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    Sukkot really is serious

    Hard on the heels of Yom Kippur with its aura of grave solemnity comes Sukkot, which is z’man simchatenu – “our time of rejoicing”.

    German sukkah from the 19th century on display at the Israel Museum

    Isn’t it strange that so many who honour Yom Kippur, a difficult day which demands intense spiritual effort and personal self-denial, do not give even a passing nod to Sukkot, with its relaxed joy and kaleidoscope of colour and ceremony?

    Maybe if we told everyone that Sukkot, too, is serious and philosophical, people would take to it more. Not that emphasising the festival’s serious dimension is false to the facts, for in its own way Sukkot has a purpose and symbolism of considerable significance.

    Take for instance the building of the sukkah. It is a symbol of Divine providence and protection. It provides the antidote to those who would argue that even if there once was a God, He has played no part in history for countless centuries and has become irrelevant to human life.

    It is as if Karen Armstrong’s book, “The History of God”, were to say that for a long time now God has simply had no history.

    But Sukkot says the opposite. It affirms God’s active concern with the affairs of His creation; the sages say that He knows every one of His creatures and even every blade of grass.

    Not that Jews have always found themselves to be comfortable with the concept of providence, and at times of suffering some felt themselves let down, betrayed and abandoned by the Almighty.

    Some tried to solve the problem by moving it from the sphere of personal life to the national arena, saying that though an individual might sometimes wonder where God was, Divine providence never leaves the Jewish people as a whole.

    The traditionalist view, however, is certain that God remains concerned even for the individual, and the great statement of His providence is the last line of Adon Olam, “The Lord is with me: I will not fear”.

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