Rabbi Yair D. Robinson
Chol Hamo’ed Sukkot 2021
Sukkot is a wonderful holiday, but a strange one. Think about when you’ve tried to explain “Nomadic Hut Appreciation Week” to your non-Jewish friends. You build a hut in the backyard that has an intentionally defective roof, and you’re supposed to dwell out there. Then you wave palm fronds with willow and myrtle leaves and a citrus fruit. And you pray for rain. And sing Hallelujah. Just watch as your friends try to put all those data points together and figure it out. They will be sure you’re pulling their leg. But no, four days after the most solemn holiday of the Jewish calendar, we’re building stuff out back that we’re only going to dismantle a week later.
As odd as it is, I find that Sukkot is a favorite holiday for many. Certainly, it is for me. And the reasons I love this holiday, aside from the sheer gonzo quality of it, was best elucidated in a d’var Torah for Sukkot given by a bat mitzvah girl probably 8 years ago. A camp Harlam kid, naturally, she had been assigned the shabbat of Sukkot for her bat mitzvah. She was not thrilled with her party having a big wooden structure in the social hall, since we still had the sukkah indoors at the time, and her mom was not excited about her reading out of the littlest Torah which we use at the holiday. But this kid totally got it. This kid, whose family did not lack means, nor did she want for anything, talked about how important it is to step outside one’s comfort zone, step away from all one’s creature comforts, and go dwell in this flimsy, easily knocked-over structure just outside the house, within view of the house. We step into this hut, this booth, that barely protects from the elements, as beautiful as they often are, and we look back toward what we’re used to, and we’re forced to reflect on our lives, our bounty, and what others lack. Pretty smart, no?
More than that, it’s a moment where, as we are invited outside our homes, our literal comfort zones, to dwell in the sukkah, we are also invited to step outside of ourselves. It’s a holiday that calls us away from our pretenses; rather than being surrounded by our creature comforts, which protect us from the elements but also insulate us from the world around us, we are surrounded by the chill and dampness of the air, the sounds of the surrounding neighborhood, and find ourselves recognizing that we are not so separate from each other or the world as we might have thought. Indeed, there is no separation, not really. Our tradition and this holiday remind us that our neighbors’ needs are intermingled with our needs, that we are entirely interdependent. Isn’t that what the last 20 months have taught us, after all?
Sukkot comes as a balm for everyday materialism, a reminder that our walls cannot really be barriers against the world, and that the things we think are permanent and solid are gossamer, fragile and ephemeral. May we embrace this fragility, and as we pray for rain, give thanks for what we have been given, and sing Hallelujah. Amen.