“In that day
‘I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be . . . ’” — Amos 9:11
A note to our readers: This week marks the celebration of Sukkot, one of the most joyous celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Throughout this week, our reflections will be tied to this biblically mandated holiday. As this is a non-working holiday for observant Jews, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
For Christians, the holiday season starts at the end of the year. For Jews, the holiday season is now. Whenever they fall, the holidays can be challenging for many people. We are supposed to celebrate and be joyful. But what about those who have very little to be joyful about? What about those who don’t have a family to be with? Or those who can’t afford the holiday food? We all fall upon hard times occasionally. How can we celebrate Sukkot, known as the holiday of joy, when it’s so hard to be happy?
The Jewish sages teach that while those who feel broken think that the holidays are not for them, the exact opposite is true. The holiday of Sukkot is especially for the broken, the fallen, and the disheartened. We read in Amos 9:11, “On that day, ‘I will restore David’s fallen shelter . . . ’” The word in Hebrew used for “shelter” in this verse is sukkah, the same word for the small booths that we build and live in during this holiday. On Sukkot, God will rebuild what is broken. The prophet continued, “I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be.”
Only something that is empty can be filled. Only that which is broken and isn’t whole can be made whole by God. According to Jewish law, the ceiling of the sukkah must not be solid. The traditional covering of the sukkah is made out of tree branches and leaves or bamboo. The rule is that there has to be enough space between the branches so that a person inside the sukkah can see the stars. It is as if the ceiling is broken – because only then can the light come in.
On Sukkot, we repeat the following phrase in prayer and song: “He who spreads out the sukkah (shelter) of peace over His nation Israel.” In Hebrew, the word peace is shalom. The word shalom is related to the word shalem which means “whole.” On Sukkot, God spreads peace and wholeness over the broken and dejected. It’s the time when our brokenness is celebrated, since it is through our emptiness that we are able to receive God.
Sukkot teaches us not to bemoan all the things wrong with our lives because our broken places create ideal spaces in which to receive God. During this season, let’s pray that God will fix all that is broken – both in our own personal lives and also in our world — and pray, too, that God may spread out His shelter of peace over Israel and the world!