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Faith in a Hut

Faith in a Hut

Sukkot

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G‑d’s taking us out of Egypt resulted in a lengthy list of benefits to ourselves and to mankind. At the same time, the Exodus gifted us with the mystery of a tasteless cracker and an unroofed hut.

On Passover, we eat matzah swiftly baked in fierce fire, to remind us of the staggering power and haste with which G‑d extricated us from bondage to eternal freedom. A child, the nation of Israel, was waiting to be born. A series of unfortunate circumstances conspired to rule out natural birth; a caesarean section was required instantly. It was a time of divine emergency, warranting harsh blows and fiery miracles, without concern for tastefulness. The result: young Israel was delivered personally by G‑d.

We toddled a few steps, fell on our faces, rose, and then repeated the entire exerciseOn Sukkot, we live in little huts with cut branches for temporary roofs, to remind us of the clouds of glory and accompanying support with which G‑d sheltered, cultivated and gently cuddled us on our baby steps through our desert journey, from Rameses to the flourishing banks of the Jordan. We toddled a few steps, fell on our faces, rose, and then repeated the entire exercise. We sustained bruises, but eventually learned to walk. G‑d held us, eased His grip, watched us lurch forward with a knot in His stomach, eased our collapse, and helped us rise again. His arms hovered lovingly in proximity throughout, removing obstacles, maintaining, lifting and caressing.

Historically, the salvation from bondage was directly followed by the desert trek. However, Passover and Sukkot are not celebrated successively. The former is the firstborn of the festivals, and coincides with nature springing into delightful blossom. The latter is marked as the summer sun signals surrender to fall, at the culmination of the High Holiday season.

According to the mystical traditions of the Zohar, either of these commandments relates to faith: matzah is the Bread of Faith, and the sukkah is the Shelter of Faith.

Matzah is eaten. We are fed and receive faith. A sukkah, however,must be constructed and lived in. We plan, fashion, nurture, and live faith in challenging reality.

It is easy to repeat the faith we have been fed from a position of comfort, amid the like-minded and surrounded by smiling blooms. A more demanding task is to construct a fortress from that seminal faith in the great outdoors of our own lives, and not only to espouse, but to actually live faith. Especially when the sturdy branches we imagined indomitable begin to sway and snap in unforeseen gales, when legions of leaves that promised shelter rapidly fall lifeless and discolored beneath our feet.

It is then that we must recall the matzah of our formative years, the visions, experiences and faith of our origins, and work hard to reconstruct a personalized version of that eternal faith in our own lives. We must fashion an entire Shelter of Faith, a context with sturdy walls within which to view and address every experience of our lives, within which to live comfortably with G‑d and thrive with joy.

We are not closing out the surrounding universe; we have left the roof vulnerable to the surrounding elements. When it is day, we experience sunlight; the stars twinkle in at us at night. Our walls react slightly to the wind; we feel the rain. Nor do we scorn failings. We raise those broken branches that once sang of might and growth, and now lie withering. We tell them that we will yet find a purpose for them; we set them above our heads as a temporary shelter and constant reminder, and they and we are grateful.

We are not closing out the surrounding universe; we have left the roof vulnerable to the surrounding elementsA sukkah is our Shelter of Faith. With it, we tread life’s paths surrounded by G‑d’s cloud. When we fall, He softens the blow and helps us continue. When we come under attack, G‑d deflects the sharpest blows, and we survive and progress. When we reach out, we expand the parameter of our faith, encompass others within our sukkah and increase G‑d’s glory. We are never constrained, because the roof is always open. At all times, G‑d peers through. At any time, we can raise our arms heavenwards and lock hands with G‑d. Then the confines of our sukkah become infinite; they are walls that contain all of creation, and much beyond.

No, it is not an easy task to build a proper sukkah. Truly honest faith never is. Deep faith is wired into us, but remains largely dormant. Matzah-type faith is fast and fierce, but can be broken just as easily by devastating challenge. For most people, sturdy and practical faith requires studying teachings on faith, incorporating them into our psyches, and speaking, acting and practicing faith. “Trust in G‑d and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faith” (Psalms 37:3). Faith must be cultivated.

It takes time and sheer effort to maintain, in the outdoors, an inhabitable structure that can withstand the wear and stress of life’s myriad happenings. It takes guts to stick with it despite grumbling clouds and buzzing bees. It is tempting to just close off the roof, professing a shelter of faith, but in reality making it depend on convenience.

That is why Sukkot is delayed until immediately after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For we are now more fortified within, empowered from Above, and inspired and motivated than at any other time. We learned to use failings to construct, and even crown, progress. We gloried in divine understanding and acceptance, and can imitate these in our daily interactions. We returned to G‑d with tears and joy; He received us with concern, embraced us with care. We worked hard on ourselves, on our relationship with G‑d, and our interactions with our fellows. We are more truthful to G‑d, to ourselves, and to others. We struggled to uncover and cultivate the depths of faith that lay hibernating within ever since we were first fed the Bread of Faith.

We learned to use failings to construct, and even crown, progressResulting entirely from G‑d’s overt dominance, matzah is not unroofed; it is complete. But to the human within whom G‑d instilled a taste for hard-earned reward, matzah can appear tasteless. And when spring turns to fall, it becomes apparent that something truer to human experience is required.

Conversely, a sukkah may seem incomplete. It is built of our own frail efforts that rely on G‑d’s constant support. Its roof is fashioned by overcoming collapse and determinedly raising a series of hopelessly fallen branches. Nevertheless, our sukkah leaves a wonderfully rewarding taste.

Yes, it all begins with matzah on Passover. But it is not until Sukkot that we are able to construct—with determination, resilience and pure joy—our temporal shelter of immovable faith, all the better to introduce eternity to a transient world.

Yaakov Paley, originally from Britain, now lives in the States with his family and enjoys seeking the soul within the commonplace.
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Rebecca Baker Livingston, Tn October 15, 2011

Matxo and the sukka This was very enlightening to me as a Christian wanting to understand the depths of the meaning to the Jewish Believer. Thank you for such an inspirational and education blog. Reply

Laya Tzfat, Israel October 11, 2011

beautiful thank you for this. shared it with my 89 year old mom who said it is poetry! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 11, 2011

matzo and the sukka For me, in contemplating matzo, it is a burnt parchment. I see the letters and it is a story of our peoples, about the Exodus, and beyond. A burnt manuscript. I cannot look at matzo and not see this.

For me, the sukka is a dwelling that is most holy, and for me, it gives rise to such beautiful thoughts, because being in Nature and open to Nature, it's a window to stars and also my soul. And in solitary contemplation I soar in this most beautiful of dwelling places.

This is my favorite holiday, and I find myself, grateful to be, where I am, living with such access to the beauty of the ocean, the marshes, and so much wildlife and bounty, of fruit, of orchards. But wherever I am, I know I can access this most holy place, and that what dwells within is the sukka of soul, of the majesty of this, just this. A certain joy. Reply

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