All these years, I’ve been going up to Jerusalem to rejoice in prayer, and to feel a bit of the joyful feelings expressed by King David in the House of the LORD. Because of the “situation” with the pandemic that is rampaging through the world, not many of my friends can come to the mountain where the King of Glory dwells on earth. I am happy to appoint myself as their representative and pray there for them.
To touch the stones of the Kotel, the only remnant of the second Temple; to pray and praise there; and occasionally to enter the local sukkah close to the Wall – it’s a feeling I have no words to describe. But I will try anyway.
I’m not a Nazirite, and so I drink a glass of wine now and then, and I recite a blessing over the wine. One of the feelings you get from drinking a glass of wine (one only!), is a sense of the warmth spreading through your body and blending into your soul. At such times I wonder to myself: Is this feeling symbolic of what real faith feels like, when it rises up inside us and spreads through our body and soul? And does this kind of faith show itself through us to the outside world?
It’s not such a crazy idea. After all, the strength of true faith is its love for the Creator of the world, and that fervent desire to cling to Him. It can burn within us, showing in our face, and finally breaking forth from us. Like the flames that burned but did not consume the bush that Moses saw, this kind of fire gives warmth and light to those around us.
It’s noteworthy that during the holiday of Sukkot, when we are to gather in “the work of our hands”
– our good deeds and good thoughts – and present them to our King as an offering, we are explicitly commanded to be “altogether joyful” (Deut. 16:15) – inside and outside. The Scriptures give thanks to the Creator for the similar effect of wine, “which makes a human heart cheerful, so that it
makes the face to shine…” (Ps. 104:15)
There is something else unique about Sukkot, even beyond the great gathering with the Shekhina (the manifestation of Hashem’s glory) and with friends who we don’t get to see every day. In this great three-way gathering, we meet inside humble, temporary huts. Far from the luxury of palaces or villas, they are not even proper houses; just four flimsy walls and a thatched roof that a strong wind could blow apart. But when those simple walls enclose us, we can feel the Cloud of Glory over our heads, just as in the days of the wilderness when the children of Israel wandered for forty years.
Then again, they weren’t really wandering. That Cloud led the way every day, protecting and guiding, perhaps pausing in its movement so that the slow walkers could catch up with the rest of the people. As long as they followed the Cloud, they would never lose their way. In His time, they would reach the Land of Promise, flowing with milk and honey.
We might view that Cloud as a mobile Sukkah covering, big enough for the entire Israelite camp.
It’s the same for us. Even when we feel like we are aimlessly wandering in the modern chaotic world, we too have this constant Guide and Protector. As long as we follow Him, we will never be lost. And if we learn to stay directly under that Heavenly Covering, we will feel sheltered in body, mind and soul. We will find rest and become “altogether joyful”.
The same relaxing and cheering inner glow that wine produces in us is to be found when His Shelter of Peace wraps around us, and causes our faith and love to flow out from inside us. As we gather with others, His Peace and Joy spread out and bring us all closer together. What is inside and outside mingle and mix, becoming one great song of love to Him.
And here’s the relevant point for today: Our physical separation becomes meaningless, because our Father is not limited by distance. He pulls all of His people, wherever they are found, beneath His Sukkah-Cloud.
The feeling when we are united with Him and with one another is one of not only joy and love, but safety and confidence, expressed in the verse written by King David: “For on the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle.” (Ps. 27:5) That last word in Hebrew is literally, “Sukkah”!
So, let’s make a decision to not be troubled by the pandemic during this holiday of Sukkot, but to make a greater effort to send forth our joy to Him and to one another. “A three-fold cord is not quickly torn apart.” (Eccles. 4:12) With love from Zion in the Land of Promise,