June 2, 2024
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‘Sukkat Shlomecha’: The Connection Between Sukkah and Peace?

I am often thinking about peace, shalom.

As a kohen, this is the ultimate tri-part blessing that we seek to bestow on our community. But this is not just for special occasions or temple proclamations, as the blessing of peace is the ultimate blessing in many of our daily prayers, such as kaddish (“oseh shalom…”), Shemoneh Esrei (“sim shalom”) and the blessing after meals (“… Hashem yivarech et amo bashalom”).

Even more so, on a daily basis, in my office, as a mediator, collaborative family lawyer and conflict resolution trainer, this is the goal that I try to help families who find themselves splitting up by divorce or other conflicts, achieve. For me, shalom takes on a very practical and concrete meaning and purpose.

My quest for understanding and implementing shalom has made me wonder about the connection between shalom and Sukkot. Every evening (and three times on Friday nights and holidays), between Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, we reference “Sukkat Shlomecha,” God’s sukkah of Peace, in the bracha hashkiveinu. What is the connection between sukkah and shalom? If anything, sitting in a flimsy booth would be the farthest structure in which I feel any sense of peace.

While I have seen multiple attempts to answer this question (and if you have others, I welcome you letting me know, [email protected]), here are four answers that particularly resonate with me:

1) Rav Kook1 asks why pray for a sukkah of peace? Would it not be better to have a “fortress of peace”—strong, secure and lasting? Rav Kook notes that according to Jewish law, even an imperfect sukkah is still a kosher sukkah. A sukkah can have gaping holes, it can be built with little more than two walls, crooked walls, and it can have large spaces between the walls and in the roof. Yet, such a fragile and imperfect structure remains a kosher sukkah.

The same is true with shalom. Shalom is so precious, so vital that even if we are not able to attain complete perfect peace, we should still pursue any partial measure of peace. Imperfect peace between neighbors, spouses and family members remains worthwhile.

2) From a spiritual/Chasidut2 understanding, the sukkah is the physical representation of God’s presence which surrounds us on the heels of Yom Kippur, and which we dwell in during this holiday (which is why we celebrate in Tishrei, after Yom Kippur, as opposed to in Nissan). Just as God makes peace between the opposing forces of fire and water to make the heavens (אש + מים = שמים), we pray that God should make peace in this world.

In God’s presence, opposites are united. While we often experience each other as opposites, that feeling of opposition can only last as long as we maintain separate identities from God. But just as opposing officers are nullified when standing before the king—because they feel powerless, as mere extensions of the king’s will—so, too, when God’s presence is revealed, what seemed like opposites are felt to be just aspects of God’s Infinite Light. In experiencing God’s light after Yom Kippur, in the physical representation of God’s presence in the sukkah, opposites coincide and paradoxes are maintained with shalom, Sukkat Shlomecha.

3) From a psychological (and mediation) perspective, when we sit outside of our concrete, secure homes in the flimsy booths under the vast sky, the hot sun or shining stars, subject to nature (which after Hurricane Ida, many of us feel even in our concrete homes) we are all humbled with the feeling of our shared vulnerability. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,3zt”l, has pointed out, Sukkot is the festival of insecurity. Sitting with others, sharing this common human sense of vulnerability, has the power to bring us closer together. Yes, we have our differences. Yes, each one of us at the table has different views, different strengths and weaknesses. And, yet, we also all share certain commonalities and vulnerabilities (especially felt during this ongoing pandemic).

This is something that I see every day in my conflict resolution work. Different people come in with different views, different positions and perspectives, but when given enough attention and understanding to what is really important to each side we learn that underneath each side’s perspective is an attempt to address his or her needs. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provided a helpful frame, dividing our human needs into: 1) Basic needs (physiological, such as food, water and warmth, and safety needs, such as security); 2) Psychological needs (such as belonging, community and esteem); and 3) Self Fulfillment needs (such as self-actualization).

Whether someone lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills or in a mud hut in Afghanistan, what we humans all have in common are some basic fundamental needs. Sitting in a state of insecurity with the flimsy protection of Sukkat Shlomecha, we are reminded of these basic needs and our common humanity, creating a sense of shalom between ourselves and others with whom we differ.

4) Rabbi Sacks: Exploring the theme of insecurity, Rabbi Sacks3 points out that as God freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, there was a deeper freedom he sought for us. With a spirit of democracy and conflict resolution, Rabbi Sacks pointed out that true freedom requires the ability to live with insecurity. On an interpersonal level, “it means making space for other people to express their freedom in different, unpredictable ways. It means not seeking to turn those around you into clones of yourself or servants of your will.”

Sukkot is a time to appreciate our differences, just as the Shabbat candles help to create an environment of peace, appreciating the boundaries of the different people around our table and in our home to create an environment of shabbat shalom. On a more macro level, Rabbi Sacks wrote that “Sukkot is the festival of a people who know they will never be entirely safe, surrounded as they are by larger, stronger nations, assaulted as they have so often been for having the courage to be different.” For us, sitting in the sukkah is all the security we need, being in Sukkat Shlomecha, in God’s presence, which is the spiritual security in the midst of our physical vulnerability.

However, one understands the meaning and connection between Sukkot and shalom, I hope that the ideas shared by this conflict resolution professional will help enhance your Sukkot experience, sitting with your friends and family in Sukkat Shlomecha. Notwithstanding the value of the holiday’s message of our vulnerability, may we soon all feel a greater sense of security and stability in a healthy, happy and peaceful new year.


Adam Berner specializes in mediation and collaborative family law, is the owner of the Berner Law & Mediation Group, with offices in Hackensack and Manhattan. As a leading practitioner in the family dispute resolution field for the past 25+ years he has served as president of the Family & Divorce Mediation Council of New York and founding president of the New Jersey Collaborative Law Group. In addition to his private practice, Adam is a mediation trainer and adjunct professor at YU’s Cardozo School of Law where he teaches mediation and collaborative law.


 

Additional information can be found at www.MediationOffices.com  or calling at 201-836-0777.

1 Adopted from Mo’adei HaRe’iyah p. 97, quoted from R. Chanan Morrison’s Silver from the Land of Israel. I thank our friend, CB Neugroschl, who first pointed this out to me in her article in YU’s Torah To-Go Series, Tishrei 5755.

2 I thank Rabbi Shmuel Braun for sharing this insight with me. (I hope I did it justice.)

3 See his introduction to the Sukkot Mahzor, page lvii.

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