Breaking the fourth wall | Religious Life – Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Posted By on September 22, 2021

The architecture of our lives begins with a basic anatomy lesson, which features the intersection of the evanescent and the eternal. Our corporal body is a complex environment, magnificently designed to be multi-functional and time limited. Our spiritual body is always present, but invisible, light-infused, designed to navigate timelessness.

Among other notable characteristics such as aesthetic, functional, relationship to nature, architectural expressions provide modes of protection. We can consider how the three-dimensional human body is an architectural structure, created by The Source of Life, that shelters the spirit like walls shelter people. However, the human body, unlike a steel building, is particularly vulnerable on all sides. One could argue that the spirit, having a timeless bandwidth, is stronger and needs the body less.

During Sukkot, we observe the ancient tradition of building huts, or booths, and their direct correlation with human fragility and Gods redemptive powers.

According to our Biblical account: 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. (Lev. 23:42-43)

Across the generations, these temporary structures dutifully enveloped ancient Jewish traditions, personal and familial memories. As the walls of the sukkah were secured in place, the boundaries of the festival were delineated and we began marking sacred time by our association with them. In the middle of the holy first two and final two days of Sukkot, we address the experience of being in between, the reality of impermanence and the visible presence of walls in transition. When we read Kohelet on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, we are further reminded of lifes changing seasons and their implications.

Imagine how walls have their seasons and their diversity. For example, think about their physical, psychological and metaphorical qualities. Interestingly, the Talmud highlights the potential for variety when constructing the walls of the sukkah. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, zl referenced the Talmuds guidance in Masechet Sukkah 6. Although a minimum of three walls were needed to build a sukkah, the third wall could be a different size, even smaller than the other two: a tefach (handbreath) wide. According to Jewish law, the smaller wall is acceptable as complete. Furthermore, Rava asserted that this different wall allows for a private domain, a reshut ha yahid, for Shabbat purposes, as well as Sukkot. Today, with room for interpretation of shapes, sizes and materials, there are sukkah design contests all over the world that translate sukkah walls into architectural wonders.

Like a sukkah, within theatrical performance, there are three different directions, or walls, in which the action unfolds on a stage. Then, there is the imaginary fourth wall that separates the audience from the performance. The fourth wall is also used in literature to identify the conceptual barrier between the story and the reader. Breaking the fourth wall is a term attributed to French philosopher, art critic, author, Denis Diderot, in 1758. Removing, or breaking the barrier of the fourth wall enables more intimate encounters, bringing people closer to the performance, or story, and making them an integral part of the art form. Engagement shifts. Conditions of participation, interchange and a range of emotions are enhanced. In this case, what is broken isnt something in need of repair, or less than whole. Instead, what is broken allows for opportunities and closeness.

Because the actions of our lives unfold in the space between birth and death, because Torah is articulated in that space, we could argue that Chol Hamoed, these in between days, represent a particular holiness that isnt necessarily less important, or less spiritually charged. Shaping holy space/time of the in between are the walls we construct, revise, deconstruct, destroy. As we gather the four species in our hands and bless in all directions above, below, forward, back, side to side we can remind ourselves that the blessings we give, receive and hope for, are as multi-dimensional as the spaces we create with and without walls.

On Sukkot, we break that fourth wall in keeping with the mitzvah of Haknasat Orchim. In the opening, we manifest one act of courage, one act of welcome, one act of inclusion, one act of beauty, one act of kindness at a time. Animating the thirteen attributes of God (Ex. 34:6-7), Sukkah Shalom is made possible. With infinite possibilities, we contribute to the perfecting of our world. Then, the sounds of Tzman simchateinu reverberate across the valleys and mountains and no wall will ever be the same. JN

Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.

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Breaking the fourth wall | Religious Life - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

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