Feeling The Fragility Of Sukkot


Much has been made among the rabbis over the centuries as to why Sukkot takes place at this time of year. And the lesson is a particularly timely one now, in the face of an international economic crisis that has made each of us feel more vulnerable.

We are told that the eight-day festival was supposed to take place in the spring. But since it was common for people in ancient times to sit outside in temporary huts at that time of year, it wouldn’t be clear that the Jews were doing so to commemorate God’s protecting them during the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert.

So the holiday was moved to the fall, when most people returned indoors to the comfort of their homes.

We are supposed to build sukkot that are sturdy enough to withstand winds, but a solid roof is prohibited. It must be made of natural elements and fragile and temporary enough so that we can see the sky when we look up and feel the drops if it rains. The point is to remember that it was God’s caring for our ancestors during their long sojourn — with a pillar of clouds during the day to lead the way and a pillar of fire at night – that allowed them to survive the elements.

Sitting in our family Sukkah this year, surrounded by family and friends, I was reminded anew that for all of our attention during the year to doing our jobs and beautifying our houses, it is not the material aspects of our lives that are most permanent but the memories of special moments shared with loved ones that remains most precious and most lasting.

All of us feel the uncertainty now of making do with less. We confront the reality that we cannot take anything for granted, whether it is next week’s paycheck or being blessed to live another year, another day.

That’s why holidays like Sukkot, with its prayer of gratitude for “allowing us to reach this season,” resonate within us, especially in times like these.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.