“Be prepared for the morning, and in the morning you shall ascend Mount Sinai and stand before Me there on the top of the mountain.” (Exodus 34:2)
We hear two stories on Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot (the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot). The first is the book of Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, which opens with a pretty dismal world-view: Havel havalim…Vanity of vanities, said Kohelet, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2) Then we read from the Torah about the aftermath of the golden calf, certainly a low point in Jewish history. These choices are puzzling; neither seems fitting for Sukkot, described as z’man simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing.
The sukkah, or hut, is the connecting and clarifying link. A sukkah is a temporary structure, fragile and impermanent. It’s a reminder of humanity’s place in the cosmos. This supports Kohelet’s message. Kohelet employs the word havel five times in one verse; you can’t miss it. But havel doesn’t mean vanity. It means breath and is used as a metaphor for life: something ephemeral and fleeting. The sukkah suggests Kohelet is challenging us: life is short, what will you make of it? The sukkah suggests a similar message regarding the illusion of the golden calf (which provides no safety or security for the Israelites): life is short, what is worth believing?
The practice of ushpizin, or inviting guests (real or historical) into the sukkah, is the final piece of the puzzle. Offering the hospitality of a minimal shelter stands in contrast to Kohelet and the Golden Calf: the dense network of human relationships that over time creates community is what is of value and what will endure, and not the material objects surrounding us. Coming together is what makes Sukkot z’man simchateinu.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
Gut Yontif/Chag Sameach/Happy Holiday