the jewish cathedral

Shabbat Sukkot

There’s a story of two Hasidic rebbes sitting in a sukkah.  In answer to the question of “what’s your favorite mitzvah?”, one rebbe replied that the Sukkah was his favorite commandment, because when you sit in a sukkah, you are surrounded on all sides by the holiness of the commandment.  The other rebbe preferred the Sabbath.  “You can walk out of a sukkah, but you can’t walk out of the holiness of the Shabbat.” said he.

When hearing this story, I am reminded of Abraham Joshua Heschel ‘s insight that Shabbat is a “cathedral in time”.

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn, a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? … “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.  …. it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.

But here’s my question… what was the response of the first rebbe?  Did he fold his hands and agree that the holiness of time trumps the holiness of things?  And what about our cathedrals, our homes, our homelands and our things… can their holiness transcend or at least engage the holiness of time?

It seems to me that while you can’t walk out of the Sabbath, it’s holiness cannot be sustained indefinitely…. When the stars come out, the sabbath is over.  You can walk out of the sukkah, but it embodies a holiness that can be sustained.. at least through the complete cycle of a week.

During Sukkot, we add a prayer: “May the All Merciful establish (raise) for us the fallen Sukkah of David”

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת

The notion of the “fallen Sukkah” come from the prophet Amos (9:11)

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם

And I wonder whether “the Sukkah that has fallen  סֻכַּת הַנֹּפֶלֶת is best translated as the tabernacle that has fallen, or whether it is the Fallingsukkah.  (compare Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater).  It seems to me that David’s Fallingsukkah is always in flux and engaged in a permanent dialectic between continuity and renewal, sustainability and disruption.  The Jewish Cathedral is a temporary structure, which by definition, can never be permanently destroyed nor can it achieve the stasis of permanence.  The Fallingsukkah informs the way we relate with the world of the physical.  The Fallingsukkah and it’s notion of holiness of things, continues the discussion begun by the notion of the holiness of time that Heschel began.

Ultimately, it is the Fallingsukkah which represents to culmination of theJwish New Year’s penitential season.

From the first day of Ellul until the last day of Sukkot we read Psalm 27 every day.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.  or He concealeth me in His pavilion (lit. Sukkah) in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.

אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-ה’,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

It would seem that the choice of this Psalmֹ  of David addresses the tension between permanently dwelling in the house of God and being just a transient visitor, the dichotomy of taking refuge upon a rock or in a tent.

Fortunately, one day every sukkot, we get to enjoy both the wonder of the temple built in time and in space… Shabbat Sukkat Shalom

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Filed under art, Bible, Judaism, Religion, Rosh Hashannah, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, sukkot, sustainablility, Torah

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