September 25, 2015 admin

Shelter

We all enjoy it in our family: when you get home after Yom Kippur you sit down for a few minutes to eat, then you start building the Succah. We all relish the moment.
 
You can begin making the Succah days or even weeks earlier. In fact, according to Jewish law all the entire Succah can be ready-made and exactly the same as last year. Only the sechach, the roofing materials of branches, reeds, or prunings, anything which grows from the ground and is not susceptible to contracting ritual impurity according to the complex rules of the rabbis, must be prepared and placed specially and solely for the sake of this year’s festival. It is this sechach which transforms the structure from a mere shed into a proper Succah. It is by placing them there that one fulfils the requirement of ‘ta’aseh velo min he’ussu’i’, - of ‘making’ the Succah, rather than using something entirely ready-made.
 
I love Succah-building; it’s a joy I inherited from my father. I still recall rubbing the condensation off the windows in my room to look down into the garden on the morning after Yom Kippur and see him out there with beams and frames and tools. None of these ‘Succah-kits’ for him; ‘Do-it-yourself’ meant what it said. Why should I be untrue to the traditions of my father? (By the way, that is only a form of pride and prejudice; the kits one can obtain from Succah-mart are perfectly fine.)
 
As I write, my Succah is half made. The frame is up, but none of the branches are cut which will form the roof, and none of the flowers or fruits are harvested or hung with which to celebrate the goodness of the year and give thanks to God for its produce. For Succot is a harvest festival, a thank-you festival, a time for rejoicing in the gifts of the year and for sharing them with guests, just as the fruits of the earth should be shared.
 
I have to admit that last night I wasn’t enjoying building the Succah as much as I usually do. It wasn’t that the work was going awry; I wasn’t missing the nails and landing the hammer on my fingers. I just kept being bothered by the issue of ‘Why am I doing this?’
 
There is of course a traditional answer: ‘So that your generations shall know that I made the Children of Israel dwell in huts when I brought them out of Egypt’ (Leviticus 23:43). Ever since, the Succah has been the symbol of the temporary home, of the fate of the refugee.
 
Therefore it seemed strange to me last night, even morally wrong, to be constructing a hut in memory in my back garden, when hundreds of thousands of people are at this very moment on the road, on the water, unprotected from the elements by even a leaky shelter of leaves.
 
So what should one do? Not to make a Succah at all would be a pointless and utterly un-Jewish response. Rather, for every Succah we build we should give sufficient money for at least one shelter for a family of refugees. We should consider how when some of those (too few) who are destitute and fleeing persecution do eventually reach these shores we can help them find shelter, food, safety, healing and a future. I intend to place accounts from refugees on the walls of my Succah and the Succah in the synagogue, so that all who come into them can read and decide what to do.
 
Then we should enjoy the festival, mindful that the simple blessings of shelter, food and peace are God’s greatest gifts.

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