Sukkot is the holiday that symbolizes faith peace and joy in our tradition. In the desert we developed our FAITH, protected by the miraculous ‘Clouds of Glory,’ which protected and shaded the Jewish people during the 40 years in the desert, the booths that we dwelled in, the manna, the miracles that we witnessed there at Sinai and crossing of the Sea of Reeds. We, also, at this season experience great JOY, due to our successful cleansing and reconciliation with others moving through our days of Teshuva culminating in the climax of Yom Kippur. Moreover, the Jews celebrated the abundance of the JOY of the Fall Harvest. According to some historians, our American holiday of Thanksgiving, celebrated since 1623 owes its origins to Sukkot. It is this faith and joy that leads us to inner peace. And now is our time to be surrounded by the energy of PEACE. Hence, our holiday in not only called ‘Zman Simchateinu’ (our season of Joy), but also is referred to as ‘Sukkat Shalom,’ (our Sukkah of Peace).
Our Rabbis explain many reasons why Sukkot is our holiday of peace. Rav Dessler explains in ‘Michtav M’Eliyahu’ that discord is created by an emphasis on materialistic values, which inevitably create competitiveness and hostility due to limited resources on our planet. On Sukkot we leave our stable homes and dwell in a temporary abode, a Sukkah, to assert that it is not the material world that leads to our greatest security, but we have faith in G-d as our protector wherever we reside, and hence affirming spiritual values leads us to peace. We assert that it is truly G-d who protects and provides security both in our homes and in our temporary abodes, and it is only an illusion that material security is our protector. Hence, we do not need to make luxuries into needs but our faith alone, leads us to true inner peace. On Sukkot we also take the four species as well, to symbolize peace. Four different types of fruits are united together at services to symbolize ACCEPTANCE of DIFFERENCE and diversity in our community which creates true harmony, as opposed to the expectation of uniformity in our society. These are the ideas that lead our sages to identify our holiday of Sukkot with peace. But we are also taught that to create true peace we must work hard and incessantly to achieve it. As our Patriarch Aaron, the High Priest modelled, “Be a lover of Peace, and a PURSUER OF PEACE, loving people and bringing them closer to the sublime values of Torah.” (Avot,1:12).
On our holiday of Peace and Joy we are instructed that a four walled Sukkah is not kosher; it must be three sided and have one side open to guests, strangers, and all who are needy to enter and join in our joy. We even invite spiritual, mystical guests who may not be with us in body, but who live in our spirit as guides to moral and ethical behavior. They are called the ‘Ushpizin,’ and each night one of our seven ancestors (Ushpizin) are invited into the Sukkah. Avraham (and Sarah), Yitzchak (and Rebekkah), Yaakov (and Rachel and Leah), Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David imparting their wisdom and energy to uplift us to our responsibilities.
A three walled Sukkah also gives us an opportunity to look outward to our neighbors, and those who may not have a place to eat. We welcome them with song and food and get to learn about their stories and unique journeys in life. Last year, we made dear friends with Syrian refugees who escaped the decimation of their homes, friends, and family! They were fortunate to remain alive and remind the world of the destruction of their brothers and sisters, all created in the image of G-d. They made us aware of the horrors that they experienced, and all the work that must be done to attain a world of PEACE for all. In an ‘interconnected’ world it is not sufficient to enjoy peace in our insulated communities, but those who suffer remind us that we must reach out to work for peace for all who endure terrifying conditions in their homelands. As a result of encouning their unique reality,myself and friends felt obligated as ‘peacemakers’ to invite them to speak about the plight of Syrian refugees in several Synagogues and educational settings, and to continue to work for peace and justice in our world.
The three walled Sukkah reminds us that our lives are not complete, and we must work to complete the fourth side, partnering with others to create a world of justice and respect for all human beings. We must all be active ‘peacemakers’ as Aaron teaches us! In our prayer services Friday evening we ask G-d to spread over us the Sukkah of Peace, for indeed it is only through G-d’ protection and the joining with others living under the value of the Sukkah of peace that we can create the interconnected world of joy.
Our four species that we are instructed to wave in four directions during the Hallel prayer service, also teaches us about the beauty of nature, and suggests that every human being must have the opportunity to experience and imbibe from the gifts of nature. The fragrance of the Etrog,(the Talmud says,’that if we dream about an Etrog it means that ‘G-d considers us precious’), the branches of the Sukkah, the dwelling under the bright stars in moist evenings, all bring us closer to nature and to the Creator of nature. We rub shoulders with our friends and new guests (this year all masked up), huddled close against the cool night air, blessed to have meals prepared with loving hands and continue the dialogue and conversations of the generations. We hear the birds and crickets singing to us ,the grass and trees treating us to their fragrant aromas, we get a chance to enter a new space of memory, joining our ancestors who dreamed of a better world where the whole earth would dwell under the Sukkah of the Lord of Peace. Above all, we have the opportunity to imagine what it would be like for we ourselves to create a world of peace and opportunity for all. We must take time amidst our joy to create strategies to bring more peace to our world in our short lifetime, and know that G-d expects us to be ‘Peacemakers.’ Our incompleteness moves us to join with others to make sure that everyone has a secure place to rest and sleep, to make sure that everyone will feel safe under the same stars we all share. So, let us make sure that we encounter diversity, equality, and inclusion in our Sukkot this year, that we invite people with different opinions than ours so that we can get to know them; let it be a time of dialogue and learning and planning to work to insure that next year we will all dwell under the Sukkah of Peace that we all deserve and that our Prophets of our past proclaim. It is now OUR time to fulfill that prophecy!
This year, I feel that our dwelling in a Sukkah, living in a flimsy, temporary structure will expose us to a small taste of the far worse conditions that the homeless on our streets live with everyday. Our three walled Sukkah is indeed not complete if we do not look outward to our streets and embrace the vulnerable homelsess. The three walled Sukkah gives us perspective, opens the wounds of our insensitivity to the plight of our neighbors, who suffer daily in precarious huts of danger, illness, and hunger. Thus, Sukkot charges us this year to work to make sure everyone has access to a secure place to rest and sleep, so that everyone will feel safe under the same stars that we all share on our planet ,and to discover the beauty of the star meant just for them! Let us commit ourselves to the path that will enable poverty to be diminished and justice increased.
We must remember that the beautiful solid structures that shut us out from nature and are often created through the sweat of such competition and enmity that we no longer have time to remember who we really are (as members of the Jewish nation with a special mandate to create a world of peace), should not be the sole focus of our existence. When we leave our homes and live in a Sukkah, a structure that brings us into closer contact with nature and makes us all equal– the stars covering us, the birds and crickets singing to us, the grass and trees treating us to their fragrant aromas, we get a chance to enter a new space of memory, joining our ancestors who dreamed of a better world where the whole earth could dwell under the Sukkah of the Lord of Peace.
GAZING at the stars from our Sukkah makes us all humbled with the beauty and majesty of our universe, and awakens us to the fact that each of us are equal under the heavens. Let us, this year, make sure that we each invite guests, strangers, those who need a meal, and those who have different opinions into our Sukkah. It is a blessed time for dialogue and to get to ‘know’ others with whom we differ. This is the first REQUISITE for peacebuilding; getting to ‘KNOW others whom we just STEREOTYPE as the ‘OTHER’. Let us commit that this year we insure that everyone will dwell under the Sukkah of Peace, and each in our own small way will become ‘PEACEMAKERS,’ Sukkah builders, in our glorious, but incomplete world!
Have a sweet Shabbat and a Sukkot filled with joy and the sparks of peace!
Blessings and Love,