Why do we build a shelter that provides no shelter at all?
Growing up in suburban NJ, my home was not in a high-crime area. Yet, always, we locked the doors and we turned on the security alarm. We even had a big dog bowl on the front porch, to convince all external threats into thinking we had a guard dog (we didn’t even have a goldfish). And I don’t think our family’s efforts for protection were unusual. But friends of ours who lived not far away took a different approach. they left their doors unlocked every time they left their house. Simply because that is how they wanted to live their lives.
A Talmudic parable taught by Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l: It is the usual way of human beings to feel secure and unafraid while under the shelter of their own roofs. On emerging from their homes, their sense of security is diminished and they begin to feel fear. The Jewish People, however, is different. While in their homes the whole year, they are apprehensive. But when Sukkot comes and they leave their homes and come under the shadow of the sukkah, their hearts are full of trust, faith and joy, for now they are protected, not by the protection of their roofs, but by the shadow of their faith and trust in God.
The matter may be compared to a person who locks himself up at home for fear of robbers. Regardless of how many locks he uses and how strong these locks may be, he remains afraid lest the locks be broken. Once he hears the voice of the King approaching and calling, “Emerge from your chamber and join me,” he is no longer afraid. He immediately opens his doors and emerges joyously to join the King, for wherever the King is, no harm can come to him. He then goes wherever the King leads him, and trust and joy never depart from him.
Rabbi Lew reflects on the illusion of external protection: On Sukkot we build a house that is not a house. We construct protection that protects us from nothing. And so we experience the illusion of security and the release that comes with this understanding.
On this Sukkot, may we connect not only with the structure of the Sukkah, but with faith in trust in God and in the world around us.
Rabbi Alan Lew is the author of This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, a book we have been using as a reference in our weekly Friday Shabbat-prep meditation sessions. Please join us for Jewish Meditation before Shabbat services on Friday evenings, 5-5:30pm (you are welcome to arrive 4:45 to settle in; please be sure to arrive by 5:15 when the doors close for silence).