TO OUR TENT
Legend has it that our forefather Abraham sat in his tent,
with the flaps of the tent folded up on all four sides,
so he could welcome weary wayfarers from every direction.
This lovely image of patriarchal generosity is evoked
by the holiday of Sukkot.
In the Bible, God instructs the ancient Israelites
to "dwell in booths [or tents] for seven days of the
holiday of Sukkot, because your ancestors dwelt in them
during their sojourn in the desert when they departed
What is the purpose of this commandment? To remind
later generations of Jews of the travelling hardships
of their forebears? Is it nothing more than a history
lesson turned into a family activity? Doubtful.
On a recent weekend a group of young couples went
camping in the near-by woods. Even though we were all
friends who had known each other for several years,
and socialized frequently, we experienced a sense of
mutual interdependence and intimacy in the midst of
the woods more than we ever did by visiting each other in
our homes, or going out to dinner at a local restaurant.
Sharing a campfire for warmth and cooking, an open sky
for our common roof, and the darkness of the night for
our wall, bound us together into a group of kindred
spirits as no other previous experience had. Although
each couple slept in their own tent, we huddled together
in a bond of fellow-feeling that will sustain us for
a long time to come.
As we retired into our tents around the campfire,
it suddenly became clear just what the message of Sukkot
is really all about.
The solid walls and doors and roofs of our houses
may give us a feeling of protection and safety. But,
the protection and safety they provide all too often
come at the cost of isolating us from our neighbors,
friends, and sometimes even from our relatives. Around
the campfire, in a tent, with just the sky above and
the earth below, one quickly realizes that a feeling
of safety can also come from the bonds of fellowship
woven from shared experiences in the face of nature.
The poet Robert Frost understood this deeply when
he wrote, "there is something that doesn't love a wall."
That "something" is the spirit of fellowship and generosity
evoked by the bounties of nature at harvest-time. It
is that spirit which moved Abraham to dwell in a tent
with its flaps open on all four sides. And it is just
such a spirit that those who escaped from ancient slavery
together must have experienced in the dark desert night.
The central symbol of this holiday, the sukkah, reminds
us that what we ultimately celebrate in every generation
is not some strange event that happened a long time
ago. Rather, we are privileged to re-enact the spirit
of fellowship and generosity that forged our ancestors
into a people, by "dwelling in booths [or tents].
If you are reading this, know that we are are delighted
to welcome you into our "cyber-tent" anytime.
Chag sameach (may you have a joyous Sukkot)