by Daniel R. Weiss, Head of School
The weather is FINALLY turning cooler and our fifth and eighth grade students took to the outdoors yesterday to build our school Sukkah. It is such a festive time at school, knowing that next week, students and our teachers will use our beautiful Sukkah for both Jewish and general studies classes, for eating lunch together as Mishpachot (families) or just for hanging with friends during recess. Together, our students will experience the lessons of Sukkot.
We find one such lesson in the contrast between last week’s parsha, Vayelech, and this week’s parsha, Haazinu.
Last week in Vayelech, Moshe is commanded to write a song for the Jewish people. The Hebrew word for song, which is only found a handful of times in the Torah, is שירה, shira. We learn from the recounting of the Jews crossing the sea during the exodus from Egypt that they sang a song—the Az Yashir, as it is known which is from the book of Shmot.
Then sang Moshe and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto the LORD, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.
א אָז יָשִׁיר-מֹשֶׁה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לַיה..וָה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לֵאמֹר: אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה כִּי-גָאֹה גָּאָה, סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם.
But our lesson here is drawn not from the content of the song (though there are plenty of lessons there too), rather from the layout of this song in the Torah which is different than the typical appearance of text in the scroll.
Some commentators suggest that the text looks like the laying of bricks, with one row staggered over another symbolizing the life left behind by the Jews as they exited a life of brick making as slaves in Egypt.
In contrast to the layout of the Az Yashir, in this week’s Parsha, Haazinu, we read Moshe’ farewell poem. The poem’s appearance in the Torah is different than the layout of the regular text found on a week-to-week basis. But it is also different than the layout of the song from the book of Shmot. Moshe’s farewell to the People of Israel is written over the course of two columns, but each column is itself broken into two columns.
So what is the connection between these two songs and the holiday of Sukkot which begins this coming Sunday evening?
A Sukkah is a temporary home. It is one that we build only for a week. Thus, it is not like the structures the Jews built in Egypt out of bricks which were intended to be strong and permanent. Structures built of bricks are meant to withstand the test of time and the elements (and sometimes even the big bad wolf). They have at least four walls and a sturdy roof. They are a place to take refuge and to feel safe.
A Sukkah seemingly has the opposite purpose. It cannot have four walls and we are supposed to feel the elements from outside, be they rain, extreme cold, or extreme heat. Much like the two columns found in Parshat Haazinu this week, a Sukkah remains open. Yet it still provides a layer of protection.
A Sukkah, no matter how unique or creative it may look, is built to remind us of our dependency on God for protection. Ray LaMontagne, in his song Be Here Now, reminds us of the connection between the building of a Sukkah and our faith in God (though his song was not written for that express purpose); “Don’t lose your faith in me; And I will try not to lose faith in you; Don’t put your trust in walls; ‘Cause walls will only crush you when they fall.”
And although our Sukkah is temporary, there are still rules for building it, things like the allowable height of the walls, where it can be placed and the type of roof that can be used.
At Bornblum, these rules are not just taught for their Judaic studies value, but they are experienced when students integrate Jewish living with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (the principles behind S.T.E.A.M.). For example, after our Sukkah is built, our sixth grade students, who have been learning about the rules for what makes a kosher or valid Sukkah, will measure and make sure that we have correctly fulfilled our obligations in the building of the school’s Sukkah. In learning about and building the Sukkah, our students employed scientific methods and applied concepts in technology, engineering and mathematics. And it is their amazing art that illuminates our Sukkah with beauty, making it special and unique.
I wish you and your family a Chag Samayach, a very happy holiday.