Sukkot: A holiday for the time of covid – The Jewish Standard

Posted By on October 4, 2020

Two verses in Leviticus 23 teach us a powerful lesson about the holiday of Sukkot and end up raising an intriguing question that continues to speak to us today in 2020, perhaps never more so that right now during this pandemic. Leviticus 23:42-43 states, You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens of 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.

What is the powerful lesson we learn from these verses? From the phrase in order that future generations may know we learn that not only must we dwell in sukkot during the holiday of Sukkot, but we must be aware that we are dwelling in sukkot during the days of the holiday. The actual reality of our dwelling is not enough, we must be aware of it as well. This leads to the detailed Jewish laws about the maximum height of a sukkah, because the rabbis determined that if the height of a sukkah was too high (about 32 feet) then people would not realize that they were in a Sukkah at all.

That is the lesson we learn about Sukkot from these two verses, but what is even more intriguing is what goes unstated in these verses. What is the purpose of the sukkah altogether? Why do we have to dwell in it? Leviticus 23:43 states that we build the sukkah so we should know that our ancestors lived in booths when God brought them out of Egypt thousands of years ago. But were left with the question of why? Of all the details we could remember about our Biblical history, why is this detail built up so that it is the rationale behind one of the three major pilgrimage festivals?

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A possible answer is found in the Talmud when two rabbis discuss what the purpose of the sukkah could be (BT Sukkah 11b). Rabbi Eliezer states that the sukkah represents ananei kavod, clouds of glory (representing Gods presence), while Rabbi Akiva states that the sukkot represent sukkat mamash, actual sukkot, huts that were temporary homes in the desert. If we follow the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer (clouds of glory), it is clear why we build a sukkah today. God protected us while we were in the desert and we build sukkot every year to remember Gods protection.

If, however, we follow Rabbi Akivas opinion that the sukkot represent huts we lived in while wandering in the desert, why exactly should we celebrate that memory? Huts arent miraculous, huts dont even truly protect us from the natural elements! If youve ever endured a rainstorm in a sukkah, you know just what a sukkah can protect you from, and what it cannot protect you from. And maybe that is the entire point.

Perhaps we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot by building flimsy temporary huts to remind us that thousands of years ago we followed Gods commands and went in to the desert with nothing to protect us from the harsh wind and sun except for those flimsy huts. We had no guarantees that the huts would protect us, no promises that it would all work out, and yet we still followed God out of Egypt and made our way (the long way, to be sure) through the desert. We celebrate our embrace of that time of insecurity during a holiday on which we are commanded to be happy. Sukkot is, after all, zman simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing. Was it not brave of our ancestors to not only follow God into the wilderness without knowing what would happen during the journey, but to do with a smile on their faces?

Today, we are living through a moment in time that is crying out for a holiday that teaches us these two lessons: how to deal with insecurity and the unknown, and how to do so with a smile on our face. That smile, however, should not be misunderstood as a smile that represents acquiescence or lack of action on our part. We should all do our best to stay safe and keep those around us safe. Instead, the smile represents our ability to move forward with joy in our hearts even though we dont know where we are going on this journey or when the journey will end.

Our sukkot will protect us and help guide us over the holiday. They probably wont protect us from the rain, but they just might help us understand how to move forward during these troubled times. Step by step on our journey we will get through this, and we should allow ourselves to do so with joy in our hearts. Our ancestors would have expected no less of us. Chag Sameach.

Continued here:

Sukkot: A holiday for the time of covid - The Jewish Standard

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