Tonight Jews begin Sukkot, the Festival of Huts – vulnerable huts with a leafy, leaky roof –- open to the stars, the rain, the Holy Wind that breathes all life.
Traditionally, the people were to live in them, sleep in them for seven days and nights. Live for a week each fall in these most ancient, primordial homes made by early human beings –- just as we are to eat for a week, each springtime, the primordial food of human beings who had learned to manage fire: a flat, unrisen bread of flour and water, baked for eighteen minutes with no yeast, no salt, no flavoring.
Both festivals remind us of the most simple paths of living, remind us that our fancy homes of clever architecture and indoor toilets, our fancy dishes brought from five thousand miles away, may not be as solid, permanent, as these flimsy huts and barely fired foods. Billions of people in our world live in homes as flimsy, eat food as bare. Sukkot and Passover may remind us of them as well as of our earliest ancestors.
Are these the homes wherein we should be dwelling all our days? No, but remembering, experiencing them in our bodies for a moment, is a gift of life.
Every night, Jews pray to YHWH, the Holy Interbreathing of all life: “Spread over us the sukkah of shalom.” Not a fortress of invincibility, a palace of triumph and security, a temple of orderly and muttered prayer – but these huts where anything might happen. From outside, a storm. A robber. From inside, an “O!” of radical amazement at the awesome beauty, awesome terror, of the world around us. A breath of some new way of praising the One Who Breathes us.
The teaching: We, all humankind, live in fact in a sukkah, vulnerable. No great Twin Towers, no Pentacle of Power, is invincible. Only the shared knowledge of that truth can bring us peace.
When such an undefended, vulnerable building as the US consulate in Ben-Ghazi, Libya, was attacked, its officials murdered, what happened to its assailants? The citizens of Libya rallied to destroy their military base, scatter their organization of attackers, terrorists.
Out of love they acted. Love for the Ambassador who was bringing expressive love and practical love –- schools, health clinics –-to the Libyan people.
Not Drones and Bombs, but Love responding to love.
Is it impossible for a President who thinks his power is undergirded by Drones and Bombs to notice and publicly applaud the love that is a different kind of power? To reaffirm in the Ambassador’s memory that his path is the one America intends to walk?
Am I saying that violence as a path of resistance to oppressive violence and murderous attack is NEVER justified, that only nonviolence is ethical? No, I am not, though some people I respect do hold that view. I do think that under extreme circumstances, violence in a society’s self-defense may be necessary. But I think that far more often, the use of what is claimed to be self-defensive violence turns out to spark another round of far more violence, whereas creative, persistent nonviolence –- practical love — can often, not always, end tyranny and terrorism.
Martin Luther King defined both our goal and the means to get there: The Beloved Community, brought about by a revolution of values. In our generation, he said, “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.” The closer we can come to embodying that practice in our present, the closer we will come to achieving that vision of the future.
Tonight and every night and every dawning, You Who are the Interbreathing of all life, spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.