Pandemics like COVID-19 have a lot in common with the holiday of Sukkot. Sure, pandemics don’t exactly make us rejoice, but they fulfill the same purpose as Sukkot does – to remove us from our false sense of security. Money, society, and anything this world can give us are all fleeting and temporary.
The agricultural reason for the holiday, the ingathering of the fruit harvest, was a season of joy. It was like getting your salary only once a year. That’s why it’s a holiday of joy. But it’s a lot more than that. Davka at this time, when many would feel financial security after the harvest, God tells us to rejoice in temporary huts, not in houses built by stone. This is when we need to remember that during the exodus from Egypt we lived in booths. We need to remind ourselves that financial security is an illusion. That we are totally depending on God. In essence, we are celebrating “God with us” – Immanuel.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have experienced how true this is. Our security in material things is fleeting. Sometimes this experience is shared with the rest of the world, as in pandemics like this that hit everyone. Other times it affects the entire world, but harm the Jews more than others, because the anti-semites accuse us of the pandemic. In some cases it only affects Jews – pogroms and attacks that force us out of our homes have occurred a lot throughout history. I probably have several ancestors who saw their entire lifework destroyed before their eyes. We can never rely on material wealth.
This pandemic has brought that truth to many of us. Life is changing for most people. The very foundations of civilization as we know it are shaking. And yet, historically, it’s a very mild pandemic. If anything bigger that we have no control over would hit, we would be even more devastated. A plague of the bubonic dimension, an eruption of Yellowstone which would practically wipe out the US, a huge meteor, a solar flare which would knock out all electricity, any of these plausible scenarios would demolish life as we know it. Chances are that at least one of them will occur within the coming 100 years.
Do we put our trust in things that are here today, and might be gone tomorrow, or do we put our trust in HIM? Many people in the world believe that the upcoming presidential election in the US are important for the future of the world. They are wrong. If your security and your faith in humankind is based on your side winning the elections, and your ability to force others to follow your agenda (and I’m speaking to both sides), then you are sadly mistaken. By all means, vote – it’s important to make your voice heard. But don’t rely on politics to save you. It won’t. If the “wrong side” wins, it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world occurs in the timeframe and schedule that God has determined.
Since Sukkot has this focus on remembering that we need to rely on God for our provision and security, Sukkot also brings with it thanksgiving. As we sit together in the Sukka, and we remember what it must have been like to wander in the desert, and that we can’t take anything for granted, we also become thankful for what we do have. Each other, secure homes, warm showers, cell phones, democracy, freedom of speech. Those are not for granted. Very few people throughout history got to experience them.
That’s why the holiday of Thanksgiving was partly modeled based on Sukkot.
Happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful for what you have – while it lasts.