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The Sukkah: Enduring in Its Impermanence Sukkot 5784

09/27/2023 08:58:03 AM


Rabbi Rudin


Sitting out in the Sukkah on a crisp fall evening is the mother of all immersive experiences.

You feel somehow secure and enclosed in the flimsy walls and patchy roof but at the same time, the fragility of the shelter makes you acutely aware of the outside darkness and the infinity of the night sky and twinkling stars. 

The Sukkah might be a metaphor for the human condition - a temporary shelter in eternity, a thrown together structure wherein we meet, laugh, eat, drink, sing and pray but that can be overturned by a wind or rendered uninhabitable by a rainstorm or cold snap. Our security and safety, so says the Sukkah, is an illusion or at best a hope. So treasure and cherish the moments of light and celebration while the walls and roof stand for however long they endure.

But that’s only the surface.

The Sukkah is called Tzila D’Mehemnuta, the Shelter of Faith. The walls of the Sukkah only appear to be made of fabric or wood. The roof looks as though it were made of straw or branches or bamboo strips. In reality, the Sukkah is created out of our faith, our determination to live our people’s saga, our will to be who we are and our connection to the inexhaustible source of life and love that we call YHVH, the Ever-Being, Ever-Becoming Wellspring of Existence.The worldly Sukkah is indeed just a temporary shelter like our lives themselves.

When Rabbi Israel Kagen, the Chofetz Chaim, the greatest Torah scholar of the 19th century was visited by wealthy guests from the United States, they were surprised at how small and meager his tiny shtetl house was. How could such a great leader live in a home with a bare earthen floor and so few articles of furniture?

Why are you surprised? Asked the Chofetz Chaim. What sort of places are you staying in? Us? Said the visitors. We’re just staying in an inn not much more luxurious than your house here, not like our homes in New York! But here, we’re just passing through.

Me too!  Said the Chofetz Chaim laughing. I’m just passing through too!

The Sukkah reflects the truths that lie so deep and are so real that it transcends the need for thick walls and buttressed roofs. What thickness and fortification could ever represent the endurance and resilience of Jewish survival, continuity and creativity?

The strength of the Sukkah, the Shelter of Faith, is not in its earthly form - it rises up and is taken down in an hour. Until next Sukkot when it again rises, year after year, age after age, more enduring, more returning, more permanent than any of the buildings and halls and fortresses ever built by the hand of humanity. The Sukkah is a human structure to be sure - but it encloses eternity.

Chag Sameach!

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784