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Letting Go of the Roof

Letting Go of the Roof

The Kabbalah of Sukkot


“You shall dwell in sukkot (huts) for seven days . . . so that you will know, for all generations, that I had the Children of Israel dwell in sukkot, when I took them out of the Land of Egypt; I am G‑d, your G‑d” (Leviticus 23:42–43)

We live in a world of time and space, a world made of countless, ever-changing and often conflicting details. However, this endless diversity hides the truth—that in essence, everything is one.

Kabbalah explains that there is absolutely nothing outside of G‑d. But, in order to allow us the experience of personal existence, G‑d conceals this fundamental truth. He contracts and hides His infinite presence, and in doing so allows us to be.

Like Alice in Wonderland, we live our lives in a “through the looking glass” world, trapped within the illusion that we are the true reality and that G‑d, if He exists at all, is somewhere outside of us, separate and not entirely real.

But on Sukkot this illusion begins to break down. As we sit inside the sukkah, we experience an existential joy. This joy stems from a soul-awareness of the truth—that we exist not separate from G‑d, but within Him. As we sit within the sukkah, we are sitting inside G‑d.

The Illusion of Certainty

One evening, a couple of years ago, I had an oddly powerful experience. I was in my room, getting ready for bed. I was going through the usual routine, brushing my teeth, washing my face, all the while looking forward to getting into my snug and safe bed and really relaxing.

But suddenly, for a moment, my perspective shifted. I realized that the feeling of security I was experiencing wasn’t about simply being released from the pressures and demands of the day. It was the repetitiveness and predictability of my regular nighttime routine that was making me feel safe.

At that moment, my four walls didn’t seem so solid anymore. I saw that my safety, my invulnerability, was an illusion. That in reality, the solid structure that allowed me to feel safe and secure was anything but solid.

What I saw then was this: Although preparing for sleep felt like being in a safe, protective space, safety doesn’t come from routine. No matter what we pretend, life is never entirely certain. Rather than being solid, defined and predictable, it is actually fluid, unpredictable and always new.

Continuous Creation

According to Kabbalah, this is a core principle of Creation. Our universe is actually not a solid, immutable reality at all. It exists in a fluid and dynamic state known as continuous creation.

The world exists at this moment only because G‑d is consciously and deliberately choosing to bring it into existence. In fact, Kabbalah explains that the natural state of the universe is non-existence. If G‑d were to stop “speaking” the words of Creation for even an instant, the whole universe would disappear as if it had never been. This makes it, despite the evidence of our senses, as far from a solid reality as anything could be.

However, in concealing His infinite presence, G‑d allows us to exist as limited and defined personalities in a physical world. Without this concealment, we would exist—but only like light within the body of the sun. There, but not as a defined or separate reality at all.

However, this concealment is only a starting point. It is not meant to remain in force forever. Our task, especially in these unprecedented and transformational times, is to seek out and perceive the truth—to remain human, yes, but in a way that allows us to relate to reality as it really is.

Living on Miracles

After the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews wandered for forty years in the desert, an arid and inhospitable environment that did not support life. Nevertheless, they survived. They lived through continuous miracles—the manna that fell from heaven each day, and the “clouds of glory” that protected them from the blazing sun and heat. Their survival, on a moment-to-moment basis, was so clearly dependent on G‑d that it was impossible to sustain the illusion that it was natural in any way.

Over those forty years, the awareness of G‑d’s real, constant and protective presence was implanted deep within the Jewish psyche. Although this tangible awareness has since been challenged by thousands of years of exile, it remains imprinted in our spiritual DNA. It awaits only the right circumstances to rise to the surface once again.

The War at the End of Days

The prophets describe a final war—the war of Gog and Magog—that will take place immediately before the messianic redemption. After this war, the world will forever recognize and embrace the truth of G‑d and the Torah.

The Hebrew word Gog means “roof.” It alludes to the sense of protection and security we get from physical things. As the world approaches its ultimate destiny, humankind must undergo a transformation in its consciousness. Part of this transformation involves the awareness that our security and protection come not from physical possessions, but from G‑d.

Expressing Infinity within the Finite

Each of us is a walking paradox, an unlikely marriage of a finite and physical body with an infinite soul. Our bodies, and the perceptions that go with them, are subject to the limiting parameters of time and space, including our past-based failures and fears. But the soul is free of these constrictions. From the soul’s perspective, there are no limits at all.

The soul enters the confines of the body with a mission—to transform the limitations of the physical universe, to change the very nature of what it means to be physical. Ultimately, instead of concealing its infinite divine source, this finite and physical world is destined to become a full and open expression of it.

Since the physical world is being created anew at every single moment, at each present moment there is infinite divine potential. Although it is concealed, it is accessible. As part of our mission, we are empowered to use it to create a transformed reality, unfettered by the limitations of the past.

The Sukkah Tells the Truth

Unlike our everyday environment, the sukkah doesn’t tell us any lies. It reflects reality as it actually is. Its roof is a simple canopy of leaves and branches, open to the sky. Insubstantial in its physical structure, the sukkah invites us to abandon the illusion that physical things—a “roof”—can either protect or limit us.

In addition to being insubstantial, the sukkah is temporary. This fact encourages us to step out of the limiting boundaries of a past- and future-based perspective, and embrace the truly unlimited potential that is only available in the present.

The sukkah calls us to the truth. And as we listen to G‑d’s command, remember the miracles with which we left Egypt, and enter the insubstantial, impermanent and intensely powerful embrace of the sukkah, we acknowledge this truth. We acknowledge it not only with our minds, but with our bodies as well. We let go of the illusions with which we surround ourselves, and embrace the essence of what life is.

The sukkah makes us vulnerable. But, paradoxically, this vulnerability is our greatest power. We were vulnerable when we began our journey out of exile, and we will be vulnerable when we conclude it. But far from making us weak, this vulnerability allows to embrace our unlimited source and unique destiny. In letting go of our dependence on the physical, on the “roof,” we embrace our own true nature. We are partners in creation, divine beings made in the image of G‑d.

The Final Transformation

The prophets tell us that at the end of days, the Jewish nation will be threatened by powerful hostile forces. This threat will be so great that our human strength will not be enough to overcome it.

At that point, the prophets say, we will at long last abandon the core illusions of creation. The elusive security of physical things will lose its power to deceive us. We will remember the truth. We will turn to G‑d wholeheartedly, and in doing so, will allow the divinity concealed within creation and within ourselves to shine forth in its full brightness. We will elicit the divine revelation and protection that is our destiny.

As we move our lives into the sukkah, we are doing far more than fulfilling a commandment or commemorating the past. On some essential level, we are living the future. We are embracing reality. We are embracing our destiny.

We are embracing G‑d.

Shifra Hendrie is a personal and spiritual coach who has been studying and teaching the principles of authentic Kabbalah for over 20 years. More about her writings and programs can be found on her website.
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Anonymous Qro/Mexico September 21, 2013

" As we sit within the sukkah... The very best of the idea of entering the sukkah is to feel G-d's presence. It's something like being in Moses' body in those moments where he enters the Holy of Holies i.e. where the Divine Presence was most revealing. I long for a method to have that experience using only things that one has in everyday life. Reply

Motti Lier Amsterdam September 19, 2013

gog a roof? Gag is a roof, not gog. Reply

Anonymous GA September 18, 2013

So True-well spoken There is no security or safety in material is only thru G-d who is within us.....our haven and infinite protector. Reply

Anonymous uk September 18, 2013

When it rains, and it always rains where I live, it reminds me we are supposed to be asking for the former and latter rains. I enjoyed this article, yes the Jewish nation is going through scorn, hatred and threats to its very existence; the 'braxton-hicks' are becoming intense contractions now and I know you have to work with these (that's why it's called labour) to bring about the birth; may it be soon, G-d. Reply

Anonymous The United States of America September 17, 2013

Amazing article, thank you! Reply

m Miami September 16, 2013

I was sitting in the Sukkah and I felt good thinking this is the real reality as you write ,and then downpour come and i got soaking wet .Now i doubt your vision of reality perhaps you need new glasses. Reply

Miriam Wiener Los Angeles September 15, 2013

This is fantastic... Thank you so much for posting this - I always look forward to Shifra Hendrie's articles and calls. She is wonderful! Reply

Anonymous Moses Lake, WA September 30, 2012

The "roof" Rav Lapin likens the "roof" as being 70% water the leaves and branches just like our bodies.
Rather than to be feared, no matter how weak, don't we or are we not supposed to attempt to defend one another as well?

Encourage one another to greater mitzvahs? Reply

Anonymous Mercersburg, PA September 19, 2012

Nice! Reply

zeynep ist October 19, 2011

Into the future I have perceived this as a tremendously empowered and thus empowering article. For a meditating person this provides invaluable material. I am deeply grateful. Reply

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