Love, Faith and Sukkot

Rated PG-13What exactly is the holiday of Sukkot all about? Most of our holidays commemorate some kind of miracle. Passover commemorates the miracle of the Jews’ freedom from Egyptian bondage. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai via direct revelation from God. Sukkot sort of fits into this narrative because it includes 40 years of wandering through the desert which included a number of miraculous occurrences like receiving Manna from heaven, being led by a pillar of fire etc. But the holiday is called Sukkot, and a Sukka is one of those huts that we build, and live in during the holiday. That seems a bit incongruous right? On the one hand we have giant pillars of fire and on the other hand, we name the holiday after a slap-dash, modest, leaky little hut. What’s up with that?

There does exist some disagreement regarding the naming of the holiday. Leviticus 23:42-43 discusses the Sukkah as follows:

42: Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths;
43: that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Rabbi Eliezer’s commentary in the Talmud (Sukkah 11a) states that “booths” is a reference to the clouds of glory that accompanied the Israelites on their journey through the desert. Rabbi Akiva on the other hand, believes that “booths” means, literally, just booths. Rambam prefers the less literal translation and cites Isaiah 4:4-6 whereby a supernatural covering will protect the righteous during the end of days:

4: when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of destruction.
5: And the LORD will create over the whole habitation of mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory shall be a canopy.
6: And there shall be a pavilion for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain.

Ibn Ezra and Rashbam prefer the literal interpretation. Rashbam explains as follows: the festival of Sukkot, when the harvest was finished and the people were surrounded by the land’s bounty, was the ideal time to remind them of their humble origins and how they got there. Sukkot allows the Jews to relive the dessert-wandering wilderness years when they had no permanent home. This is meant to engender a sense of gratitude to God for bringing them to the promised land. This was also meant to check any notion that all the bounty and good that was being enjoyed was produced without the benefit of divine providence. See, the greatest existential threat faced by the Jews is not overcoming hardship. The real challenge is to not succumb to the risks of affluence – the sense of entitlement, the decadence and inevitable decline that follows. People forget God when things are good and remember God when things are bad. It’s almost a historical imperative, one that has repeated itself over and over again across time.

OK. Great. Let’s forget the miracles that took place during the wanderings in the desert. Let’s focus on the huts, booths, whatever. They are meant to keep us humble, right? They are also meant to remind us of a time when we were willing to displace ourselves from the relative comfort and security of Egypt and wander around the harsh Sinai, all for a greater good and all on the basis of faith in God. This is the faith that forged us into a nation while sustaining and protecting us. This faith accomplished the same thing during our 2000 year exile, and, just as importantly, will protect us now that we have a home in Israel again. Seems to me like this is a good reason to have a holiday, no?

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Dave! This is Jewrotica not Yeshivah! Where’s the sexy stuff?” I’m getting there… and I want you to pay close attention, ok? What I just described was the interplay between God and the children of Israel. That having been said, there’s a lesson here that relates to interpersonal relations as well. The children of Israel walking through the desert are likened to a person who is single. You may go from relationship to relationship but nothing is permanent. Your hope and ultimate goal is to find someone to love and to be with forever, but getting there is hard and the road is paved with difficulties. The one thing that sustains and drives you is the faith that you will ultimately reach that aforementioned goal.

The children of Israel enjoying the first fruits of their harvest during the feast of the Tabernacles (aka Sukkot) can be likened to you in a relationship. You know what they say about gorgeous super models? For every one you see, there’s someone out there who is tired of fucking them. Not a surprise if the relationship is based on superficialities and nothing else. The lesson is thus, don’t be that guy (or gal). Appreciate what you have, work hard to make your relationships meaningful. Don’t take the easy road and don’t be swayed by the false idols of quick, easy “love” and surface attraction. If you deeply love and appreciate the one you’re with, and if that love and appreciation is nurtured and developed, I promise you, the sex will be better than what you would have with any super model or hot one-night stand. Guaranteed. Now how’s that for a Jewrotica Dvar Torah? Also I’m pretty sure it’s a double Mitzvah to have sex in the Sukkah.

Founder and editor of Jewlicious, David enjoys contemplating thought provoking issues and terrorizing Jerusalem pedestrians and drivers with his mountain bike. He is not a gun runner nor is he a member of any crime family.