600 Peachtree Battle Ave. NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30327
RAISING THE FALLEN SUCCAH
Hara’cha’mon (may the Merciful One, i.e. God) lift up the fallen Succah of David…. [Addition to the Grace after Meals during Succot]
This simple prayer, taken literally, makes no sense. Presumably David refers to King David, but what is meant by his “fallen Succah?” In addition why is this prayer recited on Succot?
The Midrash notes that David’s fallen Succah, refers to the kingdom of the House of David that no longer exists. Although David was assured by God that his kingdom will continue through the generations, it came to a tragic end with the destruction of the First Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian legions. The Midrash would thus have us pray for the restoration of this kingdom that will occur with the advent of Messianic times to be ushered in by the Messiah, the descendant of David. We recall this Divine promise on Succot while we gather in the Succah, the structure that by its very nature is transitory. To my mind the prayer as interpreted by the Midrash is a commentary on the very nature and responsibilities of a nation.
Firstly, the Succah is not a permanent structure. It is dismantled after the festival, and the message to nations and their governments is that while they are here today, they may well be gone by tomorrow. Yesterday’s great empires, Babylon, Persia/Medea, Rome to mention but three giants in their day have been swept into history’s dustbin. In our day we have seen the very short life span of the Nazi led Third Reich and of the post Czarist Communist Soviet Union, although these nations were tragically successful in murdering, torturing and subjugating large populations. Yet as structures they were very much like the Succah. Obviously we continue to pray for the destruction of other evil empires: Iran, North Korea to name but two.
The second requirement of the Succah is that it must be open to the sky. This symbolizes that we are not to close ourselves off from the outside world, but are rather to be responsive to those in need. Our Succah prevents us from being insulated from the outside world and its many demands and needs.
This is a challenge to every nation. Every government must embrace a social ethic that provides a net for the vulnerable in its midst. It must be ready and willing to extend its hand to nations and communities that have endured great trauma (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods) that have resulted in very significant need.
Israel, today, is not the restored Davidic kingdom. It is, however, a society that struggles to care for its needy populations and has also extended itself to help other nations. One striking example was the amazingly quick response following the earthquake in Haiti. We can also be proud of the massive relief provided by the American government to other nations in need.
Finally there is the rich ushpizin tradition when we “invite” our Biblical ancestors to join us in the Succah. This symbolic invitation expresses our awareness of the ancients who by their example and devotion became the models for us as individuals and for our societies. Traditionally the “invitees” included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob along with Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon. The contemporary ushpizin texts have been expanded to include women (the Matriarchs along with Miriam and Deborah) as an affirmation of their contribution to molding our people.
The question justifiably posed to any nation and society is "Who are your heroes?" Who are the men and women whose lives are glorified in story, song and art? We are disturbed by the ongoing veneration of Yasser Arafat who was a terrorist and whose followers engaged in suicide bombings, airplane hijackings and other criminal acts. We are also disturbed by the veneration given suicide bombers who are hailed as martyrs and after whom streets, parks and summer camps are named.
In the American “national Succah” our ushpizin list includes Washington, Lincoln and in recent years Martin Luther King. We also continue to celebrate individuals of worth such as Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt. The ushpizin list for the “Israeli Succah” includes Herzl, Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and the other founders of the State.
The ushpizin list is important because the lives of these “guests” serve as models for future generations and help mold the society’s moral and cultural values. Obviously embracing “invitees” who in life defied basic morality, can accelerate a nation’s demise.
Thus our prayer for David’s fallen Succah is actually a prayer that the nations in which we live be it Israel or the United States will be mindful that there is no assurance of eternal existence, that a measure of its true worth is in its willingness to be responsive to the needs of others and also in the choice of "heroes" whose lives serve as examples of honesty and integrity. May this ancient prayer imbue us with the strength to stand for these values as citizens and voters as we share in building not only with our nation but the communities in which we live.
From the holy city of Jerusalem Rae joins me in wishing you a joyous Succot.