There is nothing more open and vulnerable than a sukkah. Sometimes I wonder how ours stays up for the whole week! Barely any walls, and no roof to speak of, the sukkah stands there on the back patio, daring the elements to come like the Big Bad Wolf and blow the house down. Inside the sukkah, however, it's another story. Sitting there, in the glow of Shabbat lights, food on the plates, friends in the chairs and wine on the table, it's another story. Nothing feels quite as secure as those moments.
Relationships are like that. The most important relationships in our lives are the ones that withstand the Big Bad Wolves out there, threatening to tear them asunder, no matter how vulnerable they may seem from the outside at times. Yet, what's interesting is that the more open and vulnerable they are on the inside, the way we behave with each other with trust and transparency, the stronger the structure to the outside.
No one knew God like Moses did. No one experienced God's presence like he did. He was, as Maimonides says in his Thirteen Principles, alone among the Prophets, and no Prophet was or ever will be like him. We read, "My servant Moses is… the trusted one in all My house. With him I speak peh el peh (mouth to mouth)" (Num. 11:8) And, only Moses could talk God down off the ledge, so to speak; when God repeatedly wanted to wipe out the people, only Moses could convince God otherwise. Theirs was a strong bond.
We see another side to that relationship in Exodus, however, when we see God at times pull away from Moses. Moses wants to know that all the going up and down the mountain, all the leading these recalcitrant people, is worth it. After smashing the first of the Ten Commandments on the ground, he finally asks to see God. But God wouldn't allow it; instead, Moses had to stand in the cleft of a rock and let God pass by, seeing God only from the back. (Ex. 33:12) There were now parts of God's presence closed off to Moses, at God's insistence.
Was the crack in the rock mirroring a crack in their relationship? Did this signal a change in their connection? Too long to discuss here, but it would be fascinating to explore the changes in the partnership between God and Moses from the Burning Bush to the plains of Moab as seen through the lens of vulnerability and openness between the two, and how their bond is seen from the outside.
If the connection between Moses and God did change the longer they worked together, and the closer it got to the end of their partnership, how much more so for ours? How much more so do we swing between vulnerability and solidness in our lives and those we love? What God and Moses knew, however, was that openness and vulnerability didn't mean weakness or instability. Rather, it formed the strength of their relationship.
The sukkah's strength comes from its apparent vulnerability, fragility, and openness. The sukkah lets in light and air and even a little rain, yet it still stands. When we let in the same light, air, and even a little discord, our relationships with each other, and even our entire community, are strengthened. We can withstand the pressures of the world because there are places for the winds to blow through without extinguishing the light. As Rabbi Simeon ben Eliezer says in the Talmud, "Be pliable like the reed, not rigid like the cedar." (Tanis 20b)
May your Sukkot stand strong and open this year. Chag sameach.