ON THE BOOTS
is told that the B'aal Shem Tov (the founder of Chasidism)
had a special love for the ritual of dwelling in the sukkah.
He thought it special because one could actually enter
the ritual space, "even with the mud sticking to one's
boots". He loved the immersive physical experience of
the sukkah. His insight points to the combination
of the physical and what I'll call "grit" that makes Sukkot
a most interesting holiday. Both the immersive bodily
experience and the "mud on the boots" embody the same
"physicality" that is something of a motif for Sukkot.
Of course, physical ritual has always played a part
in Jewish religious life. The body is in the forefront
in such diverse activities as the waving of the hands
over the just lit Sabbath candles, the task of lifting
of the Torah, even circumsicion of the newly born boy.
But all of these activities take place in ritually and
physically clean places. Preparation for most any Jewish
holiday requires both cleansing of the normal routine
mentality and the cleaning of any physical spaces. Beyond
that, the place of ritual is inevitably the home or
the synagogue, rather than in the great outdoors.
Much of Biblical literature is filled with stories
and layouts for the Temple. There are minute details
about the materials that are to be used in the structure
and ritual implements of the service. These days, the
most physically demanding commandment is that of building
the sukkah. But the aim of all the labour of bulding
a sukkah is by nature impermanent. One one hand,
we are to dwell in a sukkah as if it were home
(by decorating and furnishing it); on the other we must
be constantly aware of the elements.
And that is where grit comes in. While the B'aal Shem
Tov emphasized the immersive experience of the sukkah-dweller
in the sukkah, he also, by noting the mud, referenced
the immersive experience of the sukkah in nature. Many
sukkot are made with sheets or curtains along their
sides, such that a wind will rustle the "walls." And
the rabbis made sure that the roof could only be made
out of organic material and only stacked in such a way
so that rain would be able to permeate. A little drizzle
is generally not enough to warrant vacating the sukkah.
In order to have a real Sukkot experience, we must conduct
our religious practices fully aware of the muddy world