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    In the wilderness – Sukkot

    cloudsThere is a rabbinic debate about the Torah verse, “You shall dwell in sukkot seven days, that your generations may know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43).

    Rabbi Eliezer says that the sukkot in the wilderness were clouds of glory, whilst Rabbi Akiva holds that they were real, not virtual, huts (Sukkah 11b).

    As usual with rabbinic differences of opinion there is a deep underlying philosophy, and as often happens the contrasting opinions can both be true.

    In this case we have two differing emphases which are not mutually exclusive.

    If you ask which one is true, the answer is “both!” The sukkot mamash (“real huts”) philosophy says that one needs a physical edifice to provide protection and defence, whereas the ananei kavod (“clouds of glory”) approach argues that the best and strongest edifice will never be enough without Divine watchfulness hovering above.

    Now of course you could argue that everything could be left to God and He will protect us even if we have no walls or roof, but then He will say, “My protection is not only spiritual; look, I have given you building materials and brains, and you have to make your contribution by constructing a house”.

    On the other hand, if you suggest that human beings can manage quite well on their own and God can be left out of the loop, you will soon be reminded that physical edifices – however sturdy – can be destroyed, God forbid, and Divine care and concern are indispensable.

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