As soon as the sun sets on Yom Kippur and the stars signal the end of the fast, you can hear the clanking of hammers echoing in the breeze, as everyone begins building their sukkah – the temporary dwelling Jews are commanded to live in for the duration of the Sukkot holiday. The four-day period between Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) is a uniquely inspiring and joyous time here in Israel, as everyone busies themselves with preparations for this joyous holiday – which, like many Jewish holy days, requires quite a bit of preparation.
Leviticus 23:42-43 commands, “You shall dwell in booths seven days … that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” From now through Sukkot, everywhere you go in Israel you see these temporary dwellings popping up on the streets outside of restaurants, in front of peoples’ homes, and occupying the balconies of nearly every apartment building in the Holy Land.
For days leading up to Yom Kippur, my children begged me to build the sukkah, and as I took out all the wooden beams and fabrics I used to build our sukkah this morning, my kids looked on with the enthusiasm that only a child can have. They recall from previous years that after a festive meal I roll out a carpet on the floor of our sukkah, throw a bunch of blankets and pillows across the rug, and together, under a shield of the palm branch roof, we all go to sleep as a family.
I remind them that when our ancestors left Egypt they journeyed in the Sinai Desert for 40 years. During that time, they didn’t have a house with a kitchen and bedrooms; instead they dwelled in temporary huts, just as we do during Sukkot. This leads my children to ask many questions about God, the Jewish people, and the Bible. As we snuggle together within the confines of our sukkah, telling stories of creation, the Torah, and the Jewish people’s mission here on earth, we can feel the loving embrace of Divine Providence surrounding us from each direction, hovering above us and below.
The sukkah has so much teach our generation, which has been blessed with unprecedented material wealth yet is starving for meaning, for purpose, and, knowingly or unknowingly, for a relationship with God. The sukkah, which is only temporary, reminds us how quickly our physical life passes by and how incredibly important it is to attach ourselves to that which is eternal – God. After the Day of Judgment, or Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, God urges us to rejoice for seven days, and to remember that through all the hardships and downfalls a person may experience in life, God is always watching, protecting, and loving us, as we are all His creations.
Incredibly, here in the Holy Land, on this tiny sliver of land along the Mediterranean, resides a nation which is surrounded and outnumbered by enemies bent on its destruction. And yet, as if times were good and there was no storm on the horizon, on Sunday night the people of Israel will enter a seven-day holiday during which the entire country will transform into a festival marking God’s love and the providence of His nation, Israel. This is one of the great gifts the Jewish people can give to this broken world: to have faith in God’s goodness in spite of all the evil in the world. There is no greater testimony to our firm belief in God and our mission here on earth than to rejoice and offer thanksgiving even as our enemies plot our destruction. May God foil their plans and bring about the full redemption speedily in our days!