20 October 2016
During the holiday of Sukkot, we are commanded to “…live in booths seven days.”
The sukkah (notwithstanding our attempts to brace, bolt and batten down) is, by definition, a temporary structure. Its fragility is the point: to remind us that lasting strength comes from our relationships with God and other people, not from wealth, material possessions or even the presumed security of our homes. Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen seemed to be summing up the essence of Sukkot when he wrote, “Your home is regarded as a model home, your life as a model life. But all this splendor, and you along with it … it’s just as though it were built upon a shifting quagmire. A moment may come, a word can be spoken, and both you and all this splendor will collapse.”
As we sit in our homes and in our sukkot, we consider the fragility of our lives and the lives of others throughout the world. The death and destruction in Haiti and along the Southeastern US coast just last week from Hurricane Matthew put an exclamation point on the fragile and fleeting nature of material possessions and human life. It is up to each of us living secure and blessed lives to acknowledge and give thanks for what we have and to provide assistance, solidarity and strength to those who are in need. In the midst of joy, we are reminded that there are those who have none. In the midst of plenty, there are those without. The theme of holding off on full celebration until we have provided for the needy is repeated over and over in Jewish tradition, including delivering baskets of food and giving tzedakah (charity) on Purim and inviting the stranger to the Sukkah, the Pesach and Shabbat tables.
As we complete and begin the cycle of Torah readings next week on Simchat Torah, we note that the final Hebrew letter of the Torah is the “lamed”; the first is “bet.” Together, they spell “lev”, or heart, which rejoices at the blessings of health, family, community and Torah. Let us commit to a year of hearts that are not hardened to those who need us.