Temporary Shelter

Twice a year the Jewish calendar offers the invitation and challenge to see the world differently.  During Pesah, everything that was kosher the day before is no longer kosher.  Six months later, during Sukkot, the temporary becomes permanent.

For seven days you will dwell in Sukkot, says Leviticus.  According to the Talmud, the Torah says it differently:  The Torah says:  For all seven days leave your fixed/keva dwelling and live in a temporary/ar’ai dwelling.

Sukkah dwelling is not camping, but consciousness.  The Rabbis urge:  understand, in your temporary dwelling, that dwelling is temporary.

The Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam, elevates this special consciousness by naming God Ha-ar’ai/The Temporary One.  The poet gives a high name to the fragility that is most deep:

The Temporary spreads o’er our heads.
The Temporary is green.  Yellow brown and gray the permanent.
The Temporary spreads o’er our heads.  Let’s make ourselves beautiful for Him.

To name God Ha-ar’ai, The Temporary, is to give frailty dominion.  For seven days, let the attribute that defines us also guard us.  Let us live in the shelter of The Temporary.  Let it be wise and protecting­­ rather than harsh and oppressive:  O, Temporary!  Guard us against feeling too permanent.

How shall we make ourselves beautiful in the presence of the Temporary?  Enduring beauty does not defy but imitates the Temporary.   Says the midrash:  I will make myself beautiful before him by fulfilling mitzvot—I will make a beautiful lulav, a beautiful sukkah.

The Temporary anchors us— a sheltering shifting shade and shield against the cold.  For seven days we leave the Temporary in place:

Let’s leave Him here.  He shades from the sun.  He gathers from the cold.
Let’s leave Him with us.  He casts an anchor.
Who is a better father to us than Him?

We allay his uneasiness with our attempt at permanence by inviting seven generations of ancestral guests—ushpizin—into the shelter of the Temporary, demonstrating that continuity, not permanence, is our fixedness:

Our fixedness will not frighten him.  Just the opposite
We will bring Him seven of our community’s elders
Those tied by the cord of continuing.
Day after day they will pass before him, in cloaks, in turbans.

When, carefully—so as not to frighten—we explain our deep fragile self to our high Reality, the Temporary emerges from the shade of the third person into the light of intimate address:   Let’s leave Him with us… Who is a better father to us than Him? becomes:  Your place is with us… And who is a better father to us than You?

Dwell with us, Temporary, dwell.
Your place is with us.
We are the offspring of the ever-turning sword.
And who is a better father to us than You?

O Temporary!  Even after the sukkah is dismantled, your place is with us, wandering outside of the Garden of Eden whose entrance is marked forever with the ever-turning sword (Genesis 3:24).  Even when we are again inside the house, we need to learn how to live outside of the Garden.

Your place is with us.  Let the shelter of the Temporary dwell in us—permanently.

[Click here for the entire Rivka Miriam poem in Hebrew and English]

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5 Responses to Temporary Shelter

  1. Gary Fink says:

    Thank you for reminding us that Divine Presence may come from above and around us (“o’er our heads”), but Divine Intimacy emerges from our intimacy — from the transcendent connections between us (the “cord” that continues).
    I wonder what it was that moved the author of the 23rd Psalm from the third person (“He guides me…”) to the intimacy of “I fear no harm, for You are with me.”?

  2. Susan Breitzer says:

    Interesting, and somewhat jarring–the idea of the Eternal as the Temporary–yet it fits in perfectly with one of the ideas raised by the holiday of Sukkot, and by its megillah, Koheleth–that nothing lasts forever. Perhaps in the end, though, what matters most is that the Temporary be sheltering and welcoming.

    Chag Sameach

  3. Leah says:

    I like the linking of temporary and continuity. Names, for instance, are used from generation to generation giving us a connection with our past. It anchors us. Traditions pass from generation to generation. Nothing lasts but everything in essence is the same – links in an everlasting chain. How comforting it is to know that the essential beauty is passed on.

  4. Judith Herman says:

    The fixed and temporary seem to feed each other in their tension. How many times in our lives do we see the full moon of Tishrei? Four days ago it was as if we were nearly dead but now we can feel the wind rustling in the leaves, reminding us of the Garden. By Hoshanah Rabbah the moon will have shrunk; the light and shadow beneath the s’chach are like oscillating moments of intensity and so fleeting. When we are so aware of our temporal nature do we see God in the same way? The principal of fixedness would stress that we always return to this form, this sukkah, at this time. We dwell in these moments of vulnerability with a firm determination to be joyful at another chance to live out the year, and do so unfailingly. The fleeting and the permanent are as one.

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