On Yom Kippur, we heard about the building of a sukkah, yet it is nothing like the sukkot we build for this week’s festival of Sukkot.
Yes, we get the sense that the booth Jonah put up is a shaky shelter, an impermanent one, built hastily. The structures we build for the festival are also impermanent, built hastily. Even if one observes the custom of beginning to build directly after Yom Kippur (well, perhaps, directly after that first bite of break-fast bagel), it’s still a quick-up, quick-down project.
But, are the shelters we build, and the shelter Jonah built, the same thing?
Jonah, “found a place east of the city. He made a booth (sukkah) there and sat under it in the shade, until he should see what happened to the city” (Jonah 4:5). Although a sukkah is typically associated with peace, shelter and God’s beneficence, Jonah turns the true image of the sukkah on its head. It is as if Jonah is lying in wait for war, destruction and malevolence.
Dissatisfied and even angry with the mercy God has shown to the Ninevites, Jonah waits to prove he is right – that his aggrieved attitude will prevail, and God will destroy the Ninevites. One who should be rejoicing in God’s mercy becomes embittered.
How fitting it is then that, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we are commanded to build a different kind of sukkah. The sukkah we build is one that repudiates Jonah’s pessimism in human nature. It is a sukkah that stands for peace, faith, shelter and optimism.
Liturgy itself conveys such an image. In the evening service and the bedtime Shema, we read, “Spread over us the shelter (sukkah) of Your peace.” The booth we build on Sukkot mirrors the heavenly sukkah God spreads over us. It is an expression of sanctity, security, and hope in our future.
In the Haftarah of Yom Kippur, Isaiah’s words propel us toward tikkun olam, the repair of a broken world. Building the sukkah becomes Israel’s tikkun (apology) for Jonah’s acrimonious desire.
So it makes sense that we go right from reading the story of Jonah to building our sukkot! We want to build a shelter of peace, and not sustain the image of a shelter of destructive impulses.
The sukkah is a powerful bridge between the absolute solemnity of Yom Kippur and absolute joy of Sukkot. Vesamachta bechagecha … vehatiya akh Sameach, you shall rejoice in your festival and be truly joy filled (Deuteronomy 16:14-15); a season of joy – zeman simchateynu.
May our booths be shelters of peace, and may we sit in them in much joy. Chag Sukkot akh Sameach.