A number of things characterize the Jewish holiday of Sukkos, the Feast of Booths, which falls on October 18-23 this year. Perhaps the most visible is the sukka. This is a temporary structure, the construction of which usually begins as soon as Yom Kippur is over.
There are rules for building a sukka. No more than one wall of the structure may be a permanent wall. That is, one wall may be part of the regular family home, but the other walls must be temporary. Since this is a harvest festival, it is usually decorated inside with fruit and vegetables, but the décor may also include family items. Some people make the sukka very elaborate; others make it simple. Since the family must “live” in it for seven days, it should include some everyday furniture. (At least one meal a day must be taken in the sukka.) To many people, though, the most striking feature of the sukka is the roof.
In keeping with the temporary nature of the structure, the roof may not be solid. In fact, the space between the materials making up the roof must be at least a handbreadth apart. You must be able to see the stars in the sky through the holes in the roof. That assumes, of course, that the stars are visible. In October in Albuquerque we hold an annual hot air balloon fiesta. (It is the most photographed event in the world, I am told.) The problem is that every year some of the Balloon Fiesta events have to be cancelled because of rain or high winds. Living in a sukka in Albuquerque, and many parts of the world, would subject you to getting wet. But this just emphasizes one of the lessons of the holiday.
This life is not always easy. Some days it is going to rain. Problems fall at the seemingly most inopportune times. Just after buying a house you lose your job. Health problems don’t wait for convenient days. The phone rings when I am watching Jeopardy! (a major disturbance which will probably be ignored). You can’t count on sunny days during Sukkos. And yet God asks you to leave a hole in your roof.
It is a matter of trust. The holiday reminds of the Exodus, “that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 23:43) God protected the people in the desert. He gave them a night-light. I don’t know if the cloud that gave them shade in the desert protected them from wind and rain, but it probably provided some air conditioning. God provided food. He did not let their clothes wear out (Deut 8:4). Remembering all this, why worry about getting a little wet?
This idea of trusting God is an essential part of the holiday of Sukkos. On the last day of the eight-day holiday, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, it is traditional to quote Psalm 118:26, “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD.” Essential to Jewish thought is the idea that to quote a passage is to quote its context. In keeping with that idea, to recite “Blessed be he” is also to refer to Psalm 118:8-9. “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.”
Most homeowners, if they detect a hole in the roof, call in a roofing specialist to repair it. They rely on a man to fix their holes. The roof of the sukka, on the other hand, is intended to have holes in it. It tells us not to call on a man to fix the holes, but to trust in God that the holes don’t make a difference. In fact, the holes in the roof enable us to see God, in whom is our trust.