Sukkah, arches and towers | The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh
I write these words as I reflect on when I might get my sukkah at the end of Sukkot. I love Sukkot for the natural elements that make it a unique fall harvest, for the spiritual impulses that allow us to invite guests from centuries past into our Sukkah, and for the spiritual practice of waving the lulav and etrog. .
Most importantly, I love Sukkot because I can build a Sukkah. Our home sukkah design was influenced by the sukkah I grew up in at Emanu-El Temple in Lynbrook, New York. This sukkah, centered in our temple’s biblical garden, was expertly constructed of 2 by 2 trellis and wood, tinted a dark brown, with no whimsical pieces of trellis to be found. Wherever I have tried to replicate this sukkah, in our childhood home, then in our family homes in New York, Boston and Pittsburgh, I have never succeeded in making our sukkah as pristine as this childhood prototype.
Don’t get me wrong, I love our sukkah and its predecessors, not because of the design – although I’m proud of its Lynbrook origins – but because of the shared effort it has taken over the years to design it, build it, assemble it, take it apart and put it away until the next Sukkot. Over the years, all of us in the family have participated in the construction, assembly and decoration. I also learned about this process at Temple Emanu-El where everyone from religious school to the youth group, to the fellowship, to the men’s club, helped year after year as we prepared for Sukkot.
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And now, with Sukkot behind us, we have two sample construction projects in this week’s Torah portion, Noach. The construction of the Ark and the Tower of Babel lie in a deep place of collective memory, even for those with limited exposure to the Bible. Both projects called on individuals to transform the world around them in order to survive and better meet their needs. This is where the similarities end. After all, the ark was built by one man while his neighbors laughed at him for decades while the tower was built by an entire community. The plan to build the ark appeared to be successful in protecting Noah’s animals and family from the waters of the flood; but he was only protecting them, not his neighbors. They alone lived to see the world the day after the rain stopped. The tower construction project seemed to fail when God expressed his frustration with the monolithic nature of communication. Ultimately, humanity was scattered across the earth and across languages so that we could no longer stand up together with one voice.
How sad for us? Our attempt to make a name for ourselves and ascend to heaven was thwarted long ago, even as we could strive for the unity of humanity today. It seems the message from the Tower of Babel is that we shouldn’t be trying to work together.
This is what I thought until I discovered the wisdom of Rabbi Mary Zamore, executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, an affiliate of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
Now I see the text of Babel differently. Unlike living in 70 different nations, humans were only able to create peace and harmony among themselves when they were united by their location, language, and mission. God thwarted their plan and scattered them – and us, their descendants – to send a strong message, which is still needed today. True peace, true unity resides in respectful diversity. The response to human violence against man before the Flood does not evolve into a seamless unity; It is only when we learn to coexist as different nations, cultures, religions, ways of life and languages that we will find true peace.
Its embrace of diversity as the Tower of Babel message was echoed by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks when he wrote: “… They are trying to concentrate in a city. And we have this criticism throughout the Bible of urban civilization. The purpose of creation has always been for us to spread everywhere and to live diverse lives.
The truth is that when we arrived to “build” the sukkah at Temple Emanu-El, it was already built. You see, Charlie, the Guardian of the Temple, and his diverse team of non-Jews had already built the framework. The job of young and old, inexperienced and experienced, was to put corn stalks on the walls and roof. We have built this sukkah year after year on a foundation of diversity. This is how we have to build a community today, tomorrow and the next day. PJC
Rabbi Ron Symons is the senior director of Jewish Life and the director of the Center for Loving Kindness at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Pittsburgh.