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Sukkah, Garden of Eden & re-creating God’s world

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20.09.2021

Sukkot
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I have often thought about Sukkot as a time to enable humanity to re-enact the creation of the world. This was always a hunch, with proximity reinforcing the thought. We read the creation narratives immediately following Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. We enter a closed environment and live there for seven days, a full creation cycle. Heaven is accentuated by the s’chach, and we hold plants. God created the world through a series of separations: the upper from the lower waters, the land from the water, heaven from earth, light from darkness. Each act of separation gave identity, purpose and function to natural phenomena as the structure of reality emerged through a process of thought, speech and development.

The structure of the sukkah also reflects separations. The walls of the sukkah, the defanot, support the s’chach that alludes to but separates the interior of the sukkah from Heaven. The walls of the sukkah form the basis, is broader legal discussions, for the concept of mechitzot, which form partitions that create separations in a variety of contexts such as prayer spaces and spaces that might transmit the existential energy called tumah that affects a person spiritually when sharing a space with a corpse.

In the Talmud, the rabbis discussed the interior dimensions of the Sukkah by referencing the Mishkan, the Mikdah, the aron kodesh, and Mt. Sinai. Ten handbreadths prefigured as the minimum interior height of a sukkah, excluding the thickness of the s’chach. The Talmudic discussion that develops the significance of the dimension of ten handbreadths is organized around the theological question of how close God and humanity can come to each other:

The Gemara asks: And did the Divine Presence never descend below ten handbreadths? But isn’t it written: “And God descended onto Mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:20)? The Gemara answers: Although God descended below, God always remained ten handbreadths above the ground. Since from ten handbreadths and above it is a separate domain, in fact, the Divine Presence never descended to the domain of this world. The Gemara asks:

But isn’t it written: “And on that day God’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4)? The Gemara answers: Here, too, God will remain ten handbreadths above the ground….The Gemara asks: But isn’t it written: “He grasps the face of the throne, and spreads God’s cloud upon him” (Job 26:9)? And Rabbi Tanḥum said: This teaches that the Almighty spread of the radiance of God’s Divine Presence and of God’s cloud upon Moses. Apparently, Moses was in the cloud with God. The Gemara answers: Here, too, it was below ten handbreadths. (Talmud Bavli Sukkah 5aff)

God’s presence never penetrates the human domain completely, nor does the human ascend totally to the divine. The allusion to God’s protective cloud applies directly to the structure of the sukkah. Later in the same discussion Rabbi Elazar taught that the sukkot inhabited in the desert by Bene Yisrael were themselves made of the clouds of God’s presence. (Bavli Sukkah 11b) These teachings suggest that the interiority of the sukkah is structured to create a sacramental, transformative space. Its structure evokes and the space holds the sanctity........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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