by Rebbetzin Malkah
When we think about taking a holiday, we imagine pristine beaches with white sand, blue water, blue skies. Or perhaps it is that mountain vista with ice cold streams bubbling down river rock dotted beds, deer crossing the forest laden roads and the clean quiet. But how many of us imagine a hut topped with branches so we can see the stars, walls for protection from the wind and sun, and a chance to eat and sleep in the outdoors during one of the more unsettling times of the year? Most of us probably don't conjure up such images in the autumn, but it is precisely at this time when we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), enter the outdoors, and contemplate our true purpose and the meaning of life: outside the safety and comfort of our home.
Our First Home
Many of us remember the first home outside of the dorm or after moving out of our parents' home. Though not lavish, it was a semblance of an abode that would carry us into future homes and set us on our way. The simplicity and "rough elegance" of a first home, whether it is an apartment or a rental home, makes for a memory that stays with many of us throughout our lives. It is in that experience that we come to understand the true meaning of a home. When the Children of Yisrael left Mitzrayim, the first home that they had was a sukkah. They were commanded at Sukkot to build temporary dwellings to protect them from the elements and provide refuge along the journey.
"In Sukkot you shall dwell seven days...," and the Torah explains the reason why we were commanded this thing: "In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt..." (Lev. 28:42-3).
These sukkot were not luxurious tents or homes; instead, they were a place for their bodies to rest, as well a sanctuary for them to feel settled mentally. Coming out of a life of bondage and servitude not only left them weary, but homeless. A person without a home cannot respond to higher spiritual callings. Even the most basic home will fulfill the need for personal space and give the heart a chance for rest. Hashem gave this commandment so B'nei Yisrael would not only have rest but hope for the future.
But this first home lacked what many of us would consider comfortable accommodations. The roof allowed the stars to be seen. While seemingly a romantic quality, it also provided a way for the rain to enter. For most of us, this would not suit the artwork on our walls, the fabric laden beds and floors in our home, nor our desire to have a pest free environment. How then did these accommodations really "accommodate" and what do they do for us now as we strive to dwell in our own sukkot ?
Life under the Heavens
One of the greatest mitzvot to observe at this season is the inviting of guests, spiritual and natural, to our sukkot. Whether it is a pvc/tarp sukkah, a designer sukkah ordered online, or a woodworker's dream sukkah, we all add our own personal flare and decorate our sukkot with fruit, gourds, a welcome sign, tables, chairs, and fine china or Chinette. It becomes a makeshift home and we jump at the chance to have dinner in the autumn air. Every guest is welcome and we welcome them with less worry than we normally would. We don't have to worry about dusting the furniture, mopping the floors, or making sure the mirrors sparkle. We concern ourselves with good food and drink, and simply put - enough chairs. It seems that life outside and underneath the Heavens takes on a simpler yet regal approach. Our concern for the materialistic diminishes as we embark on more spiritual endeavors. Though the fast of Yom Kippur is days behind us, the effect of an elevated state remains. The drive toward our worldly trappings of our big-screen televisions, our sumptuous chairs and our footstools seems to take on less meaning. Suddenly, a thermos of coffee and honey cake coupled with spiritual conversation takes us to heights not seen in high definition. It is here that we can begin to understand the link between Kohelet and the season, and the core phrase that sums up life according to King Solomon:
And this is the key. A king, blessed unto excess, illuminates for us the key to life. Simply put, to work and be able to have food and drink because of that labor - this is a blessing from Hashem. But even more so, to do this with guests in our midst, then we not only have the key but we use it the way our Messiah did.
"There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of G-d." (Kohelet 2:24)
Fit for a King
As many of us know, this season was the time of the birth of our Mashiach Yeshua. And not only was it the time of his birth, but even more so he was born in a sukkah (the Hebrew word for stable is sukkah). As we encounter the life of Yeshua through the Besorah, we read of his journeys being far and wide over the land of Yisrael. What started as a birth in a sukkah, became a lifetime of traveling and lodging in temporary dwellings under the night sky. No doubt he spent his evenings in an open setting, relying on the land for food and water, and for respite as well. How much more so for ourselves, if we truly want to emulate our Messiah, that we should seek to come out of our conjured "safe" dwellings in order to experience the blessings of operating outside with more spiritual fullness.
Within our homes, it is less of a challenge to have a spiritual setting. It is one that we are comfortable in and in control of. However, the message of Sukkot is one that just as our Messiah went out, so too we must leave our common, familiar space and go out into the world. Our task is to bring guests into our midst and involve ourselves in sharing and breathing new life into not only our guests, but into ourselves. For as we sit out amongst the stars, the wind, the sun, and all the elements, we start slip into more basic survival and draw contentment in the moments of peace, companionship, and sustenance. While we normally reach for a blanket in our easy chairs to curb the night chill, we find the cool night air doesn't have the same adverse effect on us when our souls reach out and touch others in our sukkot. The table in the morning, with its accumulated moisture, only needs to be wiped before we can enjoy our coffee with a book - even that too becomes acceptable and special. And that is the very point: the ways in which we so carefully orchestrate our lives in our homes don't seem to apply once we go out and navigate according to the compass of the Heavens. Our false sense of security we embody under our watertight roofs is shed away under the seemingly flimsy sechach. We are able to live on less, but we feel as if we have so much more in the setting of the makeshift hut. And this is where we can relate to our Messiah, journeying through the land with so much less than what we have today.
As they were traveling on the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Yeshua answered him, "The foxes have holes, and the birds flying about have nests, but the Son of Man has no home of his own." (Luke 9:57-58)
If it was fit for a king, such as our Messiah Yeshua, then so it must be for us during this season. How much more so should we anticipate this season with joy and courage and strive for a deeper existence.
There's No Place like Home
So "home is where the heart is" is what Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, is quoted as saying. But home, without all the technological additions and architecture- how primitive! So exactly where does our heart, our lev, reside during this season? It is very much in our hand as we hold the etrog, the yellow, fragrant fruit associated with this season. The captivating and strong scent of the etrog reminds us that the very heart of the sukkah is embodied in the brightly colored fruit. It catches our eye, its fragrance pleases us, and it is used in the performance of waving the lulav in praise to Hashem. It is also the very embodiment of Mashiach Yeshua in our lives, right there in our sukkah. It is the beautiful aroma that pervades the entire sukkah and makes it pleasurable to those inside. Our heart needs to match the intensity of the etrog and fill the sukkah - so much so that we don't yearn for our material possessions and conveniences that lay inside our yearly homes, so much so that those who enter our midst will be filled with the beauty of Mashiach and be rejuvenated, refreshed and alive. As the heart, the etrog, is coupled with the specific greenery - the willow, the myrtle and date palm - we couple our hearts with the natural, that which is fresh and green from the outdoors, and raise it up as an offering to Hashem. We leave our dens of comfort and race to the outside to reconnect, reestablish our link with the Creator, and remember how He blessed us with shelter - then and now.
May you be blessed within your sukkot. May the dew settle upon your temporary dwellings and refresh your souls; may you feel the spirit of Mashiach radiate through you during this season as you behold the night air, the stars, the warm savory foods and rejoice in Hashem for the rewards of your labor. Zeh z'man simchateinu - this is the time of our rejoicing.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom...