A Sukkah for All
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This Shabbat is Chol Hamoed Sukkot, one of the intermediate days of the festival. We don’t read one of the weekly Torah sections on this Shabbat, but a special reading related to the festival of Sukkot. Therefore, on this occasion I would like to offer a message appropriate to Sukkot.
Regarding Sukkot, the Torah commands, “You shall dwell in booths (sukkot) for 7 days; every citizen of Israel shall dwell in booths. So that your generations will know that I, God, caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42-43).
The Torah instructs us that, on the holiday of Sukkot, we are to dwell in booths for the duration of the 7-day festival. This mitzvah applies to “all (or every) citizen of Israel,” as the verse says. It is not unusual for the Torah to address “the citizen” or to command “all Israel,” but the use of both these terms together is striking.
The rabbis of the Talmud noted this unusual expression and interpreted it in the following teaching, “All (every) citizen of Israel — this teaches us that the entire nation of Israel is able to sit in one sukkah” (Sukkah 27b).
What does this mean? Translation of this rabbinic statement is difficult. Is there such a big sukkah that can hold the entire people of Israel? In addition, what would it take for all of Israel to dwell in one sukkah?
Since the literal meaning of this rabbinic teaching is unreal, we should try to interpret it figuratively. In this regard, I think the meaning is that when the people of Israel is able to construct a sukkah that is intended to accommodate every member of the nation, only then will we be “fit” to dwell in this sukkah. Imagine an ideal sukkah designed with everyone’s needs in mind. Everyone is welcome, everyone feels welcome. There are no challenging openings for anyone. There is enough room for everyone. No one feels uncomfortable, unwanted or rejected. All of Israel, every single individual (or “citizen”) is welcome, regardless of religious affiliation, political trends, gender, social status, race, origin, or any other difference you may think about. When we create a sukkah that is welcoming for all of Israel, only then, we will be truly worthy of dwelling together.
Let’s hope and pray that this Sukkot will inspire us to create a big sukkah that can hold us all; and that when Sukkot is over, we can continue building Jewish “places” that are open for all Jews.
Moadim L’Simcha! Shabbat Shalom!