Rabbi Mark Solomon (Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community)
We’re now in that special time between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and there’s an old custom that the first thing you do when you get home from Shul on Yom Kippur after your day of fasting and repentance, is even before you break your fast, some very pious people will begin building a Sukkah, will hammer the first nail in their sukkah.
I imagine many of us won’t be hammering nails into a Sukkah, but I want to apply that idea to what we’re doing tonight. We’ve just come from Yom Kippur as Rabbi Rubin so beautifully said, and thought about our moral obligations in this world, and so we are symbolically starting to build our Sukkah tonight. Because Sukkot is a festival where we traditionally go out of our homes, out of our solid houses with a firm roof over our heads, into the frail shelter of the Sukkah, which is a symbol of entrusting ourselves to God’s providence, but also remembering that we are part of nature. We might try to build up the walls around our souls and separate ourselves from nature, but Sukkot reminds us that we are absolutely dependant, not just on God, but on nature for our very lives and for all our sustenance. Anything we do to harm the balance of nature, that fragile balance which is so important to our lives, as the lives of other living things, anything we do to damage that, is actually putting our own future as human beings at risk.
We know that only too clearly right now, with the dangers of climate change, the mass extinction of species that is going on - not only animal species of course, but huge changes in vegetation, deforestation, the terrible fires that we’ve seen in many parts of the world, including Australia where I come from, within the last year – and of course California and the Amazon Rainforest – terrible terrible destruction.
And Sukkot is here to remind us that we need that Sukkah, we need those leaves above us. We need that roof of schach, the fragile covering, which gives according to tradition, tzilah merubah, by its shade, more than the light it lets through. It has to let through a little bit of light, we all say it’s nice to see the stars through the roof of the sukkah. but it’s supposed to give us more shade, as a reminder that we all depend on that shelter that the natural world gives us. This makes it a great imperative for us, at this very time of the year, to think about combating climate change, protecting our environment, protecting our own future and that of our children and all the living beings on earth.