Mighty Lessons from the Simple Sukkah
Some are predicting the imminent fall of the United States
as a superpower – the latest of many empires that
have risen and fallen throughout history.
The theory goes that after a nation rises in prosperity
and strength, leading to affluence and luxury, its power
begins to erode due to indulgence, arrogance, corruption
Essentially the thinking is, that only at the outset of
a nations rise – in its infancy and modest beginnings
– does it maintain the humility and hard effort necessary
to keep it honest and driven toward healthy growth and success.
But once the nation reaches its greatest heights in wealth
and power, once it dominates the world around it, the nation
will succumb to natural and inevitable human conceit and
greed, which lead to the nation’s decline and, in
many instances, demise.
Every empire in history, without exception, has suffered
this ultimate fate. No matter how great its power, every
powerful nation has fallen under its own weight.
Can this cycle be prevented? Will the mighty United States
of America ultimately go the way of all flesh?
The seemingly simple holiday we are about to celebrate
holds the answer to this monumental question – the
destiny of the American Empire.
On Sukkot, which begins this Friday night, Jews all over
the world will move out of their comfortable homes and –
as they have done for over 3300 years – spend the
next seven days eating and dwelling in makeshift, fragile
huts, with relatively no protection from the elements.
Why will they do this? Because, as the Bible instructs:
“dwell in booths for seven days…in order that
your generations shall know that I housed the Children of
Israel in booths when I took them out of the Land of Egypt”
(Leviticus 39: 42-43).
Material success and prosperity can create the powerful
illusion of invincibility. Despite the utter irrationality
of feeling secure with anything temporary – and materialism,
whether it is money, food or energy, is fundamentally ephemeral
– the power of success is such that it can actually
brainwash us into thinking that we are safe in its embrace.
The fact is, the more dependent we become on the material,
the less secure we really are. Like an addiction that can
never be sated, the more we rely on forces that inherently
cannot provide true security and safety, the harder it is
to break the habit.
Comes Sukkot and wrenches us free from the stranglehold
of material comforts. Dwelling in a Sukkah reminds us the
source of true security in this hostile world. Not our man-made
structures, not our concrete, steel, walled and gated homes,
not any of our mortal creations can protect us from…
mortality and from mortal enemies. True security comes not
from our material structures but from our spiritual ones
– from the Divine “clouds” that surround
and protect us. The Sukkah reminds us that true and lasting
power is derived not from human drives and innovations,
but from the all-enveloping Divine presence.
For seven days – the full cycle of time – we make our material
homes a temporary dwelling, and our Sukkot our permanent
dwelling. During this time, we dwell in little huts where
we eat all our meals and conduct all the activities of the
day which we regularly would do at home.
Why would anyone want to leave their comfort zones, the
warmth and expanse of a sprawling living room, feasting
on a mahogany table in an elegant dining room, and instead
move into a bare, unadorned, possibly cramped and cold Sukkah?
The answer is because the plain Sukkah remind us of our
total dependency on a Higher presence – that our seemingly
sturdy man-made shelters are nothing in the absence of His
The Sukkah teaches us that we are just travelers in this
material world. Our physical dwelling places, as beautiful
as they may be, are not our true homes. Your true home –
where the ‘real’ you is comfortable –
is not here in your material body and home; it is in your
soul, which is much more grand and beautiful than anything
that money could buy.
Sukkot is the ultimate antidote to the illusion of security
due to material success. Just when we feel completely comfortable
and secure in our mansions and properties, we are told to
leave our homes and sit in modest thatched huts.
This small move can be the difference between life and
death; between being smothered by the arrogance of material
success and the freedom that comes from knowing that you
are not a slave to man-made institutions and to other men.
The brilliance of the Sukkah lies in its sheer simplicity.
This small little hut, so fragile and flimsy, teaches us
the mystery of true invincibility: Only when we are ready
to surrender our own self-made delusions of power and comfort,
only when we are ready to replace our dependence on material
comforts and trust in financial wealth for dependence on
the ethereal and trust in the sublime, can we ensure that
our affluence and prosperity will not self-destruct.
Therein lies perhaps the most important lesson for the
future of the United States. The Founding Fathers in their
brilliance recognized that for a nation to endure it has
to be built not on transient and temporal underpinnings,
but on an unwavering foundation. An empire built on self-made
success and material affluence ultimately will self-destruct
under the weight of its self-worship. The core foundation
of the nation they established is therefore built not on
business prowess and financial prosperity, but on the “self-evident”
truths, “that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The simple Sukkah reminds us all that our security comes
from the “unalienable rights” endowed upon us
all by our Creator.
As the world economy is being shaken to its core –
and questions are being raised about the future of capitalism
in general, and the role of its primary steward, the United
States – Sukkot gives us all pause to decide which
way we will choose:
The path of the self-glorifying empires before us, whose
self-absorption brought on their own demise?
Or the path of humility, one that reclaims the Divine values
that this country was built upon, and reinfuses those values
into our homes, businesses, economies and man-made structures?