“Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. ‘I am the Lord your God.’”—Leviticus 23:42‑43
A note to our readers: Today marks the first day of Sukkot, which is observed for seven days (through Oct. 11). Throughout this week, our reflections are tied to this biblically mandated holiday. Since no work can be done today and tomorrow, these devotions were prepared in advance for you.
I have a friend who spent a lot of time worrying, so much so, that she sought out professional help. One day, she excitedly reported to me that she was greatly improving. “Rabbi, my therapist gave me the most powerful exercise!” she enthused. “Every night I envision that I am walking through a desert when a great storm comes. I stop, take a tent out of my backpack, and ride out the storm inside my tent unharmed. Then I pack up and continue on.” This visualization helped my friend internalize the idea that she didn’t have to worry so much because she could weather any storm. It worked!
After thinking about my friend’s experience, I realized that her visualization technique wasn’t all that different than the Jewish observance of Sukkot. Only in our scenario, we have to work far less. The children of Israel trekked through the desert and were able to weather every storm. But it wasn’t because they had new easy-to-assemble tents with them. No, it was because God provided them with the shelter they would need.
When God took the Israelites out of Egypt on a 40-day journey through the desert, He provided for their every need. There was manna from heaven to feed them, and according to the Jewish sages, their clothing never needed washing and grew with their owners. God also provided the Israelites with shelter: “ . . . I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt.”
Some sages believe that God placed the families in actual huts, while others believe that the huts were really the Clouds of Glory that surrounded the nation on every side. All, however, agree that God sheltered His children. It is His providence and protection that we celebrate and remember during Sukkot.
On Sukkot, we go further than visualization — we actually re-enact the experience. We build small, temporary huts and move into them for seven days. There we eat, sleep, and live, exposed to the elements and completely dependent on God’s protection. As autumn moves in, most people move into their homes for protection. However, it is precisely then that we choose to move outside in a grand gesture that proclaims that we are not afraid – of the rain, the cold, or anything. There is no need to worry, for we are sheltered by God.
Whether you build a sukkah this year or simply imagine it, remember that God is your shelter. Just as He provided for the children of Israel in the desert, He will continue to provide for all of our needs and protect us through any storm.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President