We are commemorating the festival of Sukkot. This has always been one of my favourite holidays.
Eating outdoors with family and friends in the sukkah under the branches is always a unique treat. It felt like an adventure as a child and still feels like an adventure today. The weather never seems to dampen our spirits. Whether it was the sometimes brutal heat I grew up with in South Florida or the chill in our bones we often feel here in Ottawa, it is always fun and, more importantly, meaningful. More than anything you feel a real sense of kinship and fraternity with family and friends sitting around your table.
Living in the sukkah is meant to acknowledge our gratitude to the Almighty for protecting the children of Israel as they traversed the desert for 40 years.
For an entire nation to survive in the desert was nothing less than supernatural. The fluctuating extremities in the weather, the dangerous animals, etc., made the desert unfriendly territory, and yet the Jews survived and thrived.
When we sit in the sukkah we are meant to re-enact the experiences of our ancestors. We are meant to emulate their gratitude and faith. We are meant to recognize that our materialistic amenities provide us a false sense of shelter and security. When we leave our air conditioned and heated homes and head out into the outdoors we proclaim awareness in the omnipresence of God and his complete control over our lives.
Just recently, the whole world was transfixed by the monster storm, Hurricane Irma. As it churned its way toward the Caribbean islands and the Southern United States, the world held its collective breath. We watched in horror at the destruction it wreaked over innocent families and communities.
And yet, amazingly, the reaction people have when they are at their most vulnerable always seems to be the same. People stand together, shoulder to shoulder, in incredible unity: people helping others, comforting others, sharing with others. It seems that as soon as people are stripped of their physical luxuries, our innermost essence shines forth: an essence that is pure and inclusive; an essence that reminds us that as human beings we really are all one.
Even when watching from afar we are moved. We donate money, time and resources to help the victims. There is a side of us that seems to say, this could have been us. We are also capable of losing everything we have in an instant. Our materialism, too, seems briefly not to matter. We are also stripped to our essence. We too, feel a sense of unity with humanity, with people we have never met.
Sukkot is our annual reminder about how vulnerable and fragile we really are. It reminds us not to be obsessed with the petty materialism that divides us and instead focus on our essence that unites us.
I believe it is no accident that according to Jewish law there are restrictions to the height of our sukkah. Yet, there is no restriction to its width. That is because the sukkah ought to include everyone. It ought to be a place where all of humanity can join in true unity.