The Sukkah of Shalom

4.24.2022. An excerpt from Laurence Freeman, OSB, "Depth," LIGHT WITHIN (New York: Crossroad, 1986) p. 107.

Love creates vulnerability, the vulnerability of compassion or unconditional commitment. Maturely, we also have to learn to be resilient because being vulnerable will mean that we are wounded and we mustn’t allow being wounded to close us up again. That particular balance between vulnerability and resilience is part of the unique intellectual, psychological, spiritual amalgam that a human being is.  Each one starts from a different kind of imbalance but all are called to the same balance and centrality, the same rootedness in Christ who was wounded but who was resilient in the transcendence of forgiveness.

After meditation: an excerpt from Rabbi Arthur Waskov, “The Sukkah of Shalom,” The Nation, September 20, 2004, p. 24.

In 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Jewish community celebrated the harvest festival of Sukkot. Many did so by building a sukkah—a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, since it lasts for only a week each year. Vulnerable in space, since its roof must be not only leafy but leaky enough to let in the starlight and gusts of wind and rain. 

In our evening prayers throughout the year, just as we prepare to lie down in vulnerable sleep, we plead with God, “Spread over us Your sukkah of shalom—of peace and safety.”

Why does the prayer plead for a sukkah of shalom, rather than a temple or fortress or palace of shalom, which would surely be safer and more secure? Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable. For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness.

But the sukkah reminds us: we are in truth all vulnerable. If as the prophet Dylan sang, “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall,” it will fall on all of us. [ . . . .] We all live in a sukkah. Even the widest oceans, the mightiest buildings, the wealthiest balance sheets, the most powerful weapons cannot shield us. 

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: it is a statement of truth, like the law of gravity. However much and in whatever way I love my neighbor, that will turn out to be the way I love myself. 

The choice we face is broader than politics, deeper than charity. It is whether we see the world chiefly as property to be controlled, defined by walls and fences that must be built ever higher, ever thicker, ever tougher; or made up chiefly of an open weave of compassion and connection, open sukkah to open sukkah. Hope comes from raising that simple truth to visibility We must spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.

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