Sukkot, By Chaim Heller, Head of School
Why do we sit in the Sukkah?
The Talmud records a difference of opinion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the sukkot of the desert experience were “clouds of glory,” which hovered over the Children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva disagrees saying, “The sukkot were real booths that they built for themselves.” (Sukkah 11b.) It seems strange in that either way you cut it the Sukkah is a symbol. The question is, “Does this symbol represent something akin to what we are using or does it represent a metaphor?” Did either Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva think that we are actually sitting in their imagined reference point? I am not saying that they are lying, but neither is real. So what are they disagreeing about?
At the core level we could understand the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva to be one of understanding what it means to be Jewish. Is being Jewish a religion (“clouds of glory”) or a nationality (real booths they used post Exodus in the desert)?
Sitting in the Sukkah last week with students, it was striking to see children of all grades in the Sukkah, learning about the four species of lulav, etrog, hadas and arava. To them, the question of being Jewish was not up for discussion. While it might seem that we were teaching Jewish religious rituals, its important to note that we were also, maybe primarily, teaching Jewish ethics. The four species represent four different types of people, and we need all of them to be completely whole. In the Sukkah, all are welcome, all are part of the community, and none are strangers or outsiders. And to our students and teachers, it all made sense. The religious and the national are interwoven and at SDJA we learn about them both, so they may grow to live active Jewish lives, in whichever way they may choose.