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Home » Sukkot

Sukkot: Inside Outside

Submitted by on September 24, 2007 – 6:25 pm2 Comments | 1,912 views

The Outdoors

In his book, “Inside Outside,” Herman Wouk describes the struggle of living a Jewish life in a non Jewish society. It is a masterful description of living by one set of values at home and encountering a different one on the street.

Every Jew in the diaspora identifies with this dichotomy. I feel it every Shabbat when I walk outside. To me, Shabbat is a sacred day. To my neighbors its just another weekend. On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and inspiration, the contrast is most stark. In the synagogue the day pulses with religious fervor. Outside, it is just another afternoon.

The festival of Sukkot is an exception. During this festival we build Sukkot, festive outdoor huts, and celebrate our Jewishness outside. When we step out of our homes or synagogues into the usually secular environment, we encounter the uniquely Jewish and sacred Sukkah.

Outside Activities

The Sukkah sanctifies not only our outside space, but also our outside activities. We usually associate religious life with religious activities. Prayer and charity are considered holy. Eating and sports are comparatively mundane. They are not associated with religion so for the purpose of this essay, we will label them “outside activities.”

Yet the Sukkah brings holiness even to those activities that are usually viewed as mundane. Anything we do, whether playing a game, eating dinner or studying the Torah, becomes a mitzvah when it is done in the Sukkah.

The Sukkah demonstrates that Judaism is not only celebrated through “inside (religious) activities,” but also with “outside (mundane) activities.” So long as they are conducted in accordance with G-d’s instructions, mundane activities can be labeled holy.inside outside- innerstream

Absorbed

Another beautiful element of the Sukkah is that it fully absorbs us. When we step into a Sukkah we literally step into the mitzvah and the sacred energy it generates.

Such complete immersion is otherwise only achieved through meditation.

The perfect meditative state is one of total immersion and complete concentration. In the perfect meditative state, the consciousness is utterly immersed in the meditative experience, which unleashes a spontaneous flow of spiritual energy.

Those who engage in a Mitzvah through meditation inspire their souls to great heights. Their mitzvah is not only performed by their bodily limbs, but by their entire beings. So absorbed are they, that the Mitzvah becomes their reality.

The Sukkah inspires a similar state of total immersion. When we enter the Sukkah we are fully surrounded and totally immersed in the bond with G-d that this Mitzvah effects. The entire Sukkah pulses with divine energy and it absorbs us completely.

Israel

Herman Woulk’s “Inside/Outside” struggle is only prevalent in the diaspora. In the land of Israel there is no contrast; outside and inside are in perfect harmony. It is like living in one large Sukkah, where the rabbi and the street vendor are both Jewish. You don’t need to enter the synagogue to engage Judaism; the street is as Jewish as the synagogue is.

It is the only country where we can engage our Jewishness fully and never worry about what others think. In Israel there is no dichotomy – we are one with our Jewishness and proud to be Jewish.

The Pitfall

That the Sukkah atmosphere prevails throughout the land presents a potential drawback. When shopping is as Jewish as praying it is easy to grow lax in religious observance. When the streets feels as Jewish as the synagogue there is no need to enter the synagogue.

In the diaspora, where the mall and the streets feel distinctly unJewish, the synagogue is the only place that feels Jewish. The only way to feel Jewish in the diaspora is to observe the Jewish rituals.

In Israel Judaism is an identity. In the diaspora it is a way of life.

The Sukkah

In a Utopian world we would have the best of both elements. We would merge the practice of the diaspora with the sanctity of Israel. Our world is not a Utopia, but we have something nearly as good – we have the Sukkah, which helps us work toward this goal.

On Sukkot we bring our Jewishness outside. It does not encompass the whole of the land, only the Sukkah – the festive hut of ritual observance. But bound by the Sukkah walls, our outside Jewishness does not lose its religious meaning.

Celebrating Judaism outdoors on Sukkot prepares us for the sense of Jewish identity felt throughout the land of Israel. Ensuring that our outdoor celebration occurs in the Sukkah, a hut of ritual observance, ensures our fidelity to religious observance.

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