Join Geoffrey Stern recorded on clubhouse on October 12th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place, using the Sukkot prayer that God “raise up the falling tabernacle of David” as our point of departure.
Transcript: Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In a previous podcast called Architecture in Time we’ve discussed Judaism’s unique concept of the holiness of time. This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Sukkot so find yourself a temporary booth and join us as we explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place.
Well, welcome to Madlik. Rabbi Adam is we gave him off for the Jewish holidays! So here we are broadcasting as you know, on clubhouse and it gets recorded and published as the podcast on Madlik. So if you like what you hear, feel free to share it with your friends and family. So I thought tonight, as I said in the intro, it is going to be both Shabbat and Sukkot this coming Shabbat Sukkot. I thought I would start with a story. And the story is told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: So, two Hasidic Rabbi’s, the Kotzker Rebbe and the Vorker Rebbe were sitting in the sukkah on Shabbat. And they started discussing what was the most important, what was the most pleasurable commandment. And the Vorker Rebby says, well, I love Sukkot, because when you’re in the sukkah, you are surrounded by the mitzvah. And the Kotzker Rebbe, who was a little bit of a cynic said, Well, that’s true. But if you walk outside of the sukkah, you are no longer in the soccer. So, my favorite Mitzvah is the Shabbat, because you can’t walk out of Shabbat. And it’s a great story. But it really focuses on the difference between the holiness of time represented by the Shabbat and the holiness of place. And I want to imagine what the Vorker Rebbe would have responded, Because I doubt that the conversation ended there. And as I made reference to in the introduction, in a previous podcast, we talked about Heschel’s, great concept of the Shabbat, is a cathedral in time. And of course, what he meant by that is that we Jews do not have an edifice complex. We don’t focus on a place of finite latitude and longitude. And by making time holy, we have a taste of eternity. But nonetheless, I think the Vorker would have said yes, but we do live on this wonderful, glorious earth of ours. And we do have finite bodies and times and senses. So my sense is that he would have put up an argument, but he would have argued, in a sense that we have a unique concept of space and place and that’s what we are going to discuss today. So when you sit in the sukkah, you make a blessing over the sukkah as you do over every other commandment, but you also add a beautiful prayer in the Birkhat Hamzon; in the grace after meals, and the prayer is very short. But I want to read it to you in the Hebrew and the English it says הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יָקִים לָֽנוּ אֶת־סֻכַּת דָּוִד הַנּוֹפָֽלֶת may the Merciful One raise up Yakim, the Fallen Tabernacle of David, the Succat David Hanofelet. And it isn’t the sukkah David She’nafal the sukkah of David that has fallen, but it’s actually in the active present it is the fallen or the falling Tabernacle of David, the falling booth of David. And that’s why I named this episode Fallingsukkah with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater which maybe we’ll get to at the end of our podcast, but this has always intrigued me. This concept of this shaky booth, who those of us who build one in our backyard, we cringe at the idea of a strong wind or a hard rain, because we’re afraid that it’s going to fall down. I believe at MIT in the day the Jewish engineering students would go ahead and make different Sukkot all based on different very sophisticated laws of physics laws to see who could stand and who could fall. But surely part of the magic of the sukkah is it is a temporary a booth. It is transitory. And I think that is what this beautiful blessing is celebrating. But it’s always intrigued me as I said, so I wanted to use this time to find out what the source of it is. And as we did last week, every prayer that is in the prayer book comes from somewhere. And this particular prayer comes from chapter 9, in the book of Amos. And many things to do with our Sukkot, we shall see have to do with the end of days. And in this particular case, Amos says after a long liturgy of what will happen in the end of the days. He says, all the sinners of my people shall perish by the sword. Those who boast never shall the evil overtake us or come near us. In that day, I will set up again the Fallen booth of David אָקִ֛ים אֶת־סֻכַּ֥ת דָּוִ֖יד הַנֹּפֶ֑לֶת I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old, (12) So that they shall possess the rest of Edom. And then he goes on and it says I will restore my people Israel, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. So surely what he sees in rebuilding this booth of David that has fallen is rebuilding the temple, coming back to the land, being part of the agricultural cycle, being able to plant and reap to have vineyards and drink wine. And it is an apocalyptic vision and it’s wonderful. But it still really doesn’t get into this concept of the sukkah hanofelet, it talks about what will be in terms of making that sukkah rebuilding that sukkahr, but it still doesn’t answer my intrigue of what is this sukkah that is constantly falling. And so I think what we need to do to really understand this is to step back and say the sukkah; the booth is actually one of the most unique commandments. We’ve come across something like this once before, when in a podcast called walk like an Egyptian, we noticed that the first time that God says write these words on your arm and between your eyes. Certain commentaries said he’s not commanding us to wear the phylacteries the tefillin, he’s talking in a metaphor. And of course, we have in Jeremiah write these words on your heart, this concept of writing things on your body. But that is a small metaphor. The metaphor of the booth of the sukkah is something that is so much bigger, so much broader, so much more universal than the seven- or eight-day holiday that we’re in. So, for example, in the evening service, we say a prayer called Hashkeevenu. And it says, may God lie us down in peace our king raise us up again to life, spread over us the shelter of Your peace, וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ, this concept of a tabernacle of peace is way more than just the holiday that we’re in. It’s clear that this booth, this protective layer, this shadow and shade from the elements is by far a bigger, a much bigger metaphor. We see in the Talmud that when it talks about this nofelet to this fallen thing, it doesn’t limited only to the temple. It’s bigger than just the temple. So RAV NACHMAN said to me, Isaac, have you heard when the Fallen son will come when בר נפלי And he said, Who is the Fallen son Mashiach answered RAV NACHMAN and the Messiah you call the befalling son? And he answered, Yes, for it is written (our verse in Amos) and that day, I will rise up the tabernacle of David. So, this concept of a tabernacle is more even than just a point, a place of a shade. It is actually the human condition. It’s actually a person. When they talk about the sukkah, hanofelet. They’re talking about man stumbling as well. And so I think that even to look at it as only place and space is to constrain it too much. It’s more than that. It is literally as I said before the human condition. Another piece of the Talmud says as follows that Robbie Itzhak said to him, this is what Rabbi Yohanan said, during the generation in which the Messiah, Son of David comes Torah scholars will decrease as for the rest of the people, that eyes will go fail, and it will be a hard time. And why is that? He says, because it is a time that is fallen, he quotes our verse again. So, it’s really this, this raising up the Sukkah that that is trembling, this sukkah that is hardly standing in the wind is really a much big metaphor. And there are two sides of it. On the one side, it seems to me there is the human condition, that we are so feeble, so open to the whims of nature and of destiny. And on the other hand, there’s this sense, as we saw in the prayer in the evening prayer of something that provides a shelter, and shade. So here is kind of the interesting thing that really puts this whole sukkah into a little bit more of context, this time of year, obviously, we all make fun of and we joke about when will the Jewish holidays, finally come to an end. And that’s because in Tishrei, we start with Rosh Hashanah, then we go to Yom Kippur. And then we end with this sukkah. And you really have to almost look at them as one literary piece, one experiential piece, and there’s one psalm that we say, from the beginning of Tishrei, until the last day of Sukkot, shemini, Atzeret and Simchas Torah, and it’s Psalm 27. And in it, it says, one thing I ask of God, אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־ה’, and that is what I seek, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. It says, לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹעַם־ה’ וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵֽיכָלֽוֹ, and to frequent His Temple. So in a sense, you almost get a feeling of the high holiness, the steadfastness of the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur experience. This coming in as a stranger maybe coming in as someone who’s just visiting, and then to get access maybe, to the temple, but then it goes on, he will shelter me in his pavilion on an evil day כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֢וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה. So we get this sense of the sukkah as the refuge the sukkah as outside and a counterpoint to the Bayit and Hechal… to the temple. And again, you get this sense of the contrast between that sense of a cathedral, that sense of an edifice, that sense of something that is קבוע; which is permanent and Something that is ארעי that is temporary. There’s a beautiful phrase in Pirkei Avot and it says that אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִלָּתְךָ קֶבַע you should never make your prayers permanent. static without dynamism, you should make them temporary full of dynamism. So, you have that conflict you have that I would say dialectic between the two concepts, the two experiences of the High Holidays which are temple based. And then the sukkah, which is not only outside of the temple, and therefore has this dynamism to it. This sense of fleeting and temporality and also very being precious and in the moment. And then one also gets the sense of the sukkah being some sort of a shelter. But as I said before the Sukkah is used in so many ways as different metaphors for different things. So when the Ibn Ezra comments is on this, and it says B’sukkah, he says it’s Jerusalem. So you almost get the sense that the sukkah is a Rorschach Test where everybody projects on to it what it is they want to be rebuilt. And he bases this on Psalm 76, which says, וַיְהִ֣י בְשָׁלֵ֣ם סֻכּ֑וֹ וּמְע֖וֹנָת֣וֹ בְצִיּֽוֹן, Salem became his abode, Zion, his den, so whether it is Jerusalem, or Israel, here, we get into this sense of the holiness of place for the Jew, the homeland, the Temple. But again, what is compared to that homeland? What is compared to that temple? It’s this lowly humble, very tenuous, Booth, this Sukkah that is constantly falling, stumbling, and picking itself up again. And I just feel that it is a fascinating concept. It’s one thing to say as Heschel that we Jews focus on time and the holiness of time. And that’s all good and well. But at the end of the day, we also do live in space. And so, the question then becomes, how do we live in space? What is our affinity with space? How do we interact with space, and I think the rabbi’s or the metaphor more than any other seems to be this sukkah. And it seems to be almost a transitional, a bridging concept. So, I was thinking about who, who would have an insight into the sukkah more than anyone else. And the one thinker who has really focused on the brilliance of the Jewish people, the genius of the Jewish people, is that we transcend space, and we transcend place is a thinker that we might have mentioned a few times before. It’s Franz Rosenzweig, a good friend of many Zionists, including Gershom Scholem, who made Aliya, who emigrated to Israel at the turn of the century in the early 20s, and 30s, and was inspired stayed behind in Germany. And in his books, Star of Redemption, he really focuses on the genius of the Jewish people has always been created in the Galut, the genius of the Jewish people is that we have not been anchored to a particular land. So it’s clear that he had a, I wouldn’t say challenges, but he was challenged by this concept of a homeland. So I wondered what he would say about Sukkah. And what he does in the Star of Redemption is he talks about the calendar, the Jewish calendar, and he tries as does the psalm that we just read to bridge between the Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah experience and the sukkah experience, and he says he calls the chapter “The way back into the year”. And he says, “For after them” meaning after Yom Kippur and Rashanna “comes the Feast of Booths, which is a feast of redemption founded on the base of an unredeemed era and other people yet within the pale of history, in the common unity of man, the soul was alone with God to neutralize this foretaste of eternity. The Feast of booth reinstates the reality of time.” So as someone focused on time, Rosenzweig is focused on time on this Jewish concept of cycular time that constantly moves forward. And we are experiencing that at this very moment, because in a sense, we’re coming to the end of the year, both in the calendar, as well as the reading cycle of the Torah, we’re about to begin it all over again. And he senses that transition in the transition from Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, to coming down into the cycle of the Torah reading into the cycle of the pilgrimage holidays into the cycle of agriculture. And he sees that it reinstates the reality of time within space. He says, Thus, the Feast of Booths is not only a festival arrest for the people, but also the festival of ultimate hope. Redemption is only a hope, only something present, expected in the source of wanderings. So I take his interpretation, as again, a wonderful reflection on what nofelet means it’s this dynamic movement between eternal, eternal time and historic time, and temporal time. And we on this upcoming Shabbat will be experiencing all of that. And I find that to be again, all based on this word, nofelet which is falling in the active present. It just seems to me so dynamic, so exciting. And it takes a very, a universal metaphor of the hut, of the refuge provided by shade from the elements. When I was in synagogue last week, on Ha’azinu. The Haftorah is another great poem/song that was written, and it was written by David, and it is in Samuel II 22. And because I was already thinking about Sukkot, my ears picked up and I read something that I had never read before. He’s talking as David could only talk as the one who was hiding the one who was constantly afraid of his enemies. He says In my anguish I called on the LORD, Cried out to my God; In His Abode He heard my voice, My cry entered His ears. (8) Then the earth rocked and quaked, The foundations of heaven shook— Rocked by His indignation. (9) Smoke went up from His nostrils, From His mouth came devouring fire; Live coals blazed forth from Him. (10) He bent the sky and came down, Thick cloud beneath His feet. (11) He mounted a cherub and flew; He was seen-h on the wings of the wind. (12) He made pavilions of darkness about Him,. So here he says, וַיָּ֥שֶׁת חֹ֛שֶׁךְ סְבִיבֹתָ֖יו סֻכּ֑וֹת. So as opposed to a Sukkah that provides shade here, David seems to be living in a Sukkah that is shade. That is the darkness. And so this too gives a whole other aspect to what that Sukkat Hanofelet is; that sukkah that is constantly falling. It’s not only falling in the sense that it is potentially rising, but it’s falling in this sense that it’s going down. And here he is describing his situation where he’s hiding from his enemies. He’s hiding from despair, and he’s in the sukkah of darkness around him. So it kind of puts a different aspect on this. nofelet, but to me, it simply manifests once again how that Sukkat Hanofelt, that constantly falling sukkah is actually the human condition. And it’s the condition of both one getting up. But it’s also the condition of that person going down. It’s the condition of being protected. It’s also being the condition of being depressed and ensnared. And to me, that makes the fact that we call this holiday Simchateynu, our joy, gives it new meaning because it is the joy emanating out of the human condition that I celebrate. I started by saying that this week, we’re calling it with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, who built a beautiful home over a waterfall called Fallingwater. And we are calling it Fallinsukkah. Because I think if anything, to say that time is fleeting, and Time moves, that’s easy. But to talk about space, place, nature, the human condition that that is constantly in flux, I think is something that becomes even more magical. And in the notes, I have a picture of Fallingwater. And if you haven’t seen it or been there, I’ve not yet been there, I definitely want to go. It gives you this sense of this combination of not so much the permanent with the temporary, but that all that is permanent, is actually the temporary. And that’s how I’d really like to end up. There was a great pre-Socratic philosopher called Heraclitus. And you know many of us have heard his adage that you can’t put your foot into the same river twice, because the river is always moving. All entities move and nothing remains still. He’s quoted as saying everything flows and nothing stays. And I think to me, the message of the Sukkah Hanofelt is that what is the most important to us what we celebrate in at the end of this month of Tishrei is the only thing that is in fact permanent. And that is change. The only thing that is permanent is growth. And I think that at the end of the day, the only thing that can’t be destroyed and certainly if there is one word that is associated with a cathedral or with a Jewish Temple, it always seems to be the word destroyed temple and the one thing that can never be destroyed permanently is that which is temporary. It is permanently temporary. It is constantly falling. And that constant flux is I think what we celebrate on Sukkot. When we sit inside of our Sukkah, hanofelet. S with that I thank you I wish you Shabbat Sukkah Samayach. Because what is sukkah about if we can’t sing a song or hear a song, I’m gonna play Shlomo Carlebach’s rendition for the prayer that we have been talking about.
Geoffrey Stern 29:45
We’ll see you all next time on Madlik Disruptive Torah.
This is a continuation of a previous podcast: Architecture in Time