Sukkot is named for the traditional practice of building and spending time in a sukkah. The practice originates in the Torah, where God commands the Israelites to dwell in sukkot each year for seven days. There are various meanings associated with the sukkah – but I want to point out the symbolism of spending time in a temporary structure.
Classical Rabbinic sources describe the ritual of dwelling in the sukkah in terms of permanence and impermanence:
Talmud Bavli, Masechet Sukkah 2a:
Rava said… For seven days leave your permanent dwelling place and dwell in a temporary dwelling place.
Mishnah Sukkah 2:9:
During the whole seven days [of the festival] one makes his sukkah [his] permanent [dwelling], and his house [a] temporary [dwelling].
Clearly the Sukkah structure, that by religious law can only have a thatched roof that allows us to see through to the sky, and can’t protect us from the weather, is not permanent like our homes. But during this week, we are asked to view the sukkah, this impermanent and kind of flimsy building, as if it were our permanent home.
To me, this is a reminder of how very fragile our lives really are. While the permanent structures of our lives seem strong, they are, in fact, also temporary and always at risk. As we have seen over and over, things can change very fast. A hurricane can come along and wipe away thousands of homes. A war can rage and displace millions of people. An illness. A lost job. Our lives can change in ways we didn’t expect.
When we sit in the sukkah, we are called to understand that our permanent things aren’t so permanent after all.
I think the sukkah’s reminder of our fragile reality is why we need the Jewish Federation. Among the things we can do to respond to impermanence is build strong community. We eat together with family and friends in our sukkot and know that, should the sukkah blow over, we will support each other. The strength of our community is what will sustain us when we face the inevitable challenges of life, and at Federation we are in the community building business.
As you all share your final days in the sukkah this weekend, know that we at Federation are grateful for all you do to help us in our shared mission to care for others in need and build vibrant Jewish community.