Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seedlings of Sukkot

Sukkot. Despite all the work it entails, it is a Holiday I look forward to each year. A Sukkah is literally a booth, a temporary structure we build adjacent to our home for the week-long Jewish Holiday of Sukkot.  It is one of the three biblically mandated Holidays on which Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a happy time for anyone who builds a Sukkah and enjoys the Mitzvot (good deeds) it earns. It is actually a commandment to be happy which makes it an even more joyful occasion. Why do we build a Sukkah where we eat (and sleep) during this period? We are directed to embark on this undertaking to commemorate the time we spent in the desert in transit from Egyptian slavery. The Jewish People were miraculously freed from slavery only to find themselves en route to the Land of Israel through the uninhabitable desert. They built temporary, fragile huts along the way somewhat similar to those we create each year. So how did they survive the 40 years it took to reach the Promised Land with such inadequate provisions? Only by the Hand of HaShem. He provided food daily in the form of manna which sustained our people with all the nutrients needed and was as tasty as they chose. ‘Clouds of Glory’ accompanied them on their journey to guide them and protect them on their way.  Our Sukkah is a small offering of thanks and recognition of the Wondrous Miracles HaShem performed in order to bring us to our Holy Land.

We utilize a Lulav and Etrog to represent the unity of our People. We pray for the unification His Holy Name, uniting the letters in perfect harmony. There is so much to be said about Sukkot, but I want to share a personal aspect that came to mind this year.

The Sukkah itself has many precise specifications but we are free to choose the basic design and materials on our own, within the framework of the rules. For the last several years, due to storage considerations and mobility, we have been constructing our Sukkah with plastic walls. This year, in Israel at least, the weather has been extremely hot. During the evening meals, the flying bugs found the light bulb very enticing so it became a good test for us to keep them out of our food. By this hour though, the temperature was pleasant and aside from the insects, sitting in the Sukkah was a pleasure.

The daytime meals were a different story. We were sweltering in the heat, like plants in a hothouse. Our Sukkah contains two mesh windows but that only allowed for oxygen to enter. With no breeze, we had to concentrate on the amazing food which HaShem provided and the Mitzvot we were fulfilling to keep us from running into the comfort of our apartment. I couldn’t help but look for a explanation for this difficulty. Since everything is for a reason, this too must have some significance other than making us sweat. The more I felt like a plant being germinated in a greenhouse, the more I realized that was essentially what was happening. A greenhouse or hothouse is used to protect plants from the outside elements, to enable them to grow while storms or other undesirable situations brew on the other side of the walls. It creates the opportune conditions to enable their optimum development while they are still in the delicate stages of life. This is exactly what G-d is doing with us. By following His Laws, specifically the Festival of Sukkot, we protect ourselves from the negative exterior forces which may otherwise rule (and ruin) our lives. We are allowing ourselves to thrive within the boundaries our Father has set for us.

As with all occurrences in life, we must use each opportunity to grow and learn, putting our trust in no one other than The Creator. Once we understand and internalize that He, and only He, is our Protector, we ‘seedlings’ will flourish into grown ‘plants’. Through our actions we prove our sacred desire to accept and appreciate all HaShem has bestowed upon us, consequently He will remove the walls He has placed around us. Then, G-d willing, He will be able to transplant us from the 'hothouse' back into the Garden of Eden. Only there will we experience the true joy we have waited so long to merit, even greater than the joy of Sukkot. May that day arrive soon!

Post script: 
"All who are exempt from the succah [because of severe discomfort; e.g. heavy rain or extreme cold] and do not leave, do not receive reward for this and are merely simpletons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Ramah, 639:7)"
We considered going inside due to the unbearable heat, but it wasn't enough discomfort to give up sitting in the Sukkah. Had I gone inside, I wouldn't have been inspired to look for an explanation which to me was well worth the effort. 

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