Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Looking up at the Stars: Sukkot Thoughts

My sukkah, the backyard hut that I have built and decorated for the festival of sukkot, is finished. I will spend the next week eating and sleeping out here under the roof of leaves and bamboo through which I can see the stars through the darkness. The Rabbis tell us that the sukkah is a double reminder. It is a reminder of the simple dwellings our ancestors had as nomads in the desert. It is also a reminder of the supernatural clouds that surrounded the Bnai Israel during our 40 years in the desert, protecting us from harm. I love how it reflects my desire to beautify the commandment. I love the smell of fresh green leaves. When sukkot ends there is a prayer to say “farewell” to the sukkah. I always cry.

The Chassidic masters explain that 40 days from the beginning of Elul til Yom Kippur were a seminar in the art and science of personal growth and change. We learned how to repent and we applied what we learned and we emerge from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement as new beings, spiritual babies. Like all things immature, we are delicate. We are not quite ready to carry our new insights into the “real world” not even into the drama-heavy confines of our own homes. Instead we stake out in the outside world a kind of “field of holiness” our own personal clouds to cushion us as we prepare to be our new improved selves in the same old world. That is the first lesson. We need walls. We do not accept everything about his world unconditionally. We determine who we are and who we want to be by creating boundaries. TV is outside my boundary. A good movie might be inside. I decide what is inside and what is outside. Jewish law says that the walls need to be strong enough to withstand an ordinary wind. There is no point in setting limits if they can’t stand up to ordinary temptations, to resist the fashions of the world from the outside or the promptings of the lower self from the inside.

The roof is made of temporary materials. According to kabbalistic tradition, the roof represents our level of understanding. There is no permanent ceiling to our comprehension of spiritual matters. We are meant to be keep growing. What little I grasp this year will seem like dried out waste compared to the vitality of next year’s comprehension. As the holiday proceeds the leaves wither revealing more and of the sky, that ever present reminder of a reality that transcends our physical limitations, a glimpse of the infinite in a finite world.

I look up through the leaves and I feel the love of G-d, the touchless embrace of that infinity. We call sukkot “The Season of our Joy.” Joy helps us to carry the gains of our repentance into the sukkah and then back into our home. True Joy, the rejoicing in G-d’s goodness and generosity by enjoying His world with gratitude is the elixir that ultimately transforms our delicate new state of being into a solid new servant of G-d who can now serve in the real world.

Of all of our holidays, feasts and fasts, Sukkot is perhaps the most accessible to our neighbors both Jews and non-Jews. The power of gratitude and joy reflected in outdoor living is virtually infectious. To my Jewish friends, I encourage you to use this as an opportunity to invite others, particularly your Muslim neighbors. Break out the tea and cake and enjoy the embrace of the sukkah together. Perhaps find a little peace together.
Our sukkah is finally ready and waiting. See you in its shade!


  1. Beautiful dvar! And such a classy sukkah. Mine is a whole lot more primitive. Since I live in the woods here in Minnesota, I use saplings lashed together with twine (nylon in this modern age, it doesn't rot.) Then I cover it with whatever I've got on hand -- blankets, clear plastic to let the sun in, even old feed sacks sometimes. Definitely a poor man's sukkah. After the holiday I take off the coverings & roof materials, but leave the framework up for next year.

    This year I had to start from scratch because the heavy snow collapsed the old frame last winter. But the county road maintenance people "helped" me -- last week they cut down some small trees growing at the side of the road for fire control, so I got a whole bunch of nice straight green maple saplings for free. And some pine branches for the schchah, too, where they pruned pines that vwere hanging over the road.

    The lesson I take from this is that we are to bloom where we are planted, and that God will provide for our needs, but we must use our creativity to work withwhatever He gives us. I'm just about done putting it all together (we are 7 hours behind you in there in Israel.) I'll be posting pix on my blog but not until Chol Hamoed -- no time today. Meanwhile, you can read my article on why I didn't use a chicken for kapparot. Just click my name to get there. Chag Sameach!

    The lesson i take from this is that we bloom where we are planted

  2. Oh I wish I lived near you and Laura! Such a beautiful sukkah, no kidding!

  3. I loved reading your (deep) reflections on your sukkah. Last year around this time, I had the blessed opportunity to be invited to a sukkah in Palestine/Israel in a kibbutz of all places! Your entry brings fond memories back to my mind of being welcomed as a Muslim into the homes of a lovely Jewish couple that watched over us while we were in that part of the world...thank you so much for sharing! May you have a blessed Sukkoth full of joy! And if you are interested in knowing more about my sukkoth experience, you can read about it here: http://wbabdullah.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/hebron/

  4. I love your Sukkah , The ceiling is my favorite part !
    I'm learning so much about jewish culture from your blog,
    I would like to see and visit some but unfortunately I don't know anyone who is a jew and in my age :(
    I know I'm being off the topic but I would like to see a post about jewish weddings :)

  5. OK, the promised article about my primitive sukkah (complete with pix) is finally up on my blog now at: Building my own sukkah from stuff in the woods -- enjoy!

  6. God bless you because of sincere!!

  7. This is a great idea Lee! Perhaps once we get a house, I can build one. Great lessons for kids especially :)

  8. hiii ... Nice Post ..

    For More Entertainment .. Visit ..



  9. Thanks so much for sharing those insights. It reminds me of high school, when I learnt about these things and we actually went into one of those outside structures as part of the lesson (I went to a Jewish high school - even though I'm a Muslim).

    The aspects you spoke of regarding repentance and purity are also beautiful, and in a way, relate somewhat to the Islamic experience of Hajj (which I've written about on my slowly-developing blog).

    Thanks again for writing this. In an online world where religions and people of faith (no matter what kind) are so often ridiculed and insulted by atheists and other cynics, posts like these exemplify the bridge-building spirit that people of faith should embody.

    1. Absolutely! Amen and salli alaa muhammad wa aali muhammad(blessings on muhammad and the progeny of muhammad, often said by muslims-shias in particular, at the beginning and end of dua/supplications, for a greater acceptance from Allah-swt)!