Sukkot: Temporary and Permeable

September 19, 2013 at 1:05 am | Posted in Sukkot | Leave a comment

The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashannah, begins with a new moon. When the moon waxes full, we enter the week-long holiday of Sukkot.

In the sukkot you shall live seven days; all the citizens of Israel shall live in the sukkot, so that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel live in the sukkot when I brought them out from the land of Egypt …(Leviticus/Vayikra 23:42-43)

sukkot  = plural of sukkah = hut or temporary shelter.

This week many Jews are eating meals and spending time in their sukkot. A ritual sukkah must be a temporary construction, built right after Yom Kippur. It must also be permeable, roofed with plant materials such as branches or reeds—materials that leave gaps big enough to let in rain and starlight. You cannot seal yourself off from the world in a sukkah.

The sukkah reminds me of another temporary dwelling-place in the Torah:

And let them make for me a holy place, and I will dwell in their midst. Like everything that I am showing you, the pattern of the mishkan and the pattern of its furnishings, thus you shall make it.  (Exodus/Shemot 25:8-9)

mishkan = dwelling-place, home. (From the root word shakan = stay, dwell, inhabit.)

When the Israelites camp, the priests and Levites assemble all the pieces of the mishkan and rebuild the sanctuary. Then when the Israelites move on, the Levites disassemble all the pieces and carry them on the journey through the wilderness. The mishkan is both temporary and portable.

When we assemble a sukkah, it’s not only a dwelling-place for us, but also a mishkan for God. In kabbalah, the aspect of God that dwells here in this world is the Shechinah, a feminine form of the noun for “dweller, inhabitant”, from the same root as mishkan. As we sit in the sukkah, we invite God in, and God dwells “in our midst”, inside us.

Like the mishkan, a sukkah is temporary. Sitting in a temporary shelter can remind us that we are temporary visitors in the world. Humans get attached to things; we crave permanence. Yet in the Torah, the Israelites escape the slavery of Egypt and live in the wilderness for 40 years in tents. A sukkah is a reminder that we have the power to become free from attachments to material things, even from attachments to our homes and our familiar lives. We can find shelter wherever we go. Sometimes it’s hard to step out from under our solid roofs, but we can do it.

A sukkah is also permeable. The gaps in its roof let in rain, and let us see stars at night. We are more connected with nature than we think. And we are more connected with the divine than we think.

May we all rejoice in our temporary and permeable lives, which give us openings to the divine and invitations to freedom.

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