Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sukkot

I wonder what it is like to be homeless? No, I am not wanting to experience it that closely. I do, however, need to experience some piece of it, for how else will I ever know how to help someone who knows homelessness intimately? We have to experience what people in need experience before we can understand the severity of the situation or the impact our efforts might have on it. Too many times, with the best of intentions, we try to solve other people’s problems from our perspectives and only cause them new and different challenges. Problem solving requires empathy.


We currently celebrate the ultimate holiday of empathy. Sukkot is the fall harvest festival. As the earth goes to sleep for the winter, we gather the last fruits of the year and wait expectantly and full of hope that the earth will warm and renew and next growing season will ensue. More than just waiting and hoping, though, we spend this holiday time living out with the land. We built temporary huts and dwell in the elements. For many it is a meal or two a day, while other people move outdoors for the whole week. When it gets cold, we want to run inside to heat. I bet that the earth thrives on the heat as well (just witness spring). If we only watch snow storms from inside the heated house next to the fireplace, we will never understand “bitter cold.”


The reward for our empathy is peace. Our lives are fleeting. Our days on earth are finite. Long before any of us were, our ancestors harvested grains and ate from the earth’s bounty. Assuming that we do not destroy the earth, billions of people after us will eat from its fruits, as well. Somehow, though, we act as if the earth belongs to us and only us, and only the subset of us who holds dominion and power over everyone else. We act as if we owe no respect to the past and have no obligation to preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren. In the process of gobbling it up for ourselves, we ignore the most sacred gift that God gave us and risk our own ruination and downfall. If the nations of the world can stop trying to subdue each other in pursuit of temporal power (for human lives are only temporary), we might learn to appreciate the blessing that provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food that we eat. If we spent more time outdoors and felt the impact of our changing climate, the air that we have polluted and waters that we made undrinkable, we would become more intent in securing a safe future for all of us. A safe future can only happen if it happens for all of us.


Dwelling in the Sukkah forces us to confront all that we have done to alter nature’s course. Whether the carbon footprint of humanity has caused global warming or not, the poisons with which we have filled our natural resource pools destroys life without regard to the politics of power. Sukkot provides us with the insight to understand that we have but one earth and it needs are protection. On the days that we all decide to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, and eat untainted crops, we will hear in our hearts the words of the prophet, “We shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and no one will need study war anymore.” On that day, when living becomes more important than owning and subduing … on that day we will know peace. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday).