot in hopes for a rainy season to help our crops grow to their potential and have enough harvest for the season.  But for a person or community depending on a Sukkah for “shelter” it can be quite worrisome, especially if there is no secondary indoor space to rely on.

Yes, Sukkot is indeed a time of joy, but it also serves as a reminder of a time when we needed to worry about shelter from natural elements—elements that could pose both discomfort and danger to our families.  In this week’s Torah reading, we are commanded:

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of Adonai [to last] seven days…you shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God (Lev. 23: 39-43)

In typical Jewish fashion, we engage in a ritual (this one, quite fun and festive) to reenact an important part of our history.  Through this celebration of Sukkot, our generation reunites with the generations before us and together we rekindle our relationship with God.  We remember that, despite our objections, Jews do camp!

Take note that the commandment includes sleeping in a sukkah for a week—sleeping outdoors in a temporary dwelling through which we may see the stars.  Fortunately for us, Jewish law makes exceptions to this ruling.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, the traditional document of Jewish law, a person may leave the Sukkah if it would be uncomfortable to stay there (for example, if it rains), except on the first night (Chapter 44, law 640).

What about our ancient Israelite ancestors?  Where did they go to hide from rain, dust storms, or cold weather?  For forty years they lived in Sukkot without an option or “Plan B.”  I can’t imagine being a mother at that point in our history and having to worry about the security of my children and loved ones.

Sukkot reminds us of this reality, causing us to be thankful for the shelter that we have.  Just as easily as God has provided shelter for us, it can be taken away, too.  We should never take these things for granted.  I think of all the people who still live in impermanence and the anguish that they must endure.  I pray that each and every human being has the opportunity to embrace Sukkot—temporary dwellings—as a festive remembrance.  I pray that each and every person in the world has the option of “Plan B,” that they each have a place to hide from the dangers of the outdoors.

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