Remembering that our security comes from Above.
By Claudia Dornbusch-Aumann
Unlike most of the other holidays on the Jewish calendar, Sukkot doesn’t celebrate a major event which saved the Jewish people from serious danger or one that changed the course of Jewish history. In fact, it doesn’t commemorate an event that occurred on a particular date; nothing of significance occurred to the Jewish people on the 15th of Tishrei. So what are we celebrating and what is the significance of this holiday to us today?
The holiday of Sukkot celebrates the fact that after finally leaving Egypt, the Jewish people survived forty years in the desert living in shacks that were, at all times, surrounded by G-d’s presence. These “Clouds of Glory” traveled with the Jewish people and were there to protect them from all possible harm. They helped them navigate and safely survive the long journey into the unknown, a journey that was fraught with dangers and unexpected challenges. Through it all, G-d hovered over them, allowing the Jewish people to feel safe, comforted, and most importantly, feel that they were not alone. His presence was felt not only on a spiritual and emotional plane, but on a physical plane as well: He provided Manna (food) that fell from the clouds and water that emanated from the Well of Miriam. Everything was taken care of, every day, for forty years.
For seven days during this holiday, we recreate the experience in the desert and remember G-d’s kindness by building a Sukkah and “living” in it. We eat all our meals in it and regard it as our “home.” In fact, some people have the custom of sleeping in it. Why is this mitzvah, chosen to name the holiday and represent what we’ll see, one of the most relevant and necessary messages for us today? G-d, in all His wisdom, knew that we would forget one of the most life-changing and pivotal concepts that must guide our life: the fact that He is always present, that we are one with Him, that our security and well-being can only come from Him, and that everything that happens around us, comes to us through His divine intervention.
So, we are commanded to leave the deceptive permanence of our homes, the solid stone, bricks and mortar of our houses which create the illusion of security and move to a vulnerable hut where we must remove one of the most destructive illusions that block our ability to connect to G-d and see His presence: the illusion that material security protects our vulnerability.
The Sukkah is built in such a way that its three-sided structure must rest completely under the unprotected open sky. Its roof made of branches or leaves must remain sufficiently open so that the stars are visible. We are commanded to sit in this fragile structure for seven days and nights and it is here that G-d knows we will be forced to contemplate the fact that in truth, the strong and completely lavish and furnished home that lies just feet away from us does not provide us our security. The car we own and drive to work does not assure our success on the job. The clothes and jewelry we wear do not define our worth. Only G-d can provide us with the security that we need. And in moving from the material and permanent nature of our homes and made to “live” in a temporal and vulnerable locale, G-d is reminding us that we must see through the material and contemplate our true interdependence with Him. In essence, we must move our perspective, shift our way of looking at life. Our security, the Sukkah reminds us, does not derive from the material. Security comes from elsewhere – it comes from above.
It is through our experience in the Sukkah that we connect deeply with G-d and remember that just as he took care of us while we were in the desert, so too today, he takes care of us at every moment. We understand that in reality, we do not control our lives. Everything that we are, everything that we have – our health, our families, our relationships, our homes, our success, and our material possessions – is only there because of Him. He takes care of us inside the comfort of our physical home and he takes care of us while we sit outside in a flimsy hut. Sukkot – and the mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah – celebrates this truth.
And in today’s stressful, competitive, and materialistic world, nothing is more important for us to contemplate and integrate into our daily lives.