Today is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when we celebrate G-d’s miraculously heralding the Israelites through the desert for forty years upon their redemption and exodus from Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. Obviously, the desert was a very inhospitable dwelling for us with the heat, snakes, and scorpions, but G-d meticulously cared for the Israelites, giving them manna and quails to eat from the heavens, water from the rock, and sheltering and leading them with the Clouds of Glory by day and of Fire by night.
Rabbi Schneur Kaplan of the Downtown Jewish Center Chabad of Fort Lauderdale explained this absolutely beautifully in relation to the recent hurricane Ian that tore through the Gulf Coast of Florida. He said that man builds with concrete, rebar, and special roofs, windows, and doors to try to protect themselves from the elements as well as hurtful people, but only G-d is our ultimate protector and redeemer. That is the true lesson of the sukkah.
Jews place their faith in G-d rather than massive building structures, the strongest foundations, and incalculable amounts of concrete and rebar. Instead, we sit in the flimsy and temporary sukkah to remember that G-d is our ultimate stronghold.
G-d alone is our rock-solid foundation.
G-d is mightier than any amount of concrete and rebar.
G-d is our faithful and everlasting stronghold.
As King David said in Psalms 18:
The L-rd is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
So, even as we dwell in the sukkah, we are not afraid of anything, because we put our faith in the Almighty G-d.
Moreover, Rabbi Kaplan shared from the Rebbe the beautiful habit of greeting people coming into Chabad with the warmest smile, greeting, and hug because it emulates Hashem who, when seeing his children come (back) to him and take a step into His house of worship and toward His sanctification, has nothing but embrace for them. This is similar to a sukkah (and mikveh) that fully embraces us. When a man sincerely reaches out to be close to G-d’s light, love, and holiness, then Hashem reaches out to him and greets him in the warmest of embraces. He is our father, and we are his children.
Life is flimsy, unpredictable, and temporary. We may suffer pain and loss, whether by hurricanes or earthquakes, accidents or illness, terrorism or war, but we do not remain passive. We take whatever course of action is necessary to safeguard and embrace life. We do our part and have undying faith in Hashem, our everlasting rock, that He will always do what is for our best.
Rabbi Kaplan told a story from the Rebbe about the Baal Shem Tov that his sukkah was so flimsy and lacking that the rabbis of his city actually declared it pasul (unkosher). However, the Baal Shem Tov went into a deep meditation, and when he awoke, there was a note from an angel that his sukkah was indeed kosher. Why would the Baal Shem Tov not have the very best and most kosher of sukkahs? The answer is because the sukkah is the symbol of welcome, acceptance, and unconditional love for each and every Jew. The temporal and imperfect sukkah is the symbol of G-d’s embrace of us, no matter how lost, judged, or rejected we may feel from strict Orthodoxy.
Finally, as Hashem greets us with open arms, care, and love, whether in our desert journeys or the hardships of life, so too we can learn to welcome, warm, and care for others. This is the sukkah of our hearts, where we embrace all our Jewish brothers and sisters, no matter whether they are chasiddim or misnagdim, orthodox, conservative, or reform, or any of a multitude of other judgmental labels. In the end, G-d is our creator and father. He loves us. He desires us to come close to him in sanctity. We can elevate ourselves in faith and deed so no Jew is left deserted and unloved, whether in a flimsy sukkah or the tallest of skyscrapers.