Sukkot: Reason and Faith

Two Dwellings
We dwell in foliage covered huts during the festival of Sukkot for two reasons. (A) To celebrate the tents in which our ancestors dwelled during their forty year journey across the desert. (B) To celebrate the miraculous canopy of clouds in which G-d enveloped our ancestors during that journey.
This brings an interesting thought to mind. There are essentially two Sukkot – two dwellings to celebrate during this time. The manmade tents that our ancestors built and the G-d made canopy that G-d conjured. Why did they need both? If they had the manmade one, why did they need the G-d made cloud and if they had the G-d made cloud why did they need the man made tent?
Of course the cloud was for protection and the tent was for privacy, but that is too prosaic an answer. The fact that we celebrate both coverings indicates that both hold profound meaning and symbolism. Despite being provided for by G-d, we must still erect our own and despite erecting our own we must still rely on G-d.
What is the message for us here?
Reason and Faith
We relate to G-d in two ways. There is the track of reason and the track of faith. Reason is manmade, faith is G-d made. Reason and faith are parallel tracks. Utilized correctly they should not contradict. The problem is that if you ride two horses on parallel tracks, one foot on one horse and one foot on the other, the horses need to keep pace with each other or you will be in for a nasty fall.
There are times when faith outpaces reason and times when reason outpaces faith. At such times we tend to opt for one over the other rather than bring them both in line. We seek to understand to the best of our ability, but when we run into a brick wall and can’t make sense of life, a tragedy for example or even a dilemma we cannot solve, we fall back on faith. Sometimes the opposite is true. We ride our faith as far as we dare, but run out of steam and need to make sense of things, faith alone doesn’t sustain us.
Simultaneous Tracks
The festival of Sukkot teaches us that reason and faith should not be used separately. They should always be utilized in tandem. You have a G-d made cloud canopy, but you don’t rely on that alone. You build a tent and live in that. But, you don’t get so caught up in your tent that you forget about the clouds outside. When sitting in your tent, be aware that you are in a larger G-d made framework.
For a Sukkah to be kosher one must be able to see the starts through the roof. If the raindrops can’t fall in to your Sukkah, it is not a valid Sukkah. You must sit in a manmade hut to fulfill the Mitzvah of Sukkot, but you must be constantly aware that you are sitting outdoors under G-d’s stars and clouds.
In our context the message is as powerful as it is clear. G-d gave us a brain because He wants us to use it. He is not content with us accepting everything He says on faith. He wants us to understand, He wants us to feel and He wants us to invest. We can’t do this when we accept G-d’s truth on His cognizance. We must use our own.
This is consistent with the fact that the Mitzvah cannot be fulfilled by sitting under the G-d made stars and clouds. To fulfill G-d’s will, we must build our own Sukkah and sit in that.
But when we engage our reason we must never veer away from our faith based foundation. We must always remember that our manmade construct is sitting under G-d’s canopy. The truths and axioms we are taught in the Torah are not subject to negotiation. We must labor to understand them, but we can’t change them. It is critical that we grasp them intellectually, not just intuitively, but if we fail to understand them, we may not abandon them.
Our faith based acceptance of the Torah principles remains strong even as we seek a better understanding. We ask questions to understand them better, but we never question their validity.
Patients and Doctors
With the advent of technology, patients are more and more savvy. They know more about their condition and their treatment than ever before. Understanding our bodies and what is being done to it is important. But arguing that we know better than the doctor because we read an article or two on the internet is ridiculous. We know our limitations and we don’t pretend to be experts.
If we are not expert enough to reject our doctor’s advice when we don’t understand it, we are also not expert enough to reject Divine thought when we don’t understand Him. Ours is to try and understand, not to tell G-d how to think.
They tell a story of a doctor who told his patient that he had a critical infection and that treatment would cost thousands of dollars. The patient objected that he didn’t have that much money to which the doctor replied, well then, for a hundred dollars I can change the x-ray.
This story goes to the heart of the matter. Having a hard time understanding a Torah axiom simply means we don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean that we can change it. Just as we don’t touch up the x-ray to make it look like the problem we can’t afford went away so do we not rewrite the Torah to make it look like the axiom we didn’t understand has gone away.
Manmade Sukkot are important. Without them we don’t have the Mitzvah. But they are only valid when one can easily discern while inside them that they are part of G-d’s larger picture and subject to those larger elements. When you remember where your stage is built, you remember how to behave on it.
Chag Sameach