Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot

The Sukkah of Peace The prayer, Hashkivenu, which we say on Friday night, contains the phrase “sukat Shelomecha” three times.  It concludes with the blessing, “Ufros alenu Sukat shlomecha” – spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace.  The question I would like to explore this Shabbat Chol HaMoed Succot – this Intermediate Sabbath of Succoth – is “what does a Sukkah have to do with peace?  Why does our prayer compare peace to a Sukkah?” One suggestion is that like a Sukkah, peace is fragile and temporary.[1]  Indeed!  In 2011 alone there were 26 active armed conflicts in the world, an increase in two from 2010. [2]  One worldwide organization puts together what it calls the Global Peace index, a ranking of the amount of peace enjoyed by each country in the world. New Zealand is rated the most peaceful country in the world, followed by Iceland and Japan. Fifteen of the top twenty countries are Western or Central European states. The Scandanavian countries all rank in the top ten. The United States was ranked 85th most peaceful country.  Two wars, a high prison population and high rates of violent crime and homicide contribute to our relatively low ranking on the peaceful country scale. [3]  Forget about peace being fragile and temporary. This makes it sound completely unattainable, far from our reach.  I hate to be a pessimist, but the most we can hope for, it would seem, is some respite from war and conflict in this troubled world of ours.  The Sukkah, easily blown down by the wind, open to the elements, here for a short duration and then gone, reminds us of how difficult it is to bring lasting peace into the world. Here is another thought about the association of a Sukkah with peace.  A Sukkah is a place of hospitality. Hospitality is synonymous with care and protection and peace.  In former times, it was customary for a family that was eating in the Sukkah to invite at least one poor person to the dinner table.  Then there is the kabbalistic custom of Ushpizin.  On each night of the holiday, traditional Jews invite one of the seven exalted men of Israel to take up residence in the Sukkah – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.  Each of these exalted people also reminds us of our obligation to protect the vulnerable and the uprooted – Abraham left his birthplace, Isaac traveled to Gerar, Jacob fled his brother Esau, Joseph was sold to Egypt, Moses and Aaron wandered in the desert, and David fled from King Saul.  Hospitality is still a sacred obligation in parts of our world. Marcus Luttrell, a Navy seal, was the sole survivor of a battle in Afghanistan. He and three other Seal commandos were on a mission to hunt down an al-Qaeda terrorist leader hiding in a Taliban stronghold.  Injured and bleeding, he eluded six al Qaeda assassins who were trying to finish him off.  He made his way to a Pashtun village. The tribe took him in and risked everything to protect him.  He came under the law of hospitality, he wrote, considered “strictly non-negotiable”.  “They were committed to defend me against the Taliban until there was not one left alive.” This same law of hospitality prompted Abraham to offer food and shelter to three strangers who happened by his home. It is the same law of hospitality that prompted Lot to protect the angels who visited him in Sodom from the angry crowd who wanted to harm them.  We shudder at the price he was willing to pay – to hand over his daughters as a substitute – but the point is the same. The Law of Hospitality says that we protect those who come under our roofs even at the expense of our loved ones. I offer one final though about the association of a Sukkah with peace.  Succoth is the only holiday on our calendar that we publically celebrate outdoors. In fact, although we may be tempted to build a Sukkah in our family room, and thereby avoid the cold or inclement weather of our area in October, it is not valid to build a Sukkah indoors. It has to be outdoors, for all to see. It makes perfect sense, then, that the Sukkah is such a humble dwelling.  Since they are such humble dwellings, and others will see it, they are unlikely to stir up envy — and envy is a threat to peace. When Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to seek provisions for the famine, he cautioned them not to make themselves conspicuous. Rashi explains that Jacob was warning them not to show that they still had provisions to eat and they were not yet going hungry. Jacob was concerned this would stir up envy among the pagan tribes living in the area. In a commentary to this, the Stone Chumash notes that this has been the theme of many leaders who exhorted their fellow Jews not to flaunt their wealth to their neighbors, as that can stir up envy.  “Whatever food Jacob’s family had was honestly acquired,” writes the Stone Chumash, “but even honest resources should be displayed judiciously.”    “Spread over us the Sukkah of Your Peace” asks our prayer.  We are reminded in using this language that peace is fragile like a Sukkah, and impermanent.  “Spread over us the Sukkah of Your Peace” asks G-d to be with us and protect us, at least as well  as human beings protect and care for the guests that dwells within their homes.  “Spread over us the shelter of Your Peace” teaches us that we should be modest and judicious in displaying our wealth, for we do not wish to incur envy, which is a threat to peace. Shabbat Shalom    

[1] This was suggested by Rabbi Marc Saperstein of the Leo Baeck College of London in a d’var torah to students