Posted by: Subway Conductor | October 2, 2020

A Derasha for Sukkot

Sukkot must seem to some a very strange holiday. Have you ever tried to explain to someone who is not Jewish that we have a holiday where we build a little hut outside? Just as everyone else is moving the lawn furniture inside, we are planning to eat outside in this hut. What is going on with Sukkot?

The three festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – are connected with the events of the Torah. Passover commemorates the exodus, Shavuot, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and Sukkot, the wandering in the wilderness. The Torah states, “You shall live in booths seven days, …in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:42) By observing the festivals every year, we reenact these events.

However, there is a deeper meaning to Sukkot. A Sukkah is a temporary dwelling that is subject to the forces of nature. It is vulnerable to wind and rain, cold and heat. I have had the experience of building a Sukkah and watching it blow down before we even had a chance to sit in it. I know that many others have shared this experience. The Sukkah is a metaphor for life which is temporary and precarious. Our lives are subject to the forces of nature as we have learned all too well in recent months.  There is a custom to read the biblical book Ecclesiastes on the Sabbath during Sukkot. This book begins with the words, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes is an extended meditation on the precariousness of life. We spend our days pursuing things that have no permanence. Life is like a breath that vanishes.

On Sukkot, we remind ourselves that G-d protected us and sustained us in the wilderness for forty years. But more than that, G-d protects us and sustains us in life. As we sit in our temporary booth, we are engaged in the one activity that has substance and meaning, we are performing a mitzvah. The very act of sitting in the Sukkah is a mitzvah. This is also the solution that Ecclesiastes finds. The book concludes, “The end of the matter, when all is said and done, revere G-d and keep His commandments. For this is the whole duty of man.” 

Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov

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