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Sukkot 5781 ~ Oct. 2, 2020

Just a few days ago, I received an email from one of our congregants with a picture of their wind-ravaged sukkah. It was one of those moments that saddens those of us who wait for the moment to sit in our sukkot. It brought back memories of the first year Lisa and I had our own sukkah. We were living in Long Island and we were so excited to have a sukkah. Not paying attention to the weather reports, I assembled the sukkah. A few hours later, a knock on our door had congregants dropping by to suggest that we dismantle the sukkah because we were about to get hit by a major hurricane. That year I fulfilled the mitzvah of putting up a sukkah twice.

The rabbis in the Talmud must have known about strong foundations as well -- so you would expect them to say -- if you are doing this mitzvah of building a sukkah -- then do it right -- make it as strong as possible, on solid ground. So, it's strange that they would discuss building a kosher sukkah on a wagon or on a ship, or even on a camel! Yet that is one of the many discussions that is found in the Talmudic tractate of Sukkot.

The rabbis maintain that a sukkah must only be able to withstand a normal wind that you would have on land -- but if it cannot withstand a strong sea wind, it is still kosher. As you probably know, the roof can be see-through so long as it gives more shade than sun. The walls can be fabric.

How strange, the rabbis practically recommend building fragile sukkot!

This of course inspired the joke about the man who inquires about the correct way to build a sukkah. The rabbi consults his books, Masechet Sukkah, looks up all the information, and then gives the instructions: "You do a, then build b, and then connect c."

The man returns during chol ha-moed and cries:

"Rabbi, I did everything you said. How come the winds blew down my sukkah?"

The rabbi scratches his head and says:

"You know, Rashi asks the same question."

One Medieval scholar and teacher teaches that "The sukkah is designed to warn us that man is not to put his trust in the size or strength or beauty of his home, though it be filled with all precious things… rather let him trust in the great God whose word called the universe into being, for God alone is mighty and His promises are sure." (Isaac Klein, p.158)

The Hebrew Hosha-na, “God save us” is a part of our Sukkot service. We walk around our sanctuary with etrog and lulav in hand requesting Hosha-na from Hashem (God). The Hoshanot and the sukkot remind us that while we have prayed to God for a year built with a strong foundation, life is impermanent. Needless to say, we all understand that concept this year, more than any other year. Imagine what it must feel like at this moment in Israel, where once again Jewish festivals and their celebrations have been put on hold due to another Covid lockdown. If we look to Northern California, we see the devastation of fire- ravaged communities and have yet another sad reminder.

As I write this message, a colleague just shared that “in addition to everything else, here in Northern California, we continue to experience wildfires. This time there is a particular fierce one in Napa County. That is the heart of wine country, and it has been very destructive, with great destruction of property and mass evacuations. So far, no fatalities. At one point we heard that the fire was advancing at a rate that burned an acre every five seconds. That is about 100 miles away, but currently in our area (Santa Clara County) the view is obscured in smoke. We may also be getting some smoke from a smaller fire in Monterey County, which is closer. There is a website called Purpleair.com, which works from a large network of sensors.* The one nearest to us has a current reading of particulate matter of 179. The info reads, "151-200: Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects." Since one of our family group here is a 7-month-old baby, and another has shown herself to be very sensitive to smoke, it looks like pikuach nefesh would dictate that the first two nights of Sukkot will have to be spent indoors (with air purifiers). It's supposed to clear on Sunday. However, on the scale of suffering, we are not under any immediate threat and there are many people in Northern California who have been rendered homeless by this year's series of wildfires.”

Perhaps the lesson of Sukkot that the rabbis were teaching is that although we are devastated and laid low, when the walls that contained crumble around us, we remember that the strongest wind and cruelest rain do not have a chance at touching the true pillars of our lives and the essence of our neshama, our souls.

While our shul will not have a sukkah this year, due to the pandemic, we can all look forward to observing the festival of Sukkot at our drive-through “Shake Your Lulav” celebration of Sukkot this Sunday at Crossroads between 10:00-1:00.  This is also the time to return your High Holiday mahzors.  Hope to see you there!

Chag Sam’each and a Shabbat Shalom.

From our sukkah to you,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782