Rabbi Menachem Creditor with Edie Yakutis
(March 25, 2020)
Many of us have sat in familiar locations throughout most of the pandemic, often by a screen, but hopefully near a window as well. From this perch, we have watched the seasons change, the afternoon sun slant in at ever-shifting angles. This week’s Parashah touches these moments in its discussion of the festival of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:39). When we build a sukkah, we might witness the antics of squirrels delighting in cornstalks or palm fronds (depending on where you live) which make up the sukkah’s roof.
It can be joyful in these moments to simply glance out the window. In this emotional response, we follow the Talmud, which states:
וְאָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אַל יִתְפַּלֵּל אָדָם אֶלָּא בְּבַיִת שֶׁיֵּשׁ שָׁם חַלּוֹנוֹת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְכַוִּין פְּתִיחָן לֵיהּ בְּעִלִּיתֵהּ (לָקֳבֵל) [נֶגֶד] יְרוּשְׁלֶם״.
And on the topic of prayer, Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yocḥanan said: One may only pray in a house with windows, as then he can see the heavens and focus his heart, as it is stated with regard to Daniel’s prayer: "… he went to his house, in whose upper chamber he had had windows made facing Jerusalem, and three times a day he knelt down, and prayed..." (Daniel 6:11).
To glance out the window is not to daydream. In addition to focusing our hearts, seeing the sky reminds that we are connected to Heaven (Rashi on Berakhot 34b:29). To look out a window is to be reminded of the world animated by the Divine.
In Parashat Emor we are commanded to take branches from the hadar (the citron tree is known in the Torah as the hadar, which means “beautiful"), willow and palm trees, live in booths, and rejoice before God (Leviticus 23:40). A sukkah, by definition, has open windows; it is open on one side, topped with a loosely thatched roof. The sky and world all around can be seen and experienced, even as we remember and celebrate a moment of Jewish history.
Looking out windows reminds us that even as prayers are a precious communication between us and God, we are not isolated from the world surrounding us when we pray. May we remember this and focus on the joy:
זֶה־הַ֭יּוֹם עָשָׂ֣ה יְהֹוָ֑ה נָגִ֖ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָ֣ה בֽוֹ׃
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!