Book of Leviticus
May 12, 2017
This section of Torah includes a full re-cap of the holidays and set times in the Jewish year. The concluding festival is the fall celebration of Sukkot. God says to Moses, “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:43)
Why is it so important to future generations that our ancestors lived in ramshackle, portable shade-protecting booths in the desert? For that matter, why is it so important today that this ancient desert-dwelling lifestyle be recreated each year for seven days? There are a number of immediate responses that come to mind: 1) It is easy to lose sight of others suffering amidst modern-day affluence: the immigrant crammed in a small boat in a large sea looking for some semblance of a better life. Once a year we leave the comfort of our home and spend time in a more natural but less secure setting of a Sukkah (booth). It’s not a place we want to spend too much time, but it reminds us of our obligation to the homeless immigrant for whom a place to live is only a dream. 2) Moving from the comfort of a home to a Sukkah is a necessary “back to nature” trip, a reminder that the creature comforts we enjoy depend upon protecting the environment in which we live. Maybe there is another message here, as well.
David Mamet, a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, offers the following insight into the above verse: “The festivals of Passover and Sukkot are both seven days long, begin in the middle of their respective lunar months (that is, at the full moon), and are exactly six months apart. For one (Passover), the miracle is inescapable; for the other (Sukkot), there simply is no miracle. Go build your own booth. Manufacture your own salvation. I got it started, now you keep it going.” The ancient rabbis were even more succinct. They simply stated, “Don’t depend on miracles!”
Passover celebrates the miracle of the Israelites exodus from Egypt. Sukkot celebrates being told by God to build and live in booths! The message? God does not work alone in this world, but in partnership with humankind. Alone, neither will succeed but together we create (and continue to create) our own miracles.
Living in the booth is a reminder of our divine partnership and the responsibilities therein.
Rabbi Howard Siegel