Sabbath Sukkot
Leviticus 22: 26 - 23: 44
Maftir : Numbers 29: 12-16

Nine Steps Towards God,
One Step Backward
A Jew's Return to God

By Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk


Sukkot 1994



"You shall dwell in The Sukkahs Seven Days, every native born Israelite shall dwell in The Sukkahs so that your generations will know that in The Sukkahs I caused {you} B'nei Yisroel to dwell when I took them {B'nei Yisroel} out from the land of Egypt, I am Hashem, your God. And thus Moses declared the appointed times of Hashem to the B'nei Yisroel." Leviticus 23: 42-44.

What is a sukkah? A sukkah is a temporary dwelling place usually found on one's porch, patio or yard. It is a building made with a variety of materials. Over the past years the Belk family has built our sukkah out of conduit and plastic, tarps, plywood, wood paneling and other interesting materials.

Another name for Sukkah is Booth. Sukkah is the Hebrew word that many translate as booth. The translation is derived from the Latin word tabernaculum, meaning Tabernacles.

The Jewish Community normally begins preparing for Sukkot immediately after Yom Kippur. Each year our Sukkah varies in size and in materials. I cannot remember a year when our Sukkah was exactly the same as the previous year. We always end up changing something. We have so much fun making plans and preparations for building our Sukkah..

It is fun decorating the inside of The Sukkah. Children especially love this part. Weeks in advance the Jewish day schools in our area begin preparing our children for Sukkot by creating special Sukkah decorations. We decorate our Sukkahs with pictures of famous Rabbium, relatives and designs from previous years. Our Sukkah tables are beautifully covered with ornate decorations in anticipation of guests that will soon be arriving for wonderful meals, singing and joyous Torah study. Everything is so wonderful, beautiful and intrinsically different! Since at Sukkot time there is much to focus on and much to enjoy one might wonder, 'Why was it necessary for Hashem to command B'nei Yisroel to dwell in the Sukkah since everything about it is so pleasurable?'

Holy reader, thousands of years ago Kal Yisroel did not embellish The Sukkah as we do today. Thousands of years ago our ancestors actually lived in a Sukkah... a Tabernacle... a Booth in the wilderness without the convenience of modern-day plastic, plywood, paneling and other such conveniences as prefabricated Sukkahs. Living in a very small confined area was not easy for B'nei Yisroel. Everything that our ancestors owned had to be transported in a nomadic lifestyle. Their sukkah wasn't stored behind the house, in the basement, in the garage or in a canvas sack. Their Sukkah was real!

Now as we look back on those days inscribed in the Torah we picture a different setting in our minds than what actually existed. We have added many beautiful and comfortable items to our sukkah that originally did not exist. If we were to actually experience our sukkah as our ancestors did, we would not find them nearly as attractive! When it rained their roofs leaked. Their bedding and clothes got wet! They were wet and cold! How would they dry their clothes and warm themselves? Then there were creatures, insects, and other such things that they contended with on a normal basis that most of us need not concern ourselves with.

Those who live in the inner city frequently contend with the fear of violence while dwelling in their Sukkah. A few years ago, about a month before Sukkts, we heard this rat ah tat tat while we were enjoying our Erev Sabbath meal. Nine shots were fired! Several of them blazed down our street in front of our home. Our neighbor's car was shot up! We thank God that no one was injured seriously. If this had occurred 30 minutes earlier the streets would have been filled with Jews returning home from shul. But thank God that was not the situation.

Holy reader, you may be wondering, 'How can I observe Sukkts?' The answer is simple! Just begin. Don't be afraid! Don't worry about doing something wrong! Just begin. After returning to Hashem, my first Sukkah was nothing more than an old blue tarp connected to a cottonwood tree and two 4x6 posts sunk into the ground with some fence lattice across the top. Some may argue that my first Sukkah wasn't kosher. They may be correct. It doesn't matter!! What matters is I began a form of observance. Every Jew has to begin somewhere. So I took nine steps towards God and those who criticized such efforts and heartful intentions took one step backwards.

The simple message of Sukkot that shouts louder and louder is, Just begin! Don't become discouraged with your efforts, just do your best and everything will work out fine! It was sometime after Sukkts that I spent a Sabbaths in the observant community. A well meaning Jew upon hearing that my family observed Sukkos began intensely questioning me about how we observed Sukkot living outside of the Jewish Community and what type of sukkah we had. Holy reader, we want to observe the Torah as accurately as possible. Yet when we see a new Jewish sprout of observance occurring we must be very careful not to take a giant step backwards by being overly strict with this little form of observance. We need to use sound wisdom and clear thinking so that we who are a little more observant don't take one giant step backwards by our overly pious and zealous ATTITUDES! In time that new Jewish sprout will learn if we don't give it too much Jewish miracle grow!!

Holy reader, at Sukkts time drive the streets of town looking for new Sukkahs. At Chanukah I walk the streets of our town looking for new menorahs glowing out in the night. To me that is like observing a small sprout bursting through the forest floor. The individual who builds their Sukkah or lights their menorah for the first time or for the first time in a very long time feels good about what they're doing. Building a Sukkah, or lighting a menorah is a sign to the world of Jewish growth. It is a sign of observance! It may be only nine very tiny steps towards G-d but those steps, dear reader, are in the right direction!

So if it has been awhile since you built your last Sukkah, just build one... Or if you have never built a oukkah, give it a try... Hashem considers your actions, the actions of a Jew who has begun to return...

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

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