Yom Rivii, 21 Tammuz 5779
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Sukkot 5776

Sukkot
Rabbi Janet Darley
30th September 2015

 

We follow our cerebral effort of the High Holydays with the physicality of Sukkot. After hours of prayer and contemplation we now move outdoors, take up implements and try to construct a sukkah. ·The sukkah we build is fragile and relatively insubstantial; only three walls and a roof which should allow us to see the stars. We eat in it, maybe even sleep in it.· This gives us an experience of something very different from the nice, warm, protected environment of our houses.

Once Sukkot was The Festival with its unmistakable tie–in to the life-giving natural world and the harvest that sustains us. Few of us now grow food for ourselves and Sukkot almost seems an after-thought following the intensity of the preceding period. Yet Sukkot, although no longer He Chag-The Festival-as it was in Biblical times, has the potential to make us think about our lives in profound ways and to confront us with some challenging demands if we take the time to really think about it.

Our sukkot represent the temporary dwellings the Israelites lived in while in the wilderness. They remind us we too were once displaced, wandering.· And for many of us that is not a distant memory but a more immediate one as we either came ourselves from other countries or have family who did.

Our sukkot teach us much about the fragility and vulnerability of our lives. No matter how good we get at building them, everyone’s sukkah is a fragile, temporary structure. By its very nature, a sukkah is vulnerable to storms, rain and wind (and where I am originally from, to snow), with the potential for collapsing walls and escaping schach.· And so is everyone’s life.· This may not be a message we want to hear, but it is one we cannot ignore.· Sukkot brings this message home to us in a very powerful way.

This year, particularly as we watch the news and read the papers, we cannot miss the temporary dwellings that so many are living in as they try to escape wars and upheavals in their countries. Many of them, especially those from Syria once lived the safe, middle-class lives most of us currently live. They could not have imagined living in tents, but it is so.

One of the old customs of Sukkot was the inviting of Ushpizin—guests.· Symbolically we once invited our ancestors to dwell in the sukkah with us. But beyond that symbolic inviting, Sukkot encourages us to practice hospitality.· By its very nature, a sukkah is open—we can see it as representative of Abraham and Sarah’s tent and a reminder of their hospitality.· Just as its roof opens to the sky, so, too, we are reminded that we must be open to the stranger, the other and the guest. This is an obligation, not an optional extra.

Sukkot reminds us that our structures and institutions need to be opened up—not closed, not inward looking, not self absorbed. Only when we open our homes, even temporarily, to those outside – only then can we draw near to God and receive the sacred gift of the presence of the Schechinah. And only when welcoming the outsider into our lives can we return to the everyday of permanent structures, concrete, brick and walls, with a new love and respect for all humanity.

Perhaps we would do well to also remember another ancient custom of Temple times.· It was on Sukkot that 70 bulls were sacrificed in the Temple; one for every nation of the world. Our concern for the welfare of all nations is an ancient one. Despite the downplaying at times in our history of the universal message of Sukkot, it seems to me that we can ill afford to forget this message now.

We must stand together with others to insist we offer a safe-haven to those fleeing for their lives. At the same time we cannot forget the others among us desperate for shelter as the weather cools. May the festival lead us to action over the days and months ahead. ·Sukkot also helps remind us that Judaism’s goal is not that we should just sit in the synagogue at prayer, but that we must build a holy world with "the labour of our hands" (Psalms 90:17).