When the Israelites traveled in the wilderness they lived in temporary dwellings called huts or booths or sukkot. And in commemoration of that time in our Jewish past, we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, this year set to begin Wednesday evening, October 12. God instructs the Jewish people in the Torah “For seven days you shall dwell in huts, every citizen in Israel shall dwell in huts, so that your generations know that I made the children of Israel dwell in huts when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Lev:23:33-44
Over time two different understandings developed about these sukkot, these huts. The first, according to Rabbi Akiva is that these huts were in fact temporary, yet physical and real structures, which protected the Israelites from the harsh conditions of the wilderness. The sukkot provided shade from the hot desert sun, the blowing wind, and relief from the hot environment. In Hebrew the term used is sukkot mamash, real sukkot. The second opinion, according to that of Rabbi Eliezer is that these huts were not physical structures built of cloth, wood or any other raw material. Instead, they were clouds of glory, spiritual forces that God provided the Israelites under God’s protection. In Hebrew they are called annenei hakavod.
Which opinion do you think became the more accepted one? Which rabbi do you think won? The answer lies somewhere between and this is one of the key lessons of sukkot. While we need physical facilities to protect us and provide us shelter, sukkot mamash are lives are not fulfilled or complete with the shelter of the divine, a spiritual component that helps protect and nourish us, the clouds of glory annenei hakavod. The St. Louis JCC is a place where we help facilitate both of these ideas, helping people with their physical needs and strengthen their physical beings, but let us also remember and celebrate that we also nourish and enrich the spirit through our education, Jewish camping, culture arts, and Jewish community programs. Come and join us as you explore your own physical and spiritual journey and so may it be God’s will for generations to come.