You shall dwell in Sukkot seven days. . . In order that future generations will know that I made the Israelites live in Sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. [Leviticus 23:42, 43]
It’s the morning following Yom Kippur and seemingly overnight sukkot have sprouted throughout Jerusalem. They are on the streets, in balconies, on the premises of restaurants and coffeehouses as well as a variety of public venues. The religiously observant are fastidious in eating all their meals during the Sukkot Festival in a sukkah. This frail structure is termed a temporary dwelling that is grounded in the memory of G-d’s provision of Sukkot for our wandering ancestors.The essence of the sukkah is its roof or covering (s’chach) that can only be made from material that grows in the ground. S’chach can be tree branches. wooden slats or bamboo mats. The sukkah itself is often decorated with wall hangings and posters, strings of popcorn or cranberries and of course the artwork of children and grandchildren, all of which adds to the festive nature of this much beloved holiday.
The Biblical command to erect and “dwell” in a sukkah enables us to recall that during the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai. With these flimsy structures G-d provided shelter from the severe desert sun as well as private space for each family.
Nature can be harsh. We are constantly reminded of its power and its capacity to destroy the work of human hands. Terrible wildfires have claimed lives and destroyed communities. Hurricanes with their high winds and rising water levels have overrun cities and
These disasters have destroyed homes and created the need to provide shelters for the suddenly homeless. The commitment to provide shelter for victims of disasters is a godlike act–it emulates G-d’s concern for the wandering Israelites.
Shelters are a reality throughout the globe. Migrants fleeing their war-torn nations are packed into overcrowded shelters. In American communities, the homeless are thankful for the shelters that have sprouted in our midst. All these attempts to provide a modicum of shelter and food for the many in need emulate G-d’s concern for our wandering and migrant ancestors.
Thus our tradition mandates that we erect a sukkah, the week-long temporary shelter that is central to our holiday observance. The purpose of moving into the frail sukkah is to sensitize us to the human suffering of those now homeless because of flood or war. We cannot as individuals provide shelter for all in need, but we can and should offer financial support by our contribution to relief agencies that are engaged in this holy work. These are acts of true chesed (loving kindness).
Sukkot appear in our midst but once a year, but the need to provide shelter is both timeless and timely. As we enter and enjoy our Sukkot may we be sensitized to the Festival’s call to emulate G-d who provided shelter for our wondering ancestors, who in every sense were migrants fleeing the harsh oppression of Pharaoh’s Egypt. May we now do G-d’s work in our times.