A Sukkah (and the world) Needs All Seven Sides To Stand

The symbolism of seven pervades Sukkot. בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, “You shall dwell in Sukkot for seven days”. The ארבעת המינים (Arbat HaMinim), four species: lulav, etrog, aravot and hadassim actualize as seven separate objects (1 lulav, 1 etrog, 3 hadassim and 2 aravot). Each night we welcome the שבעה אודפיזין (Sheva Ushpizin), seven heavenly visitors, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David who point to the שבע מידות (Sheva Middot), seven elemental personality components (which are also the “lower” seven sefirot (heavenly emanations of Infinite Light), each of which is composed of all ten sefirot, yielding 70). Throughout this very holiday when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was functioning, a total of 70 heads of cattle were sacrificed during this festival, including in the blessings of the holiday all “70 nations”, meaning all of our fellow humans and not just exclusively the Jewish People (just as the future Temple will be בֵּית־תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל־הָעַמִּים, a House of Prayer for All the Nations).

An unfortunate result of the popularization of certain Kabbalistic concepts, especially the middot/sefirot, is viewing them as separate and in isolation and then “choosing” one’s favorite. Of course, Chesed, “loving kindness”, represented by Avraham, wins the popularity contest hands-down. Malchut, “kingship”, (King David) too-often limited to its association with Shechinah, “in-dwelling”, which itself is too-often limited as referring only to the feminine, runs a close second. The brilliant Torah insight of how all these sefirot/middot work together to channel our prayers and deeds up to the highest realms while drawing down the purest of God’s Infinite Light, Ohr Ein Sof, into our consciousnesses and surroundings, is rarely broached.

As we travel through the festival of Sukkot, aware of each day’s special (but not exclusive, God forbid) focus on one middah/sefirah, we can not only meditate on our current level of understanding (hopefully growing daily, and if not that, at least with each new yearly cycle) of that personality quality/limb, but we also try to direct our intentions with each mitzva we perform, each bracha we say, each word of Torah we learn, through that day’s middah in order both to refine it and, perhaps even more importantly, to re-align it with the one(s) we’ve already addressed this year. We can balance our hunger and over-enthusiasm for too much love (chesed/Avraham) with a structure to contain it, (gevurah/Yitzchak) and we can move towards our center (tiferet/Yaakov) in order to not become too stiff and inflexible. The next day we can focus on our efforts to bring our balanced will into reality, whatever the effort needed (netzach/Moshe) and, after that, share with our family, loved ones, friends, community, people and humanity (hod/Aharon). We prepare to bring this all into reality, connecting with the material, not necessarily ideal, world by, among other actions, checking our own justice and righteousness (yesod/Yosef HaTzadik (Tzadik Yesod HaOlam) and only then are we fully prepared to act (asiyah-malchut/David HaMelech).

Indulging favorites and ignoring those which more challenge us is mere narcissism and rather than improving ourselves and our world we only create more damage and problems to both.

At the best of times our Sukkah is wobbly and insecure. It’s four walls (forward/backwards, love/fear), floor (on which we stand), schach (which joins the inside with the outside) and Sh’mayim above aren’t intended to last more than a week. But with hard work, rededicated specifically this week after having internalized the lessons, insights and progress of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we can create an at least more “permanent” home for the coming year as we begin our preparations, even now, for next year’s work.

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