Sukkah and the World Trade Center
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
When the Jewish community celebrates
the harvest festival, we build a sukkah.
What is a sukkah? Just a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the
most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, where it lasts for only
a week each year. Vulnerable in space, where its roof must be not only
leafy but leakyletting in the starlight, and gusts of wind
In the evening prayers, we plead with GodUfros alenu sukkat
shlomekhaSpread over all of us Your sukkah of shalom.
Why a sukkah?Why does the prayer plead to God for a sukkah
of shalom rather than Gods tent or house
or palace of peace?
Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable.
For much of our lives we have tried to achieve peace and safety by
building with steel and concrete and toughness: Pyramids, air-raid
World Trade Centers. Hardening what might be targets and, like Pharaoh,
hardening our hearts against what is foreign to us. But the sukkah
to remind us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If a hard rains
a-gonna fall, it will fall on all of us.
Americans have felt invulnerable. The oceans, our wealth, our military
power have made up what seemed an invulnerable shield. Yet on September
11th the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah.
Not only the targets of attack, but also the instruments of attack
were sleek transcontinental airlinersamong our proudest possessions.
They availed us of nothing. Worse than nothing.
Even the greatest oceans do not shield us; even the mightiest buildings
do not shield us; even the wealthiest balance sheets and the most powerful
weapons do not shield us.
There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in
fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I
do myself is not an admonition to be nice: It is a statement of truth
like the law of gravity. For my neighbor and myself are interwoven. If
I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me.
What is the lesson, when we learn that weall of uslive
in a sukkah? How do we make such a vulnerable house into a place
of peace and security and harmony and wholeness?
The lesson is that only a world where we all recognize our vulnerability
can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other
communities. And only such a world can prevent such acts of rage and murder.
If I treat my neighbors pain and grief as foreign, I will end up
suffering when my neighbors pain and grief curdle into rage.
But if I realize that in simple fact the walls between us are full of
holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection.
Suspicion about the perpetrators of this act has fallen upon some groups
that espouse a tortured version of Islam. Whether or not this turns out
to be so, America must open its heart and mind to the pain and grief of
those in the Arab and Muslim worlds who feel excluded, denied, unheard,
This does not mean ignoring or forgiving whoever wrought such bloodiness.
They must be found and brought to trial, without killing still more
and wrecking still more the fragile sukkot of lawfulness.
Their violence must be halted. And we must reach beyond themto
calm the rage that gave them birth by addressing the pain from which
From festering pools of pain and rage sprout the plague of terrorism.
For some reason, some people think we must choose between addressing
plague, or addressing the pools that give it birth. But we can do
we focus our attention on these two distinct tasks.
To go to war against whole nations does neither. It will not apprehend
the guilty for trial, and probably not even seriously damage their networks.
It will not drain the pools of pain and rage; it is far more likely to
add to them.
There have been two centuries of Western colonization and neo-colonial
support for oppressive regimes in much of the Muslim world. What does
the U.S. need to do to encourage grass-roots support for those elements
of Islam that seek to renew the tradition? How do we reward not top-down
regimes that make alliances with our own global corporations to despoil
the planet, but grass-roots religious and cultural and political communities
that seek to control their own resources in ways that nurture the earth?
How do we welcome Muslim societies fully into the planetary community?
How do we encourage the emergence of a peaceful relationship between Israel
and a viable, peaceful Palestine?
Of course not every demand put forward by the poor and desperate and disempowered
becomes legitimate, just because it is an expression of pain. But we must
open our hearts to ask: Have we ourselves had a hand in creating the pain?
Can we act to lighten it without increasing the over-all amount of pain
in the world?
Instead of entering upon a war of civilizations, we must
pursue a planetary peace.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow is Director of the Shalom Center (see www.shalomctr.org)
and the author of Godwrestling, Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths
(Jewish Lights Publishers). Reprinted with kind permission from the author.