Today is the first day of Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Booths. This is my most favorite holy day.
What I love about Sukkot is that it celebrates both the fecundity and fragility of life. We gather in these makeshift booths [sukkah (singular), sukkot (plural)] open to the elements to remind ourselves not only of the wandering of our people in Sinai (something that may or may be historically true), but also to affirm the fact that there is no real defense against the uncertainties of life. During Sukkot we take up the truth of the first two of the three pigs in the Three Little Pigs folktale (yes, I realize the irony of using pigs to illustrate a Jewish point). They built their homes out of straw and twigs, very similar to the building materials of a sukkah. The Big Bad Wolf’s huffing and puffing is the wildness of life and its capacity to blow down our most precious hopes and dreams.
Most of the year we pretend that the third pig who build his house out of bricks was the wise pig who knew how to establish surety and certainty in his life. Any look at the results of the flooding in Colorado, or the mass slaying in D.C. reminds us that bricks alone cannot protect us. In fact nothing can protect us. And yet…
Within this fragile booth we celebrate the harvest. In the midst of fragility—the sukkah—we celebrate fertility—the harvest. How cool is that?
During the week of Sukkot we gather with family and friends, both living and dead, to share a meal in the sukkah, reminding ourselves that the best way to survive life’s uncertainties is with the love of family and friends.
And, to make sure we don’t miss the point, we study the Book of Ecclesiastes, one of the most honest books ever written about the nature of life and how best to live it. From Ecclesiastes we learn once again that everything is hevel, as insubstantial as the morning dew, and that the best way to live in a world of such profound impermanence is to plant joy in its midst by eating and drinking moderately, finding meaningful work, and cultivating two or three deep friendships.
Whether or not you are Jewish, this is a powerful and important message. Whether or not you build or visit a sukkah this week, the meaning of Sukkot is worth pondering. Whether or not Bible study is your thing, read the Book of Ecclesiastes (let me suggest my own translation and commentary: Ecclesiastes Annotated & Explained, and The Way of Solomon since most English translations miss the point).
Hag sameach Sukkot, may you awake this week to the message of Sukkot and the joy that comes with embracing it.