Author: Yonina Andrea K. Foster, Ph.D.
Why would a culture of people choose to build flimsy structures of three walls and a roof of branches that you can see through? Through which the rain will fall? The winds will blow, stars will shine, as will the full moon at night, sun by day. You are invited to eat there, sleep, and invite the ancestors to be with you. It can be pretty cold, though this fall in Buffalo we were warm. You begin construction after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and in a week’s time you hang out in the sukkah. Why? I ask you the question and it’s not even Passover.
Most Sukkahs, a shelter of three walls with holes in the roof made of S’chach, branches of some kind, actually do stand the entire Sukkot holiday. That they represent the huts in the fields our ancestors used during the harvest makes sense. That we make them cozy, decorated with fruits and vegetables delights. If you are able to, you wave palm, myrtle, and willow branches (lulav), along with an etrog, a citron. Being back in Buffalo, I visited the sukkah behind Temple Beth Zion, downtown. Before Shabbat there was delicious food to eat and the opportunity to wave the lulav and etrog.
So, why do we build the structures? Perhaps to remind us life is fragile, like the sukkah. From dust to dust and in between that dash, the years of our lives. In evening prayers we reference the sukkah, as does the chant when remembering our loved ones who have died. We ask God to protect us, to reach over us with a sukkah of peace, a shelter. Shelter us in your wings, and shelter our loved ones, we pray.
Some of you know that I learned first hand the fragility of life last year with my husband’s fast acting illness and death, of dreams snuffed out. We are all touched by death, from natural causes and natural disasters, to traumas, tragedies. Death. Life. Presented with death we are invited to reflect and examine our lives. Waste them? Deny dreams we have? How do we live? Grab hold of the now, protect the treasure of the gift we are given. You may never never have seen a sukkah. Yet you can look up through the holes of the life you have made. See the sky. Find the moon, the stars, and reach. Keep stretching. What life will you create?
In Judaism the Passover Seder is all about questions. Passover is a springtime celebration of our being taken out of Egypt by God. As free people we can ask so many questions. Questions arise, as you know, all year round.
If you scratch the surface of the etrog, citron, some say, you may smell the fragrance of the Garden of Eden.