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Rabbinic Reflections - Chol Hamoed Sukkot - Day 4    October 19, 2019 - 20 Tishrei 5780

10/17/2019 04:31:03 PM


The prayer, Hashkivenu, which we say on Friday night, contains the phrase sukkat shelomecha (“Your canopy of peace”) three times.  It concludes with the blessing, Ufros alenu Sukat shlomecha – “spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace.”  As we celebrate this Shabbat Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, this Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot, Rabbi Marc Rudolph asks: “what does a Sukkah have to do with peace?  Why does our prayer compare peace to a Sukkah?”

One suggestion is that like a Sukkah, peace is fragile and temporary.  Indeed!  Currently, in 2019 there are 10 active armed conflicts in the world.  Forget about peace being fragile and temporary. It seems like world peace is completely unattainable, far from our reach.  I hate to be a pessimist, but the most we can hope for, it would seem, is some respite from war and conflict in this troubled world of ours.  One worldwide organization puts together what it calls the Global Peace Index, a ranking of the amount of peace enjoyed by each country in the world. Iceland is rated the most peaceful country in the world, followed by New Zealand and Portugal. Seventeen of the top twenty countries are Western or Central European states.  The Scandinavian countries all rank in the top 20.  The United States was ranked 128th most peaceful country while Canada came in at number 6. 

The Sukkah, easily blown down by the wind, open to the elements, here for a short duration and then gone, reminds us of how difficult it is to bring lasting peace into the world.  Here is another thought about the association of a Sukkah with peace.  A Sukkah is a place of hospitality.  Hospitality is synonymous with care and protection and peace.  In former times, it was customary for a family that was eating in the Sukkah to invite at least one poor person to the dinner table.  Then there is the kabbalistic custom of Ushpizin.  On each night of the holiday, traditional Jews invite one of the seven exalted men and women of Israel to take up residence in the Sukkah – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Deborah, Ruth and Esther.  Each of these exalted people also reminds us of our obligation to protect the vulnerable and the uprooted.

Hospitality is still a sacred obligation in parts of our world.  Marcus Luttrell, a US Navy SEAL, was the sole survivor of a battle in Afghanistan.  He and three other SEAL commandos were on a mission to hunt down an al-Qaeda terrorist leader hiding in a Taliban stronghold.  Injured and bleeding, he eluded six al-Qaeda assassins who were trying to finish him off.  He made his way to a Pashtun village.  The tribe took him in and risked everything to protect him.  He came under the law of hospitality, he wrote, considered “strictly non-negotiable.”  “They were committed to defend me against the Taliban until there was not one left alive.”  This same law of hospitality prompted Abraham to offer food and shelter to three strangers who happened by his home.  It is the same law of hospitality that prompted Lot to protect the angels who visited him in Sodom from the angry crowd who wanted to harm them.  We shudder at the price he was willing to pay – to hand over his daughters as a substitute – but the point is the same.  The Law of Hospitality says that we protect those who come under our roofs even at the expense of our loved ones.

Rabbi Marc Rudolph offers a final thought about the association of a Sukkah with peace.  Sukkot is the only holiday on our calendar that we publically celebrate outdoors.  In fact, although we may be tempted to build a Sukkah in our family room, and thereby avoid the cold or inclement weather of our area, it is not valid to build a Sukkah indoors.  It has to be outdoors, for all to see.  It makes perfect sense, then, that the Sukkah is such a humble dwelling.  Since they are such humble dwellings, and others will see it, they are unlikely to stir up envy — and envy is a threat to peace.

Rabbi Rudolph reminds us that when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to seek provisions for the famine, he cautioned them not to make themselves conspicuous. Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac (Provence, 11th century) explains that Jacob was warning them not to show that they still had provisions to eat and they were not yet going hungry.  Jacob was concerned this would stir up envy among the pagan tribes living in the area.  In a commentary to this, the Stone Chumash notes that this has been the theme of many leaders who exhorted their fellow Jews not to flaunt their wealth to their neighbors, as that can stir up envy.  “Whatever food Jacob’s family had was honestly acquired,” writes the Stone Chumash, “but even honest resources should be displayed judiciously.”

“Spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace” asks our prayer.  We are reminded in using this language that peace is fragile like a Sukkah, and impermanent.  The words “Spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace” ask God to be with us and protect us, at least as well as human beings protect and care for the guests that dwells within their homes.  “Spread over us the shelter of Your peace” teaches us that we should be modest and judicious in our possessions, for we do not wish to incur envy, which is a threat to peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780