Tonight we celebrate the Festival of Sukkot, and I hope you will join us as we hold our service in our beautiful Sukkah (weather permitting).
Let me share a thought with you about the Sukkah. It is a modest and vulnerable outdoor structure that symbolizes two things. It is a symbol of thanksgiving, and it is also a symbol for the vulnerable and fragile state in which so many people of our world live. Those who are homeless. Those who live in poverty and who often go hungry. And there are those whose lives are threatened by ancient hatred and animosities. This Sukkot I think especially of the Kurds and what they are enduring in Syria. The scenes of suffering and brutality are so painful to watch.
And there is another message behind the Sukkah. In an early rabbinic commentary, our sages point out that when Job was in the midst of his suffering, “God showed Job a Sukkah made of only three walls.” That was God’s response to a man who had suffered great loss.
What was God trying to teach Job through this strange symbol? What would a three-walled Sukkah say to a man in the depths of despair and anguish?
One message may be that the three-walled Sukkah is God’s way of reminding Job that every person’s Sukkah has one wall missing. Sure, everyone would like to have a four-walled Sukkah —— a happy marriage, gifted children, a successful career, good health, and a long life. In actual life, however, no one has a four-walled Sukkah. Sorrow, failure, loss of health, disappointment — in varying degrees — these are our common human lot. Three-walled Sukkahs are the rule not the exception.
And I think that the three-walled Sukkah says something else to us. If we are to live well with one so-called “wall” missing, we must learn to look at the three walls that are standing rather than at the one which has fallen.
So, God was saying to Job, stop thinking only of the pains you suffer, you also have pleasures to enjoy. Stop counting and recounting your losses, and begin counting your blessings. Sure you have lost a wall of your Sukkah but there are three walls remaining. Make the most of those three walls.
For each of us, let this Festival of Sukkot open our hearts to the blessings of our lives, and may this festival remind us that the highest expression of gratitude is to reach beyond ourselves with kindness and generosity toward those less fortunate than us.
Rabbi David Greenberg