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Home » Events in the News, Sukkot

Sukkot: No Strangers In the Sukkah

Submitted by on October 9, 2011 – 6:56 pmNo Comment | 4,143 views

Sharing Humanity

Have you ever experienced a bond of common humanity with a perfect stranger? One moment you were a stranger the next moment you were one, caring as much about what happened to him as to yourself. Under ordinary circumstances this common bond doesn’t surface, but under extreme circumstances it can.

One such example was in the aftermath of 9/11. Perfect strangers put themselves in harm’s way to help others in need. People, ensconced in the safety of their homes saw the towers come down and felt compelled to help.

One story that recently came to light involves the sea evacuation of nearly half a million people. Many who escaped the towers made their way south to the sea walls where they realized something New Yorkers hardly take notice of, Manhattan is actually an Island. The bridges and tunnels serve as such efficient conduits into Manhattan that no one notices that it is in fact sea locked.

When the towers were attacked the tunnels and bridges were shut down. Those who tried to leave the island found themselves stranded ashore and they mobbed whatever ferry and tugboat they could find. The coast guard put out a call for help and within ten minutes the waterways were dotted with more crafts than the eye could count.

People came from all over to help. Keep in mind that no one knew the extent of the danger and boat crews had reason to fear an attack against their boats. Yet, rather than looking for shelter these ordinary Americans stepped up and plied those water ways all day, executing the largest sea evacuation in history.

At such times we cannot sit back in comfort ignoring another in need. We can no more turn from them than from ourselves. We feel their pain as if it were ours because the intangible chords of our common humanity come to the fore. It forges bonds between perfect strangers and creates a family that never was.

Disaster brings out the best in us. It brings into sharp focus that despite the separation of body our common humanity is one. We saw this in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and we saw this in Thailand in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Perfect strangers made their way to Haiti to help rebuild from the earthquake and to Japan to help them recover.

Happily it is not only disaster that brings out our common spark it is also joy. Take for example the feeling of elation that sweeps across a grandstand when the home team wins. Under these circumstances it is quite common for perfect strangers to celebrate together.

In the moment, it is perfectly natural for them to enjoy their mutual elation though moments earlier they were perfect strangers. When the moment passes and the emotions calm down their separateness will assert itself again and they will resume their distant roles.

In the Sukkah

In Judaism too there can be separateness between us in the Mitzvot that we perform throughout the year. Good deeds must be performed individually, my good deeds don’t count for you and yours don’t count for me. If I tried to sneak into your prayer shawl while you were wearing it I wouldn’t receive a Mitzvah. If you tried to shake my Lulav while I was shaking it I wouldn’t receive a Mitzvah. Just as we can’t eat for each other so can’t we pray or learn for each other.

The Sukkah, a hut covered by foliage, in which it is a Mitzvah to sit during the festival of Sukkot, is the only exception to this rule. It is the only Mitzvah that it is performed as one. You and I can perform the very same Mitzvah in the very same Sukkah at the very same time.

We don’t each require our own Sukkah. I can walk into yours and you into mine. The Sukkah does not have to expand to accommodate me and does not have to shrink when you depart. So long as there is room in the Sukkah for another we can share the time and space of this Mitzvah with another.

I might even suggest that when many people shake the same Lulav, multiple Mitzvot are performed by multiple people, but when many people sit in the same Sukkah simultaneously, a single Mitzvah is performed collectively by a single group of people. In this Mitzvah our souls coalesce. We become one.

Full Coverage

The Sukkah brings us together because of its extraordinary holiness. Just like the hidden cords of our common humanity emerge when matters of enormous urgency and import dwarf our immediate and personal concerns so does the Sukkah’s incredible holiness bring out our common spiritual oneness. What about the Sukkah hints at the enormity of its holiness?

It is that the Sukkah is the only Mitzvah that encompasses the entire body. It is not performed by any one limb or set of limbs, but by entering fully into it, by allowing our entire body to be absorbed by the Mitzvah. That is to say that the Sukkah is suffused with a Divine sanctity so rarified and transcendent that it cannot be imbued into us. Rather, we are absorbed into it.

The Sukkah encompasses us so completely as to draw us away from our personal interests and focus us exclusively on the Mitzvah. Once we are in this mindset we can make room for another. The moment the Sukkah is not about me, but about setting my needs aside to be encompassed by holiness, there is no reason for the Sukkah to be only for me. In other words, if it is not exclusively about me, it need not be exclusively for me. It is for us all.

After 9/11 New Yorkers came together because they were collectively absorbed by the enormity of the situation. In the Sukkah our souls coalesce because we are collectively absorbed by the enormity of its holiness.

This is why the Sukkah is a place of hosting, a happy place where family, friends and guests gather to perform a Mitzvah of unification. Sukkah is the Mitzvah of being. It doesn’t require doing; all that is required is being – in the Sukkah. And when it is just about being, room can be made for all beings. Even perfect strangers become one with us in the Sukkah. For in the Sukkah there are no strangers.

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