On our first day of school, our Kindergarten students stand underneath a Tallit, held up by their parents, surrounded by our entire school community, welcoming them formally to Bornblum.
The Tallit symbolizes the students’ first home; a place where they are to be protected, educated, loved, and nurtured. We stand underneath a wedding canopy, often a simple Tallit on our wedding day. The chuppah symbolizes our first home as a married couple.
It is just a roof. No walls, just a protective covering. In a few weeks, we will read the story of Abraham and Sarah, whose tent walls were always open for all to come and visit. Abraham and Sarah are known as the role models for Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests to their homes.
Tonight, we will begin the holiday of Sukkot. While we invite our friends and family to join us in our Sukkah, we also “invite” spiritual guests, known as the Ushpizin (and in many families, Ushpizot). These “guests” are personalities from the Bible. Many have the custom of inviting modern Ushpizin (Jews of stature from modern times). Our Eighth Graders this coming week will visit our school Sukkah dressed as the Ushpizim and share their stories with our students.
A Sukkah is a temporary structure. A Sukkah must have at least three walls. It must be taller than ten tefachim, handbreadths (top knuckle to bottom knuckle, about 3-4 inches). It cannot be taller than twenty amot (one amah is about 18 inches, and 20 amot is about 30 feet). These rules are to maintain the temporary status of our Sukkah. A Sukkah is covered with schach, branches that need to provide more shade than sun (implying that some sun must come in).
A Sukkah has walls but not a solid roof, while a chuppah has a full roof (cover) but no walls. Why the apparent reversal of a chuppah?
These words, which open our morning service each day, perhaps answer the question best. Each clause in the paragraph is connected to the idea of a home. Our parents bring us into this world. The first home that we are given is our mother’s womb. One of the most common examples of acts of loving-kindness is giving Tzedakah. Rambam, Maimonides, teaches that the highest level of giving Tzedakah is to help someone learn to become self-sufficient, to give them the means that they no longer need to be the recipient of Tzedakah, helping them to secure their home. Our house of study, a Beit-Midrash, or Beit Sefer (school), or Beit-Knesset (synagogue) is quite literally our home. It is where we study, learn, and grow. When we visit the sick, we bring a sense of caring and strength into their home. When we greet a bride, we are helping to usher her into her marital home, the beginning of the next phase of her life. When we bury the dead, an unrepayable deed, we are bringing one to their final resting home. When we dive into prayer and understand its meaning and purpose, we strengthen the walls that protect us. When we make peace between others, we ensure that our home will not be destroyed.
The difference between a Sukkah and a Chuppah is in the permanence. We purposefully build our Sukkah knowing that its protection is only temporary. It is around us, but not completely above us. Once Sukkot is over, we take it down and move back indoors, searching for a solid roof over our heads. On our wedding day, we recognize that there is something permanent, something that will protect us and shield us.
At Bornblum we realize that our walls may be temporary, but the Tallit that we put over our heads in Kindergarten will never be lifted. Our walls and doors are always open to guests (our Ushpizin), who are invited to visit. Our study of Torah “is equal to them all”. As long as we are building our community together, learning, and growing, we have you covered.