by Jacques Abourbih
And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the L-RD your G-d seven days.
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths
Sukkoth is one of the most colorful holidays in our calendar. Last Sunday our Hebrew schoolchildren did a great job decorating our Succah. There was a great deal of excitement decorating it. The children decorated the wooden walls meant to be makeshift ones, with fruits and vegetables, and colorful naive portraits of our special Sukkah guests.
Chris and Roger brought boughs of cedar and tree branches from their garden — the earthy greens and yellows mixing with the reeds of the mats of our sechach, to make a vegetation ceiling through which we must see the sky.
There is always a sense of excitement for me at Sukkoth. I look forward to it more than any other holiday– despite the interrupting rains and cold winds we suffer in Sudbury during the Israeli harvest season.
The last time I was in Israel was in 2004, a few weeks before my accident. It was at Sukkoth and Simchat Torah. I cannot even begin to describe for you the crowds chanting and dancing at the Kotel and in Me’a Shearim on Erev Simchat Torah.
There were diverse Chasids wearing all colors of embroidered silk bekiche bound by an equally ornate gartel, the ubiquitous black hat exchanged for the regal shtreimel despite the sweltering heat. Young IDF soldiers, gentile tourists recognizable by the black paper cone kippah perched awkwardly on their heads, secular Jews electrified by a spark of remaining Jewish identity awakened by the contagious enthusiasm of the wild crowds—all mingled together. They brought alive the celebrations of the Holy Temple—past glories and future hopes. One night we set our differences aside and we were one happy people.
How do we translate for the gentile world Hag ha-Sukkoth? Is it Feast of the Huts or is it feast of the Tabernacles? A moot point that drew R. Akiva and R. Ishamel into arguments. The Talmud recorded these for us. (B.T. Sukkah 11b)
R. Akiba maintains that the Succah represents the actual temporary huts or booths our ancestors had to set up in the desert.
R. Yishmael argues that the sukkah expresses the clouds of Divine glory, the rays of Divine Splendor, which encompassed the Israelites during their wanderings.
R. Akiba would call it the Festival of Huts (or Booths) and R. Yishmael the Festival of Tabernacles (Divine Sanctuary).
And this dispute is not merely a theoretical one! So, what are we experiencing in our sukkah? Is it the makeshift huts of our wanderings through the various deserts of our exiles – despite which we nevertheless managed to survive – or is it the majestic and impregnable Divine fortress of protection and spirituality, which encircled us throughout the desert experience? Is the sukkah a hut or a tabernacle?
Perhaps the deepest meaning of the sukkah is that true joy and comfort stems not from a fancy palatial residence replete with expensive oak furnishings and chandeliers, but rather from love and togetherness, as I experienced it that night at the Kotel in Jerusalem.
As the Talmud teaches, “When our love was strong, we could lie on the edge of a metal implement and there was sufficient room; now that our love is no longer strong, a bed of sixty cubits is not large enough.” (B.T. Sanhedrin 7a).