Parashat Emor– Erev Shabbat 6 May 2022 (5782)
Week of 1-7 May 2022
Torah portion: Leviticus 21:1-24:23 Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Theme: Shelter in the Desert
In reading this week’s Torah portion I was struck by the verse: “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the lord to last seven days.” (Lev. 23:34) The Feast of Booths, or Sukkot, is a fall festival. This year it will be observed from October 9th to 15th, so it is not immediately relevant. Despite this, I turned to The Jewish Book of Why, in order that I might read about Sukkot. This book describes and explains Jewish rituals and traditions in a question- and -answer format. A question about Sukkot is “Why is a sukka usually flimsily constructed?” Here’s the answer:
The sukkot constructed by the Israelites were hastily constructed, temporary abodes to serve as a reminder of those structures. Today’s sukkot are made of loosely assembled walls and have overhead coverings sufficiently sparse to permit the stars to be visible from within. Dwelling in these huts brings man closer to the feeling of insecurity experienced by those dwelling in the desert. (Kolatch, 238)
On reading this, I knew what had drawn me to Sukkot: phrases such as “temporary abodes”, “feeling of insecurity” and “dwelling in the desert.” In my own city of Winnipeg many people live in sukkot, especially in the winter. Many of our sukkot are permanent structures, intended to provide protection from summer rains and winter winds for people waiting for the bus. They are known as ‘bus shelters’ or ‘bus shacks’. Homeless people often spend the night in them, stretched out in their sleeping bags on the narrow benches, their shopping carts with all their worldly goods close at hand. Many ‘respectable’ people, shivering in the cold as they wait for the bus that will take them to work, resent the people occupying the shelters. My neighborhood bus shelter was in the news recently, because somebody was murdered in it.
Another question asked about Sukkot is “Why do some Jews eat and sleep in the sukka?” The answer is that they take literally the words “You shall live in booths.” So they “Interpret the word ‘live’ to mean that one should eat and sleep in the sukka not merely build it.” (Kolatch, 239) As a property owner and taxpayer I have contributed to the building of the bus shelters but I do not live in them. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I entered one while waiting for a bus. In my behavior I see a parallel to the priests in the haftarah, with their trimmed hair and linen garments, and their concerns about the people they associate with (Ezekiel 44:17-20). I’ve met street people while working in various volunteer jobs, and the experience has evoked a variety of feelings: admiration, pity and, very occasionally, fear. On such occasions they were entering into my world and following the rules set there. Yet I am reluctant to enter into their world. I’ll build the sukka. I’m not willing to live in it.
For Reflection and Discussion: I was waiting for a bus one day when a man who had just eaten lunch in a nearby church earnestly recommended it to me. “It was full of love,” he said. I thanked him for telling me. He had been given a lunch – and love – and he wanted to give something to me. He was not thinking of his world, or my world, but of the lord’s world. Recall a similar experience or experiences.
Bibliography: Kolatch, Alfred J., The Jewish Book of Why (New York: 2000)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010