Okay, it seems a little weird. We build a hut in our backyards and eat and sleep in it for 7 days. Yet we use our fanciest china and cook all the holiday delicacies on our modern appliances in our well-equipped kitchens. This doesn’t exactly model the lives of the Jewish people in the desert.
We aren’t really roughing it. If it rains, we go sleep inside. If our back hurts, we move indoors. If it’s too cold, we bring out the portable heaters. Too hot? Fans. I’ve even seen air conditioners. And once I had a neighbor who brought his television set into his Sukkah!
Doesn’t this all defeat the purpose? I guess that depends on what the purpose is. Sukkot is not the Jewish version of the Boy Scouts or the Sierra Club. It’s not meant to be a wilderness experience or an endurance test.
Sukkot is supposed to teach us an important lesson about our relationship with the Almighty, specifically about our dependence. For the Jewish nation, who received the Torah at Mount Sinai and then continued to wander in the desert for 40 years, that dependence was obvious. The Almighty’s cloud led them along the way. Miraculous food fell from Heaven. They lived in huts yet were protected from the elements by the Almighty’s watchful eye. We can’t possible simulate that experience. Nor should we.
We have a different challenge. We need to learn the lesson of dependence within the constraints of the world we live in, the world where the Almighty’s face is hidden, a world of relative affluence with opaque layers that block the spiritual reality.
We need to use the tools we have at hand. So we move into our “huts” to remind ourselves of that dependency, to try to recreate some of that intimacy.
We use our good dishes and cook fancy foods because it’s a holiday of joy – and because we need to uncover our dependence in the world of fine china (or Corelle) and Viking (or Kenmore) ranges.
That is our challenge. That is our opportunity. Like I said, we’re not roughing it. That might actually distract us from our goal. We’re basking in our experience of the Almighty’s presence in our world, under our circumstances. In our backyards, with our plastic grapes and (probably Xmas) lights.
The Almighty is available any time and any place to those who seek Him. We have to find Him here and now. We can’t go back to that life in the desert. We can’t go back to those makeshift dwellings, the manna from the sky, the well of Miriam. But we can still acknowledge the Almighty’s kindness to us – not just to our ancestors but to us here today in our unique lives and situations. We can recognize that our dependence and gratitude are no less significant even if they are less obvious. In fact, recognizing this amidst the Almighty’s hidden face and the values of society today may be an even greater accomplishment.