“‘Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’” — Leviticus 23:42–43
A note to our readers: This week marks the celebration of Sukkot, one of the most joyous celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Throughout this week, our reflections will be tied to this biblically mandated holiday.
When I sit in my sukkah, the huts that we are commanded to live in for seven days out of the year, I am reminded of the way that our ancestors had lived for many years. In the Bible, God specifies that we are to recall how He placed the Israelites in similar structures when they wandered the desert for 40 years. Some say that God provided huts for every family in the desert, while others explain that God’s Clouds of Glory had sheltered His people. Either way, the sukkah celebrates God’s providence in a difficult and dangerous environment.
However, beyond those years, I am reminded of the thousands of years that my people lived in simple lodgings, never knowing if they would have to pick up and move again the next year due to persecution or decree. The term “wandering Jew” wasn’t created out of nothing. In a way, the sukkah represents the story of the Jewish people. Our residences were only temporary, our existence precarious, and our survival totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy.
There is a beautiful Yiddish song that poetically captures the essence of this very idea. In the song, a Jewish man tells of sitting in his flimsy sukkah while the winds blow. The weather becomes so foreboding that the man’s wife yells at him to come inside because she worries that the sukkah might blow down and collapse altogether. Listen to his reply: “ . . . don‘t worry about the wind. No matter how many winds will roar. No matter how many generations will come, the sukkah will always remain standing.”
In other words, no matter how many forces have come out against the Jewish people, our people and our tiny nation have always survived and will survive; not because we are strong and mighty, not because we are great and many, but because it is the will of God.
As we dwell in our sukkah shacks with their thatched roofs exposed to the elements, we remember that our well-being comes not from the sound structure of our normal homes, but from God’s providence even in the most delicate situations. What looks solid might be a house of cards if it is not based on the will of God, and what seems flimsy can be the most solid structure if God Himself is holding it up.
Let’s all be encouraged to trust our God in times of difficulty. With God by our side, the winds may blow and the rain may pour, but we will remain standing. If we are weak, He will strengthen us; if we are tired, He will invigorate us; and if we should fall, He will catch us. Just as He always has.