“Celebrate this as a festival to Adonai for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. 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 Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 23:41-43)
Our tradition commands us on this holiday of Sukkot to build a Sukkah which must be a fragile booth. It is to be taken down at the end of the holiday and put back up the next year. The Sukkah cannot be a fixed structure and yet must be strong enough to withstand the elements of weather.
Is this not like the Sukkat Shalom in the Hashkiveinu prayer where we ask God to spread over us the Sukkah, the canopy of peace, but one also that we pray that God inspires us to build? This canopy of peace is fragile, but it must be built in order to preserve humankind.
Peace, shalom, as an ideal to strive for is presented to us by God, but it is all of us together who must work to make peace a reality. Whether it is peace within us, our community, our nation, or our world and even when we achieve a state of peace, we do know, those of us who have been blessed to experience it, that it is so very fragile, just like the peace treaties signed between nations.
I can recall as if it happened yesterday a special experience, I had at a memorial service held in Oakdale a month after the horrible day, Sept. 11, 2001. At this event over 500 people, including members of my synagogue, the local Catholic Church, and the local Mosque, were in attendance in a school auditorium.
A few minutes before the memorial service was to begin, one of the representatives of the Muslim community in attendance asked me if we could delay the start of the service for their community to offer their evening prayers which was a requirement of their faith. I said, “Of course,” and then asked if I could join them and say my tradition’s evening prayers. And so, we did.
Ten Muslim men and I went to a classroom and spent some time figuring out which direction was east (there were no windows in this room). They prayed in Arabic, I davened in Hebrew. They knelt on the floor, I stood. They addressed Allah and I spoke to HaShem. What was so incredibly moving about this experiences was that although praying in different languages, expressing our words of prayer differently, and calling God different names we were all joined together in peace and addressing the One God of all.
When we walked out to the assembly that was waiting for our return, we were greeted by applause. The people gathered in that room understood what we had done, our united prayer service, was what needed to be done in the face of the great tragedy of 9-11 and that was to come to together and work for peace. We needed to make that effort, which we did, to build the Sukkat Shalom, that canopy of peace.
The Sukkat Shalom just like the Sukkah booth takes time and effort to build. While the physical Sukkah is made up of extremely specific items, the Sukkat Shalom is too. They are:
- We need to respect the other with whom we are making peace even when we might disagree with that person
- We need to have the courage to move outside that comfort zone and make that move that reaches out and touches that person
- We need strength to be ready to take bold actions that might shake oneself up or shake the other person up, but this is what is called for
- We need to be ready to go that extra mile, make that extra step, to show that we are sincere
Violence, hatred, racism, distrust that surround us these days should never prevent us from walking in the footsteps of Aaron, the pursuer of peace, and trying with respect, courage, strength and perseverance to build the Sukkot Shalom, the canopies of peace everywhere and in every community that we can.
As Reb Nosson, the scribe and disciple of Nachman of Breslov, wrote in his Likutei Halachot, quoting from the Talmud Sukkah 27b, “The entire Jewish people can fulfill the commandment of sukkah in one sukkah, for the sukkah corresponds to a gathering of the entire Jewish people,” we need to understand that the Sukkat Shalom will be achieved for the Jewish people when all of Am Yisrael will live together with respect and appreciation of one another. It will also be achieved in our families, in our communities, and in our nation when we welcome all people into our lives as one welcomes visitors into the sukkah. Finally, the great Sukkat Shalom will be achieved when all humanity is brought together under a great canopy of respect and appreciation as for all.
When we can achieve this, in any way each of us can, then there will be a true peace, shalom, for all. Then the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7) and “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) May these prophetic words be fulfilled in our lifetime.