The Sharing SukkahOctober 5, 2012 - 5:00 am
“Jacob, on the other hand, traveled on to Succoth. There he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was named Succoth (which means ‘shelters’).” — Genesis 33:17
During Sukkot Jews all across the world fill God’s command recorded in the Bible to spend seven days living in makeshift huts known as sukkot (singular, sukkah). But did you also know that Sukkot is the name of a place in the Bible?
And while Jacob’s constructions of shelters for his livestock occurred many years before God commanded that the people of Israel observe the holiday Sukkot, I believe the “shelters” in the Genesis passage have something to teach us about the Sukkot holiday itself.
Jacob’s actions in this passage teach us about the essential nature of the sukkot that Jewish people build at this time of year. When you consider it, Jacob’s actions are actually quite remarkable. Here was Jacob, traveling with his family and a whole herd of animals. The experience must have been wearying, and at night, the job of putting up shelters so that both he and his family could sleep safely under a roof must have been even more tiring. The last thing Jacob would have wanted at the end of the day was more work.
And yet, the verse tells us that Jacob also made shelters for his animals. Indeed, Jacob was such a kind and loving person that he even worried about the well-being of his animals, who depended upon him for food and protection. Thus, putting up those extra sukkot represented an exemplary act of kindness.
In this verse, the Bible may actually be hinting at the true purpose of the holiday of Sukkot. On Sukkot, each Jewish family builds a hut – a sukkah – that is meant not only to hold that one family, but also to host guests and friends, and anyone who may wish to join in the celebration.
The holiday of Sukkot, in other words, is about sharing what is yours with others. Sukkot is about kindness and about going the extra mile for another . . . even when doing so might be inconvenient.