The Sukkah as a Metaphor for Life
As we celebrate the Jewish holiday season, one of the important challenges facing us today is to make the holidays come alive by recognizing their personal relevance. Relevance is the key word and integration is the primary objective: To experience the holidays as a process of personal growth and improvement, and to integrate it into our lives, routines, talents and aspirations.
Mechanical holidays celebrated by rote will ultimately lead to waning commitment. Perpetuation of our rich heritage – in a crowded marketplace aggressively competing for our time and attention – cannot depend merely on guilt, fear or blind commitment; it must include a personal dimension that makes the tradition indispensable to our lives.
So, let us look at one aspect of Sukkot that resonates in our life experience.
One reason for the mitzvah of dwelling an entire week in a Sukkah — a portable shack — instead of the comforts of our home, is to remind us of the temporal nature of existence. The material world is not our home. We must never succumb to the illusion that our man-made structures and mortal edifices are our natural environments. Corporeal life is a means, a road that leads us to a deeper, spiritual reality.
The transitory Sukkah reminds us that we are just travelers in this impermanent material world; we are spiritual beings on a material journey, not material beings on a spiritual journey.
By no means is this reminder a simple matter. Fighting the illusion of material reality is no simple battle. The world has a powerful hold on us – so powerful that it sucks us in, like a black hole, into its own reality, making us think that this material existence is the only thing real. Until it comes to a point that we are no longer neutral and we become part of the illusion; in one vicious cycle we feed it and it feeds us: The blind leading the blind in a seemingly airtight Matrix.
Indeed, mystics have a name for our world: Alma d’shikra, a deceptive universe. [Olam – world in Hebrew – is rooted in the word “helem,” hidden]. Quite harsh, but quite accurate. Why is the world false? Because it lies all the time. What you see is not necessarily what you get. Some would even say, what you see is never what you get. PR and image cynics put it this way: It’s not important what happened, but what people perceive happened. Hence, spin, buzz, positioning, hooks and angles – all to create the proper package that will project an image that may or may not reflect the substance within.
My grandfather used to tell me that newspapers are filled with untruths. Even the date on the paper is false: Today’s paper was printed yesterday! I used to dismiss his extremism as the distrust of the older generation. But as I have grown older I see the wisdom of his words. True, the media may tell an objective story, but there is always the possibility, which unfortunately is often the reality, for subjectivity, distortions and worse.
We do not live in a seamless universe. The body hides the soul within. Someone can smile at you and then stab you in the back. Abusive people are honored. Thieves rewarded. Good people suffer. Scientists falsifying data. Indeed, all crime is driven by the fact that our world is one where you can get away with murder, and the universe won’t cry out.
Wherever you turn, whether in business or relationships, science or education, in virtually every sector of life, deception (actual or potential) is part of our reality. This doesn’t mean that there is no truth and one can’t choose to be honest; yet that doesn’t change the fact that deception is always a lingering possibility. To the point that as adults we see no problem with this: This is the way of the world, the way of all flesh.
Above all, existence itself hides its true nature and can deceive us into thinking that nothing exists beyond the surface level. Had we not searched who would know, for instance, about DNA, or about the complex subatomic infrastructures that make up existence, the elaborate world under the sea and in outer space, or the sophisticated systems that keep us and the universe alive and balanced. Even after all our research we have barely scratched the surface and cannot even fathom how much more there is to know.
A psychological study has yet to be made as to the myriad effects of this deceptive world, all its manifestations and consequences; the psychological toll that it takes on us humans. Such a study would be some project wouldn’t it?
However, such research would first require a level of clarity that could only come from a force outside of the deceptive world. As long as you are part of the universe, you are part of the problem. As the maxim goes: If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we have Sukkot: A reminder from another place that the material world is not where’s it’s at. Or more accurately: Material existence is not airtight; it carries within profound truths that must be uncovered by us humans. Our role is to reveal the beauty that lies concealed within our deceptive universe.
With all the falsities in life, there are also majestic truths; with all the hypocrisy there can be found astonishing nobility and virtue.
Half the cure of the disease is knowing that you have it. To free yourself from the shackles of this lying universe, you have to first recognize the falsity around you and not get caught up in it.
As humans created in the Divine Image we have been charged with the power – and the responsibility – to transcend the cloaked universe and reveal its inner spirit.
Sukkot is a time when we are asked to act on this awareness. Move out of your home, recognize the temporal nature of everything material, submit to the fact that security comes from above.
Sukkot focuses our attention to recognizing the real from the false. Seven days of the year we are asked to physically move out of our so called “homes” and comfort zones, and actually live in a temporary shack, teaching us that our physical homes are not necessarily our definitive source for security. Sukkot is meant to provoke us and imbue the entire year with a higher sense of priority.
Perhaps a useful daily exercise would be to identify deception in our lives. Make a daily list of both your true and false experiences.
One example recently came my way. I was reading a fascinating article on the cosmological search for the beginning of existence. Every possible theory was being explored. The consensus among scientists is that “the great, great, great (to the power of a gazillion) grandparent of you and me and everything else that we see (or can’t see) living around us” is traced back to what they call LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). LUCA they believe is a hard-bitten little extremophile (primitive bacteria, a single-celled organism) of some kind or other. Somewhere along the line these single-celled primordial superbugs and their specialized functions “got co-opted, in a kind of primitive symbiosis, into the greater service of the more secure, membrane-bound, multitasking complex that would become the eukarytic cell and its subsequent multicellular manifestations, most prominent among these (at least in our minds) being ourselves.”
What came before LUCA?
“Many scientists now argue that before LUCA and the emergence of our current DNA-protein world, there was what’s referred to as an RNA world, one made up only of rudimentary RNA-based entities that were later subsumed into RNA’s current role as our DNA’s messenger. And before the RNA-world, there has to have been what might be described as the real prize for astrobiologists, the so-called first living organism, or FLO.”
Now FLO “had to have been an even tougher entity than LUCA was merely to overcome the universe’s most prohibitive law, the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that all matter tends toward entropy, the dissipation of energy. All life is in utter defiance of that law, a bound, energy-gathering stay against entropy.”
The other essential requirement for life to begin is that there had to have been a “first bit of information, some kind of biochemical message, or code, however crude, to begin to convey. Or, in this case, to misconvey, the whole story of life’s emergence and evolution on earth being, in essence, a multibillion-year-long game of telephone, in which the initial utterance, the one that preceded all others, was increasingly transmuted and reinvented the further along it was passed. It is the precise nature of that first utterance that astrobiologists are trying to decipher.”
Throughout this entire article – and all the exhaustive material that addresses these issues – no mention of G-d is ever made. I am not stating this from a religious perspective, but simply from an intellectual one. When you are exploring the origins of life and you see a miraculous order, and you have the Biblical texts that describe creation, why should that not be included in at least as one of the possible theories? Perhaps the “initial utterance” was G-d creating the universe with “ten utterances”?
The possibility that perhaps, perhaps G-d created the universe from nothing is not even presented and dismissed. The entire concept is not even a consideration. The article mentioned creationism, not as a theory but as the belief of some fundamentalists who still embrace archaic texts.
Now tell me, even if you are the biggest skeptic, how could you not consider that maybe the universe was created by G-d from nothing, and the human perhaps is not just evolved bacteria, but created in the Divine Image? Can anyone utterly rule that out?
The only way I can explain how certain “facts” have become “facts”, with a complete disregard for the possibility in the truth of the Biblical narrative, is that the universe is an “agnostic” one, so airtight that it can deceive anyone within this universe that there is nothing more than what we can empirically experience. If you so choose, G-d the can simply be totally disregarded by His creation…
I would greatly appreciate hearing from you any other examples of the deceptive world in which we live, especially in areas where we may not see the obvious deception. As the Baal Shem Tov says, there is a darkness that is so deep that it conceals the fact that it is dark: War is Peace. Deception is Truth. Evil is Good. It’s 20 years after 1984, but Orwell’s world is alive and kicking.
Every day life is replete with falsities. Identify them and you are well on your way to freeing yourself and discovering truth.
That’s the true way to celebrate Sukkot.
And that’s the ultimate beauty of our Sukkot challenge: Not to escape a lying world, but to reveal its deeper truth.
More Sukkot Resources
With the seven-day festival of Sukkot upon us, The Meaningful Life Center is happy to present you with selections from this website, offering insights that will enhance your holiday experience and tools to turn it into a personal, meaningful journey.
Check out these articles:
Thank you Rabbi for this…at such a time as this. You see, I lost my youngest son at the tender age of 41 just one week ago. My heart still grieves like nothing I have ever experienced. His brother, only 14 months older, was convicted and sentenced to 7 years on a truly bogus claim. His wife and 6 girls – 20 to 5 are left without a provider, a husband and a daddy. My husband has just been diagnosed with NAFL – due to diabetes and has a failing liver/kidneys. My world is ‘false’ all around me…it is deceptive, cruel, and shattering. I was ready to say ‘no’ to celebrating this Feast Day of the Holy One – I could see no reason for joy – and that is what Sukkot is supposed to be about. Your message …. has lifted me up and I know my son, Jason, would want me to sit in the sukkah and contemplate the truth in the universe. I will try.
Maybe the scientific search is not so far off the mark if you consider the possibility that the definition of “nothing” does not mean “empty.” Rather, consider that the “nothing” or “void” may in fact contain all potential. Is God possibly that “all-potential” that makes up the “nothing”? Just thinking…
Thanks for all your lively articles!