5775 — Sukkot (Shabbat Hol haMoed) — “In the Clouds”

28/10/2014 at 17:25 Leave a comment

“In the Clouds”


Parashat Hol haMoed Sukkot

Neil F. Blumofe

11 October 2014

Among the many special ways that we observe and celebrate Sukkot, in our Birkat haMazon, our Grace After Meals, there is a particular line that has perplexed me. Among the few prayers beseeching God, on Sukkot we add the line, Harachaman Hu yakim lanu et sukkat David hanofelet – May the Merciful One raise up the fallen sukkat of David. This image is connected to the prophetic book of Amos, which states that in that day I will raise up the sukkah, the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and I will repair its breaches, and I will raise up his ruins and I will rebuilt it as in the days of old (Amos 9:11).

Our traditional commentaries link this connection to the building of the Temple in Jerusalem — and that our dwelling in the sukkah is akin to witnessing God’s Presence, or the Clouds of Glory. This idea is linked to a teaching in the Talmud, which states that the clouds of glory originated at the time of the creation of the world, when aid ya’aleh min ha’aretz – when a mist rose from the earth. (Sukkah 11b), forming the clouds above that watered the whole face of the ground. This is to mean that the clouds in the sky date from the original mist from the earth – which is why our sukkot covering, our skackh, is to made from items from the earth that cannot contract impurity. We are thus building our sukkah with the same material that existed at the time of creation – connecting our experiences to the first urges that shaped our universe.

Another idea about raising up the fallen sukkah – is about the resilience of the Jewish people – that no matter the time or place, even if blown down or damaged by a strong wind, we will constitute ourselves anew and we will find a way to reconstruct our essence. We are but a fragile sukkah in the whirlwind of the world – and yet we will endure. Building on this idea — the concept of truly appreciating permanence while recognizing impermanence is a core meditation when dwelling in the sukkah. According to the Maharal, a 16th century Ashkenazi sage, the sukkah is impervious to the physical permanence of this world. When we dwell in the sukkah, we are free from the shackles of our regular physical houses – and we can yearn for a better time to come – to invite not only our wonderful guests – our teachers and our fathers and mothers from yesteryear into the sukkah as part of our ushpizin – we can invite the legacy of David into our sukkah as well – a hope that by our efforts, what we might call the World-to-Come is activated.

We are thus reminded that what appears permanent in this world is only fleeting, and that which seems ephemeral in this world – spiritual growth – is what has eternal significance – haolam hazeh domeh laprozdor bifnei haolam habah – this world is compared to a corridor that leads to the World-to-Come (Avot 4:21).

Another idea that is compelling to me this year is the idea that the sukkah represents our life – at a certain age we go out into the world and we are buffeted by the elements – we are sheared by the wind, we are pummeled by the rain, and over time, despite our best efforts, we sink and sag. No matter our successes we eventually relinquish to the next generation – our doctors, our clergy – authority figures — will be younger than we are, thus giving us a sense of discomfiture.

I have been holding onto a quote from Frederick Douglass, the 19th century orator, statesman, and abolitionist, who said – it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. In the context of the Festival of Sukkot, the sukkah, rather than being seen as something that is fragile and easily destroyed, can be seen as a symbol of a well-lived life – one that endures, before finally being swept away. Seeing Sukkot as a meditation about the meaning of our life, we can counter-intuitively hold the sukkah as a strong child – how we celebrate our Festivals, how we approach our responsibilities, how we live – all effects those who are watching and using us as examples.

It is so easy to be a broken man – and so hard to repair. As we build our sukkot, may we say that we are building strong children – that we are watering the ground, preparing for planting for the future — overcoming our own imperfections and imperfect proclivities – we are surpassing our tendencies for hypocrisy and negativity – and in the simple acts of showing up, construction, and dwelling, we are teaching powerful lessons about living.

As the journalist, Murray Kempton has written: there are new endeavors and fresh disasters, for they are the way of life. And the art of life is to save enough from each disaster to be able to begin again in something like your old image.

May our celebration of Sukkot, bring us joy and strength in this New Year. Rain or shine, may we have the opportunity to enjoy the moments that we have, the time that is presented to us and stand courageously and unafraid, raising ourselves up from where we have fallen – for, nothing’s impossible, I have found/for when my chin is on the ground/I pick myself up, dust myself off/And start all over again.

Especially in this time of shemitah, this year of pause – we do well to consider the sukkat David hanofelet – and see that we are gifted with opportunity to consider, to build, to improve, and ultimately, to take down – appreciative in the rushing of time — of what was, what we have done, and what will never be again.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Yizkor, Yom Kippur, 5775 — Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Under the Sea (The Book of Jonah) 5775 — Shemini Atzeret (Yizkor) — “The Sukkah That Wasn’t There”

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