October 13, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel
As I travel home to Jerusalem after spending a few weeks in the U.S., I am excited to see Israelis preparing for the holiday of Sukkot, which will begin on the eve of October 16 this year. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot is observed in accordance with the biblical commandment found in Leviticus, where God instructs the Israelites to “Live in temporary shelters for seven days” to recall their time of exile in Egypt.
Prior to this holiday Jews build temporary booths that spring up in seemingly every corner of apartment buildings throughout the city. For seven days in Israel (eight in the U.S.), Jews live in these sukkot, eating, socializing, and even sleeping in them.
These huts are meant to remind us of the shelters the Israelites lived in during their sojourn in the desert in biblical times. They are deliberately built to be impermanent. They have no fixed walls and their roofs are made of palm fronds or bamboo mats, so that one can see the stars while resting inside.
Usually we avoid impermanence, vulnerability, and discomfort. But during Sukkot, Jews embrace these very things with a deep joy. In fact, Sukkot is known as "the time of our happiness." This joy stems from the foundational truth Sukkot brings to mind. Living in these temporary booths reminds us that our homes, our livelihoods, our safety, and our health, despite all we do to provide and safeguard them, ultimately come from God. That truth would have been clear to the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, led and shaded by clouds during the day, warmed and lit by fire at night, sustained by manna, sleeping in makeshift huts. Their utter dependence on their Creator was self-evident.
In our modern world, on the other hand, it's easy to delude ourselves into thinking that all we have materially and otherwise grows out of our own efforts and skills. Sukkot reminds us that it all comes from God, and that we are entirely dependent upon Him.
While this dependency runs counter to the fierce independence so valued in our culture, it actually brings a sense of relief. Our livelihood and well-being is up to the God of the universe who created us, sustains us, and loves us more than we can fathom. What greater delight can there be than the knowledge that God is with us at every moment and that He will provide for us?
Whether you are Christian or Jewish, I pray this season of Sukkot, of harvest and colder temperatures and leaves changing color, fills you with fresh gratitude for God's permanence in our world that is ever-changing. And may we all pray for the time when the whole world will be able to dwell under the shelter of God's dominion, in peace.
With grief, gratitude, and prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President