This morning I have an interesting Sukkot related question: Have you ever heard of a drive-thru Sukkah?
If you had asked me a week ago I would have answered “no” but apparently they do exist and the trend seems to be growing. Starting with the first drive-thru Sukkah in 2009, today there are several available around the country. The premise behind a drive-thru Sukkah seems to be that it is a way for a Jewish person to experience the holiday of Sukkot in a way that works with a busy life schedule. You pull up to the Sukkah in your car, drive inside, and during some of the hours a volunteer will help you say the blessings for Sukkot and maybe provide a snack. Most congregations and groups with a drive-thru Sukkah understand this is non-traditional and a bit gimmicky but feel it serves a legitimate need, connecting people with God and Jewish tradition in a modern context.
Now I don’t know what your reaction is to the idea of a Drive-thru Sukkah, but my immediate reaction was to find the whole idea rather disgusting. But then I thought to myself, “why is this so disgusting to me? Why does this just seem so wrong?” As I thought about why I was so repulsed by this concept I was brought back to my own first Sukkah experience.
My first experience with a Sukkah and Sukkot was when I was around 8 years old and still attending Reform Hebrew School. I remember being herded with my classmates to see the Sukkah that was built outside. It was very similar to the one we build here at Shema, made from wood and with an open side. When we entered the Sukkah I remember being surprised by how it was decorated and that there was a dinner table inside. I learned that we were to eat meals and generally spend time in this place. We were taught how the roof of the Sukkah needed to be made from loose leafy materials like palm leaves, and that you were supposed to be able to see the stars when looking up. A sukkah roof was also to be open enough for rain to come in.
I also remember how fragile the Sukkah was and how many times we were told to be careful inside.
While my Hebrew school was very good at explaining how to do Jewish traditions, we did not spend much in Scripture. It was only years later I would read the command for building the Sukkah in Leviticus 23:42-43: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The command to build a Sukkah, a temporary place to live, is directly tied to the Exodus from Egypt and our 40 years wandering in the desert.
In the harsh wilderness our people wandered in they did not have time to build permanent houses. Instead, we lived in a temporary way, which could easily be taken down and moved as the Lord instructed us where to go.
We were completely dependent on God to provide for our needs in the wilderness, including weather that would not destroy these homes.
The command to dwell in the Sukkah is therefore an eternal reminder of how life was like for us in the wilderness and to remind us to be grateful for the lives and dwellings we enjoy today. During Sukkot it is not uncommon to have to rebuild the Sukkah, whether from a strong wind knocking it down or some other force of nature. In this way the Sukkah shows us the temporary nature of life in this world and invites us to pause and contemplate our lives in relation to our Creator. The Sukkah is a natural metaphor for our lives in this world, temporary and often chaotic as the forces of life bear down upon us.
When considering the history and meaning behind the Sukkah I understood why this modern idea seemed so wrong, it completely deadens any real connection to our wilderness experience and the temporary nature of our lives.
Instead, there is a climate controlled buffer that deadens this potential connection to the Lord. How can you see the stars through a sukkah roof when looking up at the top of your vehicle? How can you remember what Adonai did for our people in the wilderness when you have to speed through to accommodate the line of cars behind you? Doesn’t our Creator deserve more than this?
This is why I found the whole idea so distasteful; Adonai, the Creator of all life, deserves more from us then drive-thru observances. Modern life, with its numerous technologies, can easily make us numb to everything around us. We can become so caught up in the pursuit of things that we forget that one day it will all end and we will stand before the Lord.
Considering our lives as fragile and temporary goes against how many of us choose to live today. We want to believe that we have total control over our lives that sickness and tragedy may happen to other people but can never happen to us. We spend a large amount of effort to appear to be fine to those around us.
Online and in our conversations we can fall into the trap of creating a false image of what is happening day to day. We pretend, even to ourselves, that everything is fine as we are bent over by the suffering in this life. The easiest place to observe how technology can deaden us to God and our lives is through social media online. Many of us are guilty of making our profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have just the right pictures, say just the right things, and share only the positive things that we want people to know about us. We care more about what other people think then Adonai. Our lives are Sukkahs, but if they are not sustained by God they will eventually collapse to the suffering of life in this world.
The Sukkahs of our lives can easily coming crashing down from outside forces. The storms and winds of our lives come in the forms of pain, disease, and brokenness. We experience these things in our homes, in our friendships, and in our romantic pursuits. We live in an age where we can instantly communicate around the world but depression and loneliness continue to persist and grow. Our science and technology promises to fix and sooth all the storms of this life, but can only prop up our lives for a time, until everything comes crashing down.
King David understood the real temporariness of life. One passage I come back to when thinking on this subject is Psalm 39:4-7:
Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
In comparison to the eternality of God, our lives are but a breath, we are born and then we die, and the time between is so very short. We may feel our lives are secure, that we will live a very long life, but it is all just a breath. For all our technology and science the years of our lives remain 70 or 80, the same as the time of Moses.
Of all the verses in Psalm 39, it is verse 6 that resonates with me the most strongly: “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.”
It is so very easy to live our lives like phantoms, lives that are without any real depth, chasing after things like money, power, love and respect of others that all fades. So many live in a constant rush and panic. Afraid they are falling behind everyone else around them. Afraid that people are getting more stuff, have more respect and love and are so much happier than they are. The science of our use of technology backs this all up. If you use Facebook and other services to connect with friends or family it can be a positive benefit in your life. But if you use it to monitor people from afar, to lurk and watch, you most likely become more depressed as you become envious of what may appear to be a better life than yours.
So if our lives are indeed temporary and flimsy like a Sukkah, subject to the forces of life in this fallen world what are we to do? King David understood that the only hope for life in this world was in the Lord. Only by knowing God and being in a real relationship with Him can you survive life in this world.
Sukkot is a time to remember the fact that we only survived in the wilderness because of the Lord and the only way we can survive in the wilderness of this life is also with the Lord. Sitting in the Sukkah allows us to relax, to take a breath, and know that the Lord is in control.
The reality of life is that each one of us will die, and everything on this Earth will eventually fade away, our lives, our money, and everything else we chase after that is not the things of God. The only way to connect with the Lord, to have a real relationship with Him, is through Messiah Yeshua.
When we turn our lives over to Adonai a real transformation happens. We will still experience suffering in this fallen world and we may fall down because of it, but the Lord will rebuild and sustain us. Just as the Lord lead us through the wilderness to the Promised Land, so He will lead us through the wilderness of this life to the promise of everlasting life with Him.
I began this message with a question and I would like to end it with another: Have you chosen to follow the Lord’s way or your own?
If we choose to follow the Lord then He will radically transform and reprioritize our lives. Through the Holy Spirit and His Word, Adonai reveals where we have fallen short and causes us to let go of the relentless pursuit of treasures in this life, instead seeking eternal treasures in Heaven. We will also experience the peace of God, which sustains and rebuilds us through the trials of life.
Or we can choose to follow our own way. We can choose to create our own faith, to mix in whatever spirituality we want and worship an idol of our own creation. Instead of stopping and turning to Him as He desires, we can try to invent a way to do His Will while serving our own. Drive-Thru Sukkahs, Churches, and Synagogues are just some of the results of this path. Eventually life will break us down and we will experience the eternal consequences of turning away from our Creator.
So again I ask: Have you chosen to follow the Lord’s way or your own?
I pray that each of us chooses God and gives the Lord the first and best in our lives. I also pray we all avoid the temptation of empty observances and using things to distract us from our need for Adonai. May we all remember what the Lord has done for our people in the past, is doing now in our lives, and look forward to eternal life with Him.