New For Sukkot – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – September 21, 2018
With Yom Kippur behind us, we turn our attention to Sukkot. Usually, right after I break my fast, I go outside and start building my sukkah. But this year, the timing made that nearly impossible. We go from Yom Kippur to Shabbat to Sukkot in quick succession. So, l had to start building long before Sukkot.
This reminds me of a teaching. For a sukkah to be kosher, it must be built within 30 days of the holiday. Its walls can be older. But its roofing material, known as s’khakh and which is the essence of the sukkah, must be placed on the rafters within 30 days. So, for example, if a person built their sukkah in July or if they left it up all year, they must slightly raise the s’khakh up and set it back down to at least symbolically build the sukkah within 30 days*.
Why can’t you use an old sukkah? The medieval Spanish Rabbeinu Bachya teaches that the act of building a sukkah hints at the very creation of the world. If Rosh Hashana celebrates the initial creation, Sukkot testifies to its on-going evolution. An old sukkah will not do. For year after year, day after day, the world is continually rebuilt and renewed.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), that we read on Sukkot, would have us believe otherwise: “There is nothing new under the sun”** (1:9). No, the rabbis respond. Creation is dynamic and ongoing. And we have a hand in making it so. Just as we are commanded to build sukkot, so are we to be partners with God. In the words of Psalm 89:3 that we sing: “Olam chesed yibanah. And if you build this world from love, God will build this world from love.”
Rabbi Alexander Davis
*30, roughly the length of a lunar cycle, is a common number used in Jewish tradition to indicate a complete cycle of time. Longer than a “chodesh” (month), the sukkah would no long feel “chadash” (new).
**Rambam in his Guide for the Perplexed understands this to mean that in the natural world, there are no new laws being created. For example, when gravity was discovered, it was not a new law, just newly understood.