A Smoky Sukkot

(Image from the SF Chronicle)
Rabbi Chai Levy sent her congregation, Netivot Shalom, this email as we begin Sukkot and it spoke to my heart. Sukkot is my favorite holiday and I have to forgo it this year – at least in the ways I usually celebrate.

There’s a Talmudic debate about the biblical mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah “in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev 23:42). What was the nature of the sukkot of the desert? Rabbi Akiva argues that they were actual booths, while Rabbi Eliezer understands the sukkot to be the “Clouds of Glory.” Indeed, we observe the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah both as living in actual booths and experiencing the sheltering Divine Presence.

But what about when the air quality prevents us from spending time in our sukkot? AQI is in the red unhealthy zone today, and poor air quality may continue during Sukkot. Halacha allows for leaving the sukkah in the case of rain or other (subjectively determined) discomforts. If the air quality is unhealthy or uncomfortable for you to dwell in the sukkah, you might choose to make kiddush and say brachot in your sukkah and then eat your meal inside.

For many of us, Sukkot is a favorite holiday, and this year, between the poor air quality and not sharing our sukkah with guests, or not being invited to another’s sukkah, due to the pandemic, we are feeling disappointed. Indeed, with everything we are experiencing, Sukkot is not quite the same joyous festival this year. I want to share this prayer for those not in a sukkah this year  – May we find shelter in the Clouds of Glory, whether or not we spend Sukkot in an actual sukkah.