BS"D || Rabbi Geier
It is the first night in the sukkah, and what better way to celebrate than also observing Shabbat?
The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) says:
"You shall dwell in booths. For seven days, all the People of Israel must dwell in booths, so that future generations may know that I made Bnei Israel, the people of Israel, dwell in booths when they were in the desert.”
This verb "to know" tells us that we should not only remember or study it but also understand how our ancestors lived in sukkot (booths); we must experience it in our own lives, what it means to live in a sukkah. That is why the custom is to eat in it, spend time in it, pray in it, study in it, and even sleep in it.
The Talmud presents a mahloket (disagreement) between Raba, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva about the meaning we should give to the sukkah. Raba tells us that if the sukkah is larger than nine meters, then it cannot be considered a sukkah.
Why? Because in that case, it wouldn't provide the experience that Israel had in the desert of being in a shelter that is both fragile and intimate. The s'chach (roof) must be permeable; we should be able to see the sun, the sky, and the stars through it, even when it makes us feel protected from the elements and gives us warmth.
Rabbi Eliezer, on the other hand, says that the sukkah was like the Amud Eanan, the pillar of smoke that represented the care of the Kadosh Baruch Hu (Holy One, Blessed be He) for the People of Israel and accompanied them throughout their journey in the desert, indicating when to stop and when to break camp and move forward. Building the sukkah was like maintaining the presence of the Lord by fulfilling His request to dwell in it, and He cared for them even when it was a simple and fragile habitat. A more mystical view.
Rabbi Akiva, however, says no. The sukkah is what it is, nothing more. It's a hut in which you must live for a week, and that's it.
Why does Rabbi Akiva say this?
If we view the commandment of the sukkah as he does, then this festival includes a commitment from Israel. Like when a couple stays with their beloved through thick and thin. Usually, when things go wrong, we don't run away and continue on separate paths. In the same way, Israel must stand with its Lord even in difficult situations.
Being in a sukkah, even in the open and exposed to nature, and sometimes enduring hardships, we have to understand that we cannot give up our tradition, our history, our people, our attachment to the Kadosh Baruch Hu, and the mitzvot (commandments).
The sukkah is an example that life has its ups and downs. The sukkah is an example that we can be living in a favela, a shack, or a beautiful building, a lovely apartment, or an incredibly beautiful house and in every situation, even in adversity, that's when we have to put more of ourselves to make things better. It is interesting that during this festival, we are prescribed to be happy, even in the midst of the simplicity of a sukkah.
Perhaps it's time to think about those who, for some reason, have distanced themselves from the community. In this simplicity, we should think about bringing back people who may not be nowadays close to the community, who may have left for some reason. Maybe someone felt mistreated or offended or simply excluded, and now is the time to reach out to them so they can share the joy of being part of a community with us. It's time to reunite and move forward together.
There is no controversy. The sukkah encompasses everything—precise measurements and instructions to build it, spirituality and mysticism to feel the divine presence in it, and our commitment not to leave anyone outside and to contribute to the joy and the continuation of this beautiful people who give us the gift of living day by day and sharing this life the Lord has given to us.
May it not just remain in my words today. Think about who you should reach out to this week to mend the past mistakes and have them share the joy with us, in community.