Chol Hamoed Sukkot 5776
By Chazan Jaclyn Chernett
In the Rosh Hashana 2012 edition of Kol Hakehila, the journal of Kol Nefesh, Melanie Kelly wrote about the sukkah. She had examined Richard Elliot Friedman’s ‘Who Wrote the Bible’ in light of the cherubim crafted to ‘protect’ the mishkan and later the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple. The imagery of God ‘sitting’ on the platform created by the cherubim inspired her with thoughts ‘to build a similar tabernacle adjacent to my home and attempt to dwell in it. This is … an image of God always being approachable for one more try at perfecting ourselves and perfecting our world’.
This year, more than any I can remember, we cannot fail to be moved by the migration of so many people, risking – and often losing – their lives, desperate to escape their oppressed lands, for a chance to live a better life. Actually, for a chance to live.
It is the sukkah that brings back to us every year, after the intensity of the Yamim Nora’im, the frailty and transitory nature of life. But wait a minute… we are here because of the migration and escape of our own families, because of the help of a few countries who agreed to take in a limited number of Jews.
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, whose sound sense comes through in his blogs that I always love to read:
Humans have always migrated…. They were pushed by climate change, by poverty, and by unemployment to search for more fertile land, and sometimes … out of a lust for conquest. ‘The barbarians are coming’ has always been on our lips. Species, tribes, nations, and civilizations rose and fell. Such claims to territory as existed were just swept aside. A new thug or ruler brought a new set of laws and religions…. But the single most significant feature of all these migrations is that, in one way or another, they benefitted the places they ended up in.
Humans, being the short-sighted creatures that they are, thought they could rely on boundaries, laws, and treaties to protect themselves. For short periods of time they often could. But inexorably the tide turned, cities fell, cultures and empires collapsed. Out of their ruins new ones emerged…. We in the west now are no less arrogant than were the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Catholics, the Muslims, the Marxists, and now the contrasting worldviews of socialists and capitalists. Each one contain[s] the seeds of its own destruction.
As this reflection comes out, Marom, our young adult group, are bringing ‘sukkot’ to the people in Calais, tents for protection from the elements, food and clothing to people who could easily have been us, but for the gift of being born into freedom. Nesiya tova to Matt Anisfeld and his group and my fervent prayer that we learn the lessons from the Yamim Nora’im in emulating the God-like way of being: Z’chor lanu b’rit sh’losh esrei, remember IN US your covenant of the attributes of God – The Lord, the Lord, gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon.
When we sit in our sukkot, perhaps, like Melanie, we might visualise the mercy seat of the Almighty between the cherubim, an image that reminds us to give one more try at perfecting ourselves and our world.
Jaclyn Chernett is a founder member of, and Chazan at Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue, founder and director of the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy and Vice President of Masorti Judaism.