In the Final Hours of My Wilting Sukkah
One mitzvah of Sukkot is to “dwell in sukkot;” another is to “rejoice.” So what if the roof of the sukkah leaks rain into your soup and invites cold wind or mosquitoes to join your festive meal? What if your festival isn’t so festive because of the threats that come in the “natural world”? Our Sages teach that the greater mitzvah is to “rejoice” and so you are permitted to go indoors for your festive meal.
The mitzvah challenge, however, is to find a way to rejoice despite such exposure to the elements, to feel the embrace of God’s shelter. It would be cruel to expect this of a person who is without a home, but for those who are only without a reliable roof for a few days of the year, it is a good lesson. How to rejoice internally even when the physical world is threatening? This is the spiritual challenge of this year’s Sukkot, Festival of our Rejoicing.
In Israel, it is common for palm branches to be used for schach (thatching for the roof of the sukkah). In Canada, pine. In Indiana, corn stalks. A California vintner, Benyamin Cantz, uses the old vines from his vinyard. He asks, if we use the leftovers from our fields and forests for schach, what does God use for the roof of God’s sukkah? (This playful question is in keeping with the Talmudic inquiry into what is written inside God’s tefillin. Of course, God doesn’t wear tefillin or sit in a sukkah, but our Sages were willing to go there in their imagination.)
Cantz suggests that perhaps God uses the discarded human sins leftover from the Ten Days of Repentance to cover the room of God’s sukkah. Nothing goes to waste and nothing is without a purpose. Even the husks of our transgressions are made holy and given purpose.
This raises another spiritual challenge for this season. We might ask ourselves: What human transgressions can be reworked and put towards a positive outcome? What lessons have humanity learned in recent months? There are many hard lessons learned in the areas of environmental health, systemic racism, civic engagement, and gender equity. How can the sins of the past be transformed and reconstructed into a canopy of protection for all?
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!