Sukkot begins this coming Shabbat evening. Through the ages, we’ve (gently) leaned into the symbolism of faith amidst fragility — a sukkah, by its very nature, is the antithesis of a fortress. This is why the King James rendering of God’s Sukkah in Psalm 27 is a royally awkward translation — His Pavilion(!). Granted, if God, in the words of the Psalmist, would shelter me in God’s Sukkah, I’m expecting there might be some terrific decorations made by very talented Hebrew School kids, maybe some celestial lighting, honeycake, definitely, but the Hebrew text of Psalm 27 says b’suko – ‘In God’s Sukkah בסכה,’ so — a really divine Tent, sure. Not a Pavilion.
OK, let’s talk seriously. The moment in which we live is quite fragile. Fires devastate the West Coast; the current pandemic’s mortality rate reminds us that we’re clearly not out of the woods yet (to put it mildly); political unrest competes with scandal; outrage and governmental dysfunction in a completely surreal news cycle. A sukkah is not a fortress. Its beauty is precarious. A big storm can take it down.The metaphor rings loud and clear in this season.
So, here’s the curiously good news about a sukkah — it’s really well-ventilated, so if people are judiciously seated at an appropriate distance, we can put small groups (not too close!) together and celebrate community. I plan to zoom daven with y’all the next couple of Friday nights from our Sukkah. We’re instructed to rejoice – v’samachta b’chagecha ושמחתבחגיך – during the festival. What brings us joy? Seeing a few guests, enjoying the cool evenings, taking in the stars from under the s’chach. Joy is a bit like hope —it’s an attitude, a state of mind, an opportunity. Every evening we ask God to spread over us the Sukkah of peace- ufros aleinu sukkat shelomecha ופרוסעלינו סוכת שלומיך. Peace in our world, in our own nation —turns out to be a fragile structure. And that is why this holiday is so important for us at a time such as this.