by Mel Scult
Sukkot is a richly symbolic holiday. Ordinarily we say that dwelling in booths like our ancestors in the desert reminds us of our vulnerability. But there are other possible meanings. Mordecai Kaplan, the radical socialist, proposed that in the desert everyone was equal. Everyone dwelt in booths, no rich and no poor. Is it possible that the word shack is related to the word sukkah? There are so many millions who live out their lives in shacks. Perhaps Sukkot should remind us of their plight.
Very early on in a sermon in 1917 at the Jewish Center, Kaplan proposed that the meaning of Sukkot was a return to the more elemental life symbolized by life in the wilderness. In thinking about the concept of return [teshuvah], he stated, “Return to what? The answer is given by the Sukkah, ‘Return to the simple, the natural, the primitive and the primary sources of life.’ … The principle of the Sukkah is an antidote and corrective to the ever growing complexity of civilization. We have to go back in order to go forward.” [On Kaplan and Sukkot, see my collection from the Kaplan diary, Communings of the Spirit, pages 121-123.]
Thinking of return to the simple and natural sounds very appealing on one level, but I keep wondering whether the people in Liberia who suffer from ebola want more of the simple life or would rather have more technology and “civilization”. The issue is complex.