Reflections on Sukkot
I have very fond memories of Sukkot growing up. When building our family’s sukkah, each year we would have to recall which wall faced north, the most efficient way to work together, and decide which directions we wanted the doors to face. I spent countless hours stapling together paper chains in the living room and gathering my recent art work together to put on the walls. I remember attempting to sleep in the sukkah each year and never quite being able to make it all the way through the night. And I remember quite vividly the meals in our sukkah and in friends’ sukkot, filled with warm soups during a chilly Minnesota fall, the many open houses, and time spent with friends and family outdoors.
In a few days, Jews will move from their homes and take residence in temporary structures. We are told that כל שבעת ימים אדם עושה סוכתו קבע וביתו עראי – All seven days, one must make one’s sukkah permanent and one’s home impermanent (Mishnah Sukkah 2:9). We are instructed to bring our fine dining and our fine bedding into the sukkah, and we decorate these structures making them feel and look like our permanent homes. For the seven days celebrating Sukkot, we live in a constructed world, take the opportunity to view our lives from what appears to be the outside inwards and we pause from our day-to-day routine by living in our sukkot.
In building the sukkah, many regulations are given, such as not being taller than 20 cubits, and the roof of the structure must provide ample shade but not complete shelter, allowing us to still see the stars and the night sky. While the structure of the sukkah is temporary, building a sukkah is a continued part of Jewish tradition and custom. In fact, the construction of these temporary places of residence has outlasted the most impactful and permanent structure within Judaism – the Beit Hamikdash (Jerusalem Temple). The lasting impact of Sukkot and the ability to take continued pride in temporary structures allows me to think about the lasting role of the temporary in our lives.
At camp it seems like we create a permanent home in what appears to be a temporary place of residence, but there is so much more that our setting at camp holds. The values, the people and the memories that are created at our summer home away from home help permanently shape us. The friendships that I made throughout my years as a camper and staff member continue to grow and evolve. Even now, when I celebrate Shabbat dinners and holiday meals with friends, we all know that the first time we spent Shabbat together was living temporarily up at camp. The list of skills and life lessons from my summers at camp includes the best form to shoot a free throw, how to compromise about storage space and a love for trying new things.
Sukkot is referred to in the liturgy as זמן שמחתינו – a time of rejoicing – and in Sefer Devarim (The Book of Deuteronomy) we are commanded והיית אך שמח – you shall have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:15). We recognize that these booths are impermanent and yet the essence of the holiday is relishing their temporary nature. Being at camp is a reminder of the joy that is derived in an alternate, yet holy home. Our summers at camp – spent with friends, playing sports, creating art, performing a musical, and so much more – are truly times of rejoicing, and a reminder of our ability to transform the impermanent moments in our lives into permanent lasting ones.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!