By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
The Festival of Succot prescribes, as its central observance, the construction of temporary shelters – the Succah – in which we “dwell” throughout the Holiday and, especially, eat our meals. Rabbi Akiba teaches that the Succah represents God’s protective Presence during the wilderness period (Sifra 17:11). Rabbi Eliezer disagrees: the Succah reprises the make-shift Israelite shelters of that era.
The Mishnah stipulates that the Succah is kosher only if it provides those within it “more shade than light.” This is particularly significant if “dwelling” in the Succah is meant to evoke the experience of God’s Presence. We usually associate God with enlightenment… How does relative darkness convey a sense of the Divine?!
In addition to allowing us to enjoy the crisp autumn air, to revel in the beauty of nature, and to reflect on our Biblical origins, the Succah also offers a dramatic lesson in theological humility. Even as we symbolically surround ourselves with a tangible expression of God’s Presence, we acknowledge that – in our understanding of God’s nature – we remain more in the dark than in the light! Our faith is strong; our knowledge of the Divine is necessarily limited and, therefore, fallible.
Akiba and Eliezer show us the way. On Succot, let’s be open to the spiritual perspectives of those with whom we disagree!
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)