"And G-d called the light day, and the darkness He called night"
Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan, 5771/October 8, 2010
Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe, are now behind us. We have emerged from the protective embrace of the sukkah, a new year has begun, and we are back in the world.
The sukkah is designed as a temporary dwelling, with spaces in the roof through which we can see the stars. The wind, the cold, the heat and the rain can all be felt inside the sukkah. Yet when the seven days of Sukkot have concluded, and we prepare to return to our well-built, insulated, climate-controlled houses, it is with a certain degree of trepidation. The sukkah, for all its flimsiness and impermanence, provides for us, from the moment we first enter it to the moment when we must take leave of it, an overwhelming, and at times even giddy, sense of physical safety and spiritual security. Suddenly our permanent dwellings seem insufficient as we face the new year. Why is this?
The sukkah, not in spite of, but because of its impermanence, reminds us that beyond our own four walls lies G-d, and that it is His will which keeps our walls standing and our roof intact. The spaces in our roofs of leaves and branches through which the stars shine remind us that G-d also will shine into our lives if we only allow Him an entry point. It is essential to experience our sukkot once a year in order to remind us that the world really does belong to G-d and is not our personal property, and that living a life of G-dliness begins with letting G-d into our lives. The momentary trepidation that we feel upon leaving the sukkah and re-entering our homes is the fear that we might forget these verities. But this is the very intention of the sukkot experience - to inoculate us against forgetfulness, and to fortify us for the upcoming year.
It is no coincidence that on Simchat Torah, the very day we emerge from our sukkot, we begin anew the yearly reading of Torah, starting with the opening verses of Genesis, describing the world's creation. The very same sense of G-d's presence and purpose in the world that we felt from inside our sukkah, is echoed in these words. The sukkah is literally a microcosm of the world which G-d created. Both owe their existence to G-d's will. It is He who sustains our sukkot for seven days, and it is He who sustains the world, each and every day. But there is a quid pro quo for G-d's benevolence. We are given tasks to perform within our sukkot, such as the waving of the four species, eating, sleeping and rejoicing, as well as looking beyond our sukkah walls and roof and seeing there G-d's presence. Likewise, we are entrusted with the fulfilling of G-d's commandments in this world. And no less importantly, we are expected to peer out into the world around us and see G-d's presence and feel His nearness. Our role in maintaining and sustaining the world is no less essential than G-d's role.
This truth is made terrifyingly clear in parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32), which we will be reading this coming Shabbat. The generation of Noach was a generation that saw all around it a world of plenty. They lacked nothing, they had no want. But rather than properly attribute the world's bounty to G-d, they lost sight of G-d. When they peered out into their world, they saw not G-d. Even after the cleansing and healing effect of the flood, man strayed again, banding together and building a tower designed to pierce the heavens. But this time man's sin was even more reprehensible. This time man didn't overlook or forget G-d. This time man actively and with determination sought to banish G-d from man's world.
The generation of the tower of Bavel was one of instant communication. A single governing body ruled over all mankind. The technology to reach the stars was theirs, as was their assumed ability to be able to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They had no need for G-d and they were determined to shut Him out. The walls of Bavel were impervious to G-d's beckoning. The tower's vast roof was sealed against G-d. No one peered out. No one saw the distant stars shining in. Ultimately, the generation of Bavel succeeded not in shutting G-d out of their world, but in shutting themselves out of G-d's world.
The parallels to today's world are undeniable. Our generation is building a tower whose bricks are baked with anarchy and whose mortar is a deadly mix of narcissism and hedonism. Ultimately it will all come tumbling down.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to remember that our permanent homes, our possessions and jobs, our health and well-being, just like our frail and unsubstantial sukkot, are entirely in the hand of G-d. And that truly is cause for the same overwhelming, and at times even giddy sense of physical safety and spiritual security that we feel in our sukkot. Welcome back to the world!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven, out of the sukkah and back in the rain, welcome Mar Cheshvan, a month of great potential and the month of the third Holy Temple.
As we reflect upon the Sukkot that was and its theme of water, and as we read this week’s Torah portion of Noach and the flood, we also realize that this month of Cheshvan begins the rainy season in the Land of Israel. It is also the month that the floodwaters began to fall back in the days of Noach. But the Land of Israel brings the blessing of water to the entire world, and will one day serve as the "Noah’s ark" for all humanity.