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Sukkot: How High is High?

by Mr. Eli Robin

  

Library » Holidays » Sukkot » Season of Rejoicing | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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I used to associate the ‘High’ in the High Holidays with our Temple’s towering ceiling, as well as with the official higher ups who dominated the scene.

After taking our High Holiday admission tickets, the Temple usher would quietly show us down the aisle to our seats, from where we looked up to the Rabbi, Cantor and dignitaries seated high on the stage up front. The Rabbi lectured, the Cantor sang and the Congregation President presided while the rest of us listened passively and respectfully in our reserved seats.

All was very silent except for the occasional page turning rustle. And all was very quiet and sedentary, except for a “Congregation, Please rise” here and there following the cantor’s instructions.

It was only natural that my eyes drifted away from the prayerbook’s solemn Thous and Thees, wandered over to the Ark’s red velvet curtain, following the exquisite woodwork and elaborate engravings up to the Ten Commandments on top. As my gaze ascended even higher unto the awesome above, I related the “He Who Dwelleth on High!” cantorial chants with the lofty chandeliered ceiling soaring overhead.

The Sukkot Revolution

Back then, I’d never heard of the Sukkot holiday. The "Feast of Tabernacles" posted on the Temple’s marquee sounded so Southern Baptist that I ignored it.

Rosh Hashanah is the King of Prayer and Yom Kippur offers Atonement, but Sukkot brings it all down to earth. Sukkot and Simchat Torah is where the action is!
Who knew that the solemn High Holidays also involved nitty gritty action, rolling up sleeves, hammer and nails, noise and clatter, banging and sawing, dancing and singing, real joy and celebration.

My spiritual exploration led me to discover the modest ramshackle Sukkah located right behind the High Holidays.

Roofless, But Not Homeless

It doesn’t look grand and impressive as the Holy Ark, but the humble little Sukkah is truly a Divine abode with a warm welcoming atmosphere of its own.

In addition to abstract philosophical concepts way up there, it showed me that Judaism actually encourages me to get physical! And practically, the Sukkah offers protective shelter, a small peaceful zone in a big busy world.

I found the Sukkah to be a great equalizer. Thank G-d, they don’t ask you for a High holiday ticket to enter the Sukkah. Its hearty grassroots service is not hierarchy driven, and it welcomes in everyone, high and low.

Major Home Improvement

Constructed of any material that’ll stand up to the wind, the Sukkah walls are covered by a scramble of tree branches, bamboo sticks, corn stalks, bush trimmings and garden clippings.

Sky’s the Limit!

The heavenly stars peeking through the roofless Sukkah made me realize that my Temple’s vaulted ceiling actually blocked my view of the Divine expanse. Without a plastered ceiling overhead, the creative Sukkah helps us think out of the box!

The Sukkah erases socioeconomic differences, as even the rich leave their mansions to camp out at the grace of the elements.

Mitzvah de Jour

Celebrating in the Sukkah is as nourishing and fulfilling as the hot Holiday soup. Rosh Hashanah is the King of Prayer and Yom Kippur offers Atonement, but Sukkot brings it all down to earth. Sukkot and Simchat Torah is where the action is!

Hammering It In

Jackie Mason jokes about Jews who use butter knives as screwdrivers. I, too, am tool challenged, but you don’t need an architectural degree to assemble the Sukkah’s simple panels and two by fours.

With ceilings everywhere limiting our visions and horizons, the Sukkah is literally a breath of fresh air. And in our era of complicated structures and strictures, the Sukkah’s simplicity is a major stress reliever.

I’m not trying to escape reality. The Sukkah is just for one week, but it sets the tone for the rest of the year.

Okay, the Temple’s Holy Ark is professionally designed, while my flimsy Sukkah lacks polish. But the Sukkah is meant to be simple, raw and rustic. The exclusive Ark houses holy scrolls, but those very Torahs applaud the inclusive Sukkah for hosting my family and me, ‘cause that’s where it’s at.

ᅵ 2004 Eli Robin


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Holidays » Sukkot » Essays

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.