Friday, October 1, 2004

A Few Thoughts

Musings #72
September 28, 2004
The 13th of Tishrei

A Few Thoughts
The Protection of the Succah

Traditionally the succah is not considered to be a protective structure. It’s the antithesis of materialism. Even if there’s a permanence to its walls, the roof, ceiling must be removable. The branches covering it must be detached from its tree. Almost everyone who builds them regularly has stories of “the year it blew away…” Sometimes just the schach, and sometimes the whole succah, or a wall or more. I remember rain so strong and heavy that decorations melted into the trash.

This year has been desert dry in the Samarian Mountains. It’s the first year I can remember that we felt the heat of the sun, inside the succah. For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve felt the succah to be a protecting place, regardless of the wisdom of the sages. It was about fifteen years ago, when we were on our then traditional, annual family trip to the kotel and the succah at the edge of the enormous plaza.

From the time I had been in Israel as a student, the year before I got married, I liked to eat in the succah near the kotel. It was always crowded with visitors from all over, all different costumes and customs. All different foods and serving methods. Having been raised with waxed paper sandwich bags, saranwrap and tin foil, I couldn’t understand how other mothers were schlepping pots of chicken and rice to such a crowded public place. They were also much more successful than I at grabbing and claiming the few tables and chairs for their families. My poor kids had to make due with wholewheat sandwiches and fruit, the five of them sharing a couple of chairs, or sitting on the food, strewn floor.

After almost twenty Succot in Israel, we had reached a rather boring routine, and then we heard it. It sounded like a battle. We had no idea what was going on. Then after finding cracks to peek through, we saw heavy stones, looking from our distance like tennis balls being tossed mechanically, like from the machines they had in my high school to occupy those of us deemed too inferior for proper tennis instruction. Arabs from our Har Habayit, Temple Mount, were attacking Jews praying at the kotel underneath. Why had G-d enabled us to liberate Jerusalem if we gave the Arabs the upper hand?

Our army was retaliating, by shooting “tear gas” at the attacking Arabs. In actuality, all that did was to further endanger the Jews, who had to cover their eyes as they then fled blindly. In the tzell , shade of the succah, we breathed clean air. No irritants, no tear gas in our eyes. The succah protected us. Then the soldiers came and ordered us out, ordered us to flee, ordered us to breathe the poisons, expose our eyes to danger.

“The King is in His Altogether” or
What Really Happened to That Little Boy

Everyone knows the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” how the foolish emperor allowed himself to be convinced that he was dressed in magic clothes that could only be seen by the wise. He was too proud and embarrassed to admit that he couldn’t see them, so he pretended to see their magnificent colors, jewels, design. In his enthusiasm to show all his wisdom he paraded, so dressed, in front of all his subjects, who, also, insisted that they could see the magic fabric.

Then suddendly a little boy, too young, naïve, honest to realize that admitting that he couldn’t see any fabric would make him look “like an idiot” called out: “The emperor has no clothes!” or as Danny Kaye sang so cheerfully: “The King is in His Altogether!” The traditional story ends with the crowds admitting that the boy was right, and the emperor, very embarrassed, trying to re/cover his dignity.

But in real life, the little boy is accused of incitement. A criminal file is opened. Yes, that’s the truth. Just ask Nadia Matar.

Batya Medad

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