There’s a certain awkwardness to eating in the sukkah: the chairs don’t always fit the space under the folding table; the plastic silverware and plates can snap at unexpected moments; and the temperature is either too cold or too warm. It’s hard to hit that Goldilocks-level sweet spot. That awkwardness, though, also offers us an opportunity.
For all our connectivity these days, writes author Catherine Price in her slim but powerful volume How to Break Up with Your Phone, we all often feel that much more alone. Sukkot can be part of the antidote. Over Yom Kippur, my teacher Rabbi Dov Linzer spoke of the need to see the face of God not merely through prayer and Torah study, but by working on seeing Him in the faces of the others in our lives. One way to do that, to connect meaningfully with others, is by being a consummate host and/or a consummate guest over this holiday, when the very setting is less than ideal.
Marriage counselor Gary Chapman famously introduced the idea that there are five distinct “love languages” with which we must communicate with those who matter to us. The languages are “Words of Affirmation,” “Quality Time,” “Physical Touch,” “Acts of Service” and “Receiving Gifts.” What speaks to one person – one of our children, a parent, a spouse, or a friend – may not speak to another. And what speaks to us, the language in which we need to be spoken, may not be the language that those around us need. We often mistakenly try to connect to others using the language that we ourselves want to hear, Chapman explains, without making the effort to identify the languages that others need to hear.
The midrash in Vayikra Rabbah famously teaches that the arba minim, the four species of etrog, lulav, hadas and arava each represent different types of Jews. Some have good deeds and Torah knowledge; some only have the knowledge but not the good deeds; some the good deeds but no knowledge; and some have neither – but all of them desire to be part of the Jewish people. They just need to hear different languages.
After what occurred in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, we ought to feel embarrassed and sad – not, God forbid, angry – and seek out any opportunity we can to find others, connect with them, learn their language, and gather together like the etrog, lulav, hadas and arava. If we succeed in doing so, the sukkot in which we dwell, whether as guests or hosts, can model for us ways to connect, to see the face of God, far into this new year.
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom.