A Succot of peace

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are allowing themselves to be vulnerable. And they are proceeding anyway with faith that they will be protected.

Interior of a succa 370 (photo credit: Interior of a succa )
Interior of a succa 370
(photo credit: Interior of a succa )
‘All seven days one makes his succah permanent and his home temporary” (BT Succah 28b) The shelter of peace needs to have holes, it must be open, it must be somewhat vulnerable. True peace requires just this kind of vulnerability.
True peace requires the ability to see beyond what is right in front of us, it requires being able to “see the stars.”
As we come out of the holiday season, we pick ourselves up and walk out of our succot. Looking back I have begun to realize the profound beauty of this holiday. Succot is centered on the little structures we build and eat and sleep in for a week every fall. In our tradition, the succah is referenced often, but really only in two contexts.
The first is physical, referring to the huts we build yearly and for all practical purposes live in. The second is metaphorical, the succat shalom, the “succah of peace” that we pray every night to be spread over us.
And so the succah is an amazing structure. It is by its very nature impermanent. It is real and imagined.
It is something that we build ourselves, but can only trust because we believe in its inherent value.
Beginning right after Yom Kippur ended, Jews the world over began building their physical succot, preparing in a tangible way for the upcoming holiday. The structure is simple, not too tall, three walls, and a roof made of unprocessed natural materials. This roof is perhaps the most striking element. It must use enough material to be a true roof, but also porous enough to see stars through it or for rain to drip through.
I can not completely protect us from the elements, and can not completely close us off to the world.
Three walls (not four!), no floor, and a (pardon the pun) holy roof. Not much of a home; and yet, we must treat this structure as if it is permanent! So basically, we enter a structure knowing it is flimsy but with a state of mind that says “this is my home, it will protect me.” There is a leap of faith that must be taken to truly experience sitting in a succah.
SO HOW can it be that this is the structure we describe when describing a divine shelter of peace? This must be wrong. Should it not be a fortress of peace? Wall of peace? I believe there is deep wisdom in this choice.
Especially at the start, peace is not sturdy, it has some holes, it feels so very impermanent, so vulnerable to immanent collapse. For it to work, like the succah, we have to decide to believe it is something permanent.
And then, the more time we spend in it, the more permanent it becomes.
Right now Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are engaged in extraordinarily difficult and tenuous negotiations.
They know that at any moment, the structure of peace they are building could fall apart. They know that at the start their succat shalom will leave them feeling more vulnerable than secure. They are constantly reminded of the holes in their plan. And yet they press on.
They continue their holy work because they know that the more time they spend inside this seemingly flimsy structure, the more safe it will feel.
They are, as we are, allowing themselves to be vulnerable. And they are, as we are, proceeding anyway with faith that they will be protected.
The writer is the rabbinic director of J Street. He served as senior coexistence educator for Kivunim, received an MA in Jewish studies and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.