Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha Spread over us the shelter of Your peace
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ייְָ, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת
Baruch atah Adonai, ha-tov shimcha ul’cha na-eh l’hodot.
Blessed are you Eternal One, Your name is Goodness and You are worthy of thanksgiving.
These words form the chatimah, or seal, at the end of the Hoda’ah prayer, the second closing benediction of the Amidah (Modim Anachnu Lach). It is natural for us to go about our daily lives scarcely noticing the many blessings that we have each and every day. The words of the Hoda’ah remind us that we are surrounded by miracles and blessings – our lives, our health, our families and friends, our work in this world. The words of this prayer remind us to pause and notice them, to take a moment and lift our eyes up to see the beauty that is in this world, to feel the sun on our face, the wind in our hair, to see the beauty of autumn’s splendid palette of colors as the leaves float down to the ground.
From the sounds of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we have moved into the shelter of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah is a simple structure. It provides a shelter from some of the elements, while letting others, such as wind and rain, come in through the roof. In the Sukkah we can see the stars. In the Sukkah we can appreciate the wonders of nature, and the fragility of life.
The sixth tractate of the second division of the Mishnah (rabbinic commentary on the Torah, 200CE) is called Sukkah. The very first verses give a detailed description of how to build a Sukkah:
- It must be less than 30 feet high.
- The walls must be strong enough to withstand ordinary wind gusts.
- The shade offered by the roof of the Sukkah should be able to block most of the sun’s rays while allowing the stars to be visible at night.
- There must be at least three walls, made of any material.
- The Sukkah must be a temporary structure.
- It is a mitzvah to eat one’s meals in the Sukkah.
- While it is a mitzvah to live in the Sukkah as much as possible, you are not obligated to sleep in eat, especially in colder climates. And if it is raining hard enough that there is more water than soup in your bowl, you may finish your meal indoors.
- The Sukkah can be decorated with fruits, vegetables, and art projects.
- There is no minimum size, but the Sukkah must be large enough for at least one person.
It is a mitzvah to build your own Sukkah and live in it during the week of Sukkot. It’s also a mitzvah to wave the lulav and etrog, and to invite guests to join you in the Sukkah.
When we spend time in the Sukkah, we get a unique chance to experience the natural world. We feel wind and rain, hot and cold. We see the sun and the moon and stars through the schach, and as we eat our meals we are joined by bugs and bees, and sometimes birds and squirrels. We become closer to nature and are reminded of our interdependence with all that lives and grows.
Living in the Sukkah connects us to our ancestors who left the protection of secure roofs to journey forward in the time of the Exodus towards freedom. They placed themselves under God’s protection, the only true source of protection and security
ופרש עלינו סכת שלומך Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Sh’lomecha (Spread over us the shelter of Your peace).
When we pray the words of Hoda’ah and give thanks for the miracles that we experience each and every day, we realize that we cannot take them for granted. Life is too precious, and these gifts are too important to notice them only when they are gone. Our daily recitation of the words of the Hoda’ah can lead us to a practice of being aware and appreciative of the miracles that surround us each day, and to also make it a practice of expressing our gratitude to God and to our loved ones.
At this season of thanksgiving, we are thankful for the daily miracles that surround us each day. As our awareness of them grows, may we be changed, lifted up, and transformed.
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack is the rabbi of Temple Israel in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is on the executive board of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, a founding member of the Indiana Voices of Women leadership and spirituality group, and a writer of feminist midrash who enjoys singing and playing guitar.