A Paradox By Design: Sukkot in the 21st Century​​​​​​​
Choosing Impermanence in a State of Permanence

(מב) בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת. (מג) לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

(42) You shall dwell in booths seven days; all members of Israel shall dwell in booths; (43) So 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: I am the LORD your God.

Questions to Consider:

  • What is the reason that we sit in booths for 7 days?
  • Why do you think this was the ORIGINAL design?
  • What can we learn about the model of EXPERIENTIAL education given to us in the Torah?
  • What can we learn from the irony in this passage with regards to the deeply rooted permanence and impermanence that is presented at the same time?
The Maximum HEIGHT of the Sukkah Walls Help Define Our State of Impermanence

אמר רבה דאמר קרא (ויקרא כג, מג) למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל עד עשרים אמה אדם יודע שהוא דר בסוכה למעלה מעשרים אמה אין אדם יודע שדר בסוכה משום דלא שלטא בה עינא

Rabbah said: As it says in the Torah: (Leviticus 23:43) "In order that your generations will know that I settled the children of Israel in sukkot." Until twenty amot, a person knows that he is dwelling in a sukkah [because his eye will catch sight of the roofing and remind him of the sukkah and its associated mitzvot]. Above twenty amot, a person does not know that he is dwelling in a sukkah, because it is not in his field of vision.

Questions to Consider:

  • The Mishnah, Talmud and later poskim consider many options with regards to the walls, the height, the length, the roofing of the sukkah…Do you think these details are important?
  • What can we learn about impermanence from the roofs and walls of our sukkah? What lessons can we bring back into our HOME at the conclusion of 7 days?
Choosing Happiness: Our Feelings are Not Ours Alone

(יד) וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. (טו) שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ.

(14) And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. (15) Seven days you shall keep a feast for the LORD your God in the place which the LORD shall choose; because the LORD thy God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does it mean to be COMMANDED to be happy? Can this work in our world?
  • Why must so many people be explicitly included in our happiness?
  • What is the reason given for why we "keep a feast/celebrate?" (Does blessing come BEFORE our commandment or is it retroactive?)
  • Why is there is a reason given for the feast but not for our happiness?
Choosing Community: YOU and US In the ME Generation

(א) ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון - ר' אבא(יב) ...אלו ישראל. מה אתרוג זה, יש בו טעם ויש בו ריח. כך ישראל, יש בהם בני אדם, שיש בהם תורה, ויש בהם מעשים טובים. כפות תמרים, אלו ישראל. מה התמרה הזו, יש בו טעם ואין בו ריח. כך הם ישראל, יש בהם שיש בהם תורה ואין בהם מעשים טובים. וענף עץ עבות, אלו ישראל. מה הדס, יש בו ריח ואין בו טעם.כך ישראל, יש בהם שיש בהם מעשים טובים ואין בהם תורה. וערבי נחל, אלו ישראל. מה ערבה זו, אין בה טעם ואין בה ריח. כך הם ישראל, יש בהם בני אדם שאין בהם לא תורה ולא מעשים טובים. ומה הקב"ה עושה להם? לאבדן אי אפשר, אלא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא יוקשרו כולם אגודה אחת, והן מכפרין אלו על אלו... לפיכך משה מזהיר לישראל: ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון:

(12) The four species are likened to different categories in the Jewish people. The Etrog, which has both taste and smell, is likened to those that study Torah and do mitzvot. The palm branch, which has taste, but no smell, is likened to those who have only Torah study. The myrtle, which has smell but no taste, is likened to those who have only mitzvot. The willow, which has neither taste nor smell, is likened to those who are without Torah study and without mitzvot. [...] And what does God do to them? Does God make them lost [from our nation]? Impossible. Rather, God says "bind them all together and let them atone one for the other." […] Because of this, Moses warns Israel, "And you (plural) shall take for you (plural) on this first day."

Questions to Consider:

  • What purpose does this Midrash serve? Why couldn't we simply take the 4 species at face value and what are the rabbis trying to emphasize?
  • What can happen when those who "study Torah" and "observe mitzvot" are mixed in with those who don't "observe the mitzvot" or "study Torah?"
  • Can this teach us anything about who we invite into our Sukkah and into our homes? (Should this Midrash teach us anything about who we befriend or whom our children and grandchildren befriend?)
Choosing Community II

וחכמים אומרים אע"פ שאמרו אין אדם יוצא ידי חובתו ביום טוב הראשון בלולבו של חבירו אבל יוצא ידי חובתו בסוכתו של חבירו דכתיב (ויקרא כג, מב) כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסוכות מלמד שכל ישראל ראוים לישב בסוכה אחת

The sages say "Even though a person cannot exempt himself from his obligation of the four kinds on the first day of Sukkot with a borrowed lulav and etrog, he may exempt himself from his obligation of sitting in a sukkah by using his friend's sukkah. The basis for this is the verse that says "Every citizen of Israel shall sit in sukkot". This teaches us that all of Israel are fit to sit in one sukkah.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does this leniency in the Talmud serve to remind us of?
  • Is this just a leniency based on pragmatism or can there be a greater message here for us to glean?

A Grayer Model: Paradox No More

Rav Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, and a Jewish thinker, halachist, Kabbalist and Torah scholar

Jewish law validates a sukkah even when it has gaping hopes, when it is built from little more than two walls, or has large spaces between the walls and the roof. Even such a fragile structure still qualifies as a kosher sukkah. The same is true regarding peace. Peace is so precious, so vital, that even if we are unable to attain complete peace, we should still pursue a partial measure of peace. Even an imperfect peace between neighbors, or between an individual and the community, is worthwhile. "How great is peace!" proclaimed the Sages (VaYikra Rabbah 9:9). The value of peace is so great that we pray for it even if it will be like a sukkah--flimsy and temporary rendered fit only by special laws.

translated from.Ma'Amarei HaRa'ayah vol. I, pp. 149-150

Questions to Consider:

  • How do texts 4 and 5 help us understand our responsibility for each other and our responsibility for peace?
  • What do we gain from viewing texts 4 and 5 together?
  • What do we gain from viewing the Sukkah as both a model of permanence and impermanence?
  • What can we learn by being masters of our happiness and being open to the commandment of happiness?
  • What can Rav Kook's model for peace teach us about paradox in our lives and our relation to it?