Ever wonder how the ancient Jews lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert?
When the Jews left Egypt, God commanded that they wander in the desert until the original slave generation had died out, leaving mature younger people with the free man’s mentality. Making and breaking camp often, circling the arid Sinai desert with only an occasional interruption from fractious Philistines, how did that vast community survive?
Miracles occurred every day, so that eventually the supernatural became commonplace. Manna and quails appeared on the ground every morning, for sustenance. A well of pure water accompanied them in their wanderings – Miriam’s Well, which is said to exist still, in the depths of the Sea of Galilee. And the Clouds of Glory.
The Clouds surrounded the Jewish encampment, shielding the community from enemies and vermin like snakes and scorpions. Natural weather conditions held no sway inside encampment; it was always fair and pleasant for the Jews as they traveled. It’s said that where the Clouds of Glory rested, the ground leveled out and was made comfortable.
Many families have the custom of hanging up a little decorated sign in the sukkah that reads, “In commemoration of the Clouds of Glory.” Sitting in the sukkah, enjoying meals, receiving guests, and sleeping in it if possible, are part of the mitzvah commanded in Leviticus 23:42: “In sukkot you shall dwell, seven days.” It is the only mitzvah that physically envelopes a Jew, surrounding her or him on all sides with holiness, like the Clouds of Glory.
As Karin remarked in this post, the sukkah levels the differences between people. Rich and poor alike abandon the never-ceasing pursuit of material gain to live in simplicity for a week, in a temporary shelter whose very roof must allow a glimpse of the stars.
For after all – don’t we all live in temporary shelters?
More on the Sukkot festival from Green Prophet:
- Jews judged for water on Sukkot
- Sukkot, the Jewish environment holiday
- Learn how to eat the ancient way on Sukkot
Image of clouds by Dave Jackson via Flickr.