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Why a Sukkah?

Why?  I urge my students to ask me why they should care about the stuff we’re learning – why it should matter in their lives!  I tell them it’s my favorite question, asked with respect, of course!  And why? is so much fun to ask!  In the Mark Brothers movie “The Cocoanuts”, before the Why a Duck? quip (about 3:20 in this clip ) Chico asks Groucho about the  Levees: is that the Jewish neighborhood? Groucho asides: I’ll Passover that remark. Then Groucho points out the viaduct and Chico asks Why a duck? So, to build on Chico’s question, why a Sukkah? In these days of huge worries, and technology, it’s so primitive, seems so out of place in the world. For me, it’s magic, one of my favorite times.  Just after Yom Kippur, I stop at the farm stand to buy a bunch of corn stalks, trim some evergreens for the branches, go into the basement to dig out the bags of decorations and strings of lights, laminate my New Years Cards and tote it all to the back yard.  I’ve had several types of Sukkot over the years, but 14 years ago, after building my kids’ swing set and tree house, It occurred to me that it would make an amazing sukkah! Just take off the roof, replace with branches, decorate up, and you can climb up and slide down – so much fun!

So, it’s fun, but still, why a sukkah?  Well, it’s autumn, the leaves are beginning to turn, the winds begin to blow. I do love autumn, the leaf colors and the crisp weather. Those leaves: a friend, native of California, who’d never seen the colors ’till she moved to NJ, she was blown away by the psychedelic flamboyant leaves. So I often try to see the leaves her way. But, at the same time, I hate the death of summer, the coming of the cold.  During the week of Sukkot we read Ecclesiastes, written, perhaps, by an older, ambivalent, wise, King Solomon, it speaks of life being in vain, or Hevel, in Hebrew, a breath (same name as the Brother Cayn killed), reminding us how fleeting youth, and health and life are, but hinting at the deep meaning and the timeless things beyond the vanity. The  Torah portion reminds us mistakes have been made in vanity: the Israelites have despaired and built a Golden Calf in Moses’ (and therefore God’s) absence. But as this portion begins, Moses goes up to Sinai for a second try at encounter with Divine, and carries down a new set of tablets, and is rendered radiant! Historically, we are wandering in the wilderness during this period.  All the Israelites will die, and their children must become the parents, and the inhabiters of the Promised land in spite of their losses. And all of this informs my personal answer to “why a Sukkah?”

In the Sukkah, I find an escape from the frenzy, as the sights of birds and decorations and leaves and moon and stars rule my vision. The quiet is startling, and then I become aware it’s not really quiet, but filled with he sounds of the wind through the leaves of the roof, music of a sort. Then I can sing quietly and add my heart’s sounds too, and it harmonizes right in! Waving the lulav, so primal, connects me to earth and sky and to my body: the etrog’s my heart, the lulav my spine, the myrtle, eyes, the willow leaves are lips. I am made of the stuff of earth too. The shakiness and the helicoptering leaves remind me of the passing of this season,  of the fragility of my life. The fruit reminds how sweet and beautiful it is in spite of impermanence. But amid this fragility come friends I’ve invited, reminding me how I get through those wilderness times in my life and the worriesDSC00004                         DSC00003. And the children remind me that it can be timeless. And besides, it’s fun. Chag Sukkot Sameach.


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