to Ponder Number 93
paradox of Succoth and the Twin Towers
When contemplating the festival of Succoth, we are confronted with a remarkable paradox.
As is well known, the Succah visualizes our life span in the world. For what is a Succah? It is a frail structure which we need to dwell in for seven days. Many commentators remind us that these seven days represent man's average life span which is about seventy years. This is well stated by King David when he wrote: "The span of his years are seventy and with strength eighty years." (Tehilim 90:10) Indeed under favorable circumstances, we may prolong our stay in this world into our eighth day which is symbolized by Shemini Chag Atzereth, (a separate festival immediately following the seven days of Succoth)
Indeed how frail our life is! Not only short but also most unreliable. As long as we live under favorable and healthy circumstances, life is a pleasant experience and just like the Succah, it seems to protect us and we feel safe. But once life uncovers serious problems or turns against us, we realize how little protection it is really able to offer and how unstable our lives really are. Like the Succah it is far less reliable than we had imagined.
Perplexing however is the
fact that the festival of Succoth is seen as the highlight of joy
and happiness. Speaking specifically about Succoth, the Torah states:
"And you shall be happy on your festival"
In fact Jewish law makes
it utmost clear that the Succah must be built in such a way that it
is not able to stand up against a strong wind, that its roof must
be leaking when it starts to rain and that it must contain more shadow
Here another question comes to mind. Since the Succah teaches us about life's handicaps, we would expect that Jewish law would also require the interior of the Succah to reflect a similar message. As such the Succah should be empty of all comfort. It should just contain some broken chairs, an old table and some meager cutlery to eat one's dry bread with.
However Jewish law holds a great surprise. It requires that the Succah's interior should reflect a most optimistic lifestyle. Its frail walls should be decorated with beautiful art, paintings and other decorations. The leaking roof, made from leaves or reeds, should be made to look attractive by hanging colorful fruits down from it. One is required to bring one's best furniture into the Succah, if possible to put a carpet on the ground, have nice curtains hanging in front of its windows. One should eat from the most beautiful plates and use one's best cutlery. Meals should be more elaborate, including delicacies. Singing should accompany those meals. All this seems to reflect a feeling that this world is a most pleasant place made for our enjoyment and recreation!
So why sit in a frail hut simultaneously?
The message could not be
clearer: however much the outside walls and the leaking roof
reveal man's vulnerability and uncertainty, inside these walls
one needs to make one's life as attractive as possible and enjoy its
great benefits and blessings.
We would therefore do well to discourage people from speculating about "the end of days' or reading kabbalistic and other sources informing us that the messianic days are very close and that the wars preceding his coming are immanent. There is no way of knowing. Just as in the days of Shabbatai Zvi*, such speculations, however tempting, could cause a great backlash and do a lot of harm. Instead we should stay with our feet on the ground and make sure we live up to our moral and religious obligations.
The collapse of the Twin Towers should encourage people to be more united and to show more sensitivity to each others needs. It should encourage Jew and gentile to build strong family ties and create, just as in the case of the Succah, strong and pleasant homes. It should inspire people to go to synagogue and church and create strong communities, because these are some of the decorations in our lifelong Succah.
Indeed, the walls of our worldly Succah may be shaking, but let us not forget that we have an obligation to decorate its interior.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
was a self declared messiah who brought about a great upheaval in
the European Jewish community in the seventeenth century. After it
became clear that he was a fraud, many Jews no longer trusted the
Jewish traditional sources which they believed were proving that Shabbatai
Zvi was indeed the Messiah. Consequently they left the fold.
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