Sukkot: Celebrating magically protected dwellings
We read a lot in the Harry Potter series about magically protected houses and other places. Hogwarts is magically protected against unwanted entry or other harm to the students inside. The Order headquarters is protected against even being seen. The Quidditch Cup stadium magically causes muggles coming nearby to remember other things they have to do. And so on, for many houses and other places throughout the series.
The Torah tells us that G-d gave the Jewish people magically (Divinely) protected houses as well, during our 40 journey through the desert from Egypt to the Holy Land of Israel.
Wednesday night begins the holiday of Sukkot (aka Sukkos) which remembers the "Sukkah" booths (huts) that the Jewish people lived in for these 40 years in the desert. To celebrate Sukkot, Jews traditionally build Sukkos in their yards or porches, and spend a week eating in them and generally living in them as much as possible. As the Torah says, "You should sit in Sukkos for seven days... Because I (G-d) caused you to live in Sukkos...."
On the surface, leaving our houses to spend time in a Sukkah is a simple memorial act. We're remembering the Sukkos that the Jews lived in. And we show our dedication by being willing to leave comfortable air-conditioned and heated houses to eat in our Sukkos.
But if we look more closely at Sukkot, we'll see that what we're in fact celebrating isn't just life in a flimsier dwelling, but rather the Divine magical protection that we received during that time.
The Vilna Gaon asked a simple but profound question about the holiday of Sukkot: Why are we celebrating it now? The Jews started living in Sukkos immediately after the Exodous from Egypt, so we should really celebrate a holiday remembering the Sukkos right after Passover.
He answered this question by detailing the sequence of events after the exodous from Egypt. The Jews left Egypt at Passover time, and immediately started living in Sukkos, and received G-d's Divine protection from the Egyptians (and the elements) in the form of the "clouds of glory." 49 days later was the giving of the Torah, followed unfortunately by the sin of the golden calf. Among the consequences of the sin of the golden calf was that the clouds of glory left, leaving the Jews ezposed to dangers of the desert. The Jews repented, Moses prayed for G-d to forgive them, and on Yom Kippur G-d proclaimed that He forgave the sin. A few days later, the clouds of glory, representing G-d's protection, returned.
So we see something interesting here. Sukkot isn't just remembering the Sukkos. This we would do in the spring right after Passover. Rather, Sukkos is remembering G-d giving us back His Divine magical protection on our dwellings. To celebrate this, we brave the elements a bit, trusting G-d to keep us comfortable.
Our Sukkah boothes, then, are a lot more like the magically-protected houses in Harry Potter's world than we might have thought. Sukkos, like Harry, Ron and Hermione's tent, rely on the Supernatural to protect them.
And on the holiday of Sukkot we're remembering magic at its finest, the magical protection we received from G-d for 40 years.
Of course, our Sukkos don't always feel so magically protected. Wind comes in, rain drips, and the sun beats down. But if we work on our simple faith and reliance on G-d, maybe we can feel some of G-d's protection, in the Sukkah and in our daily lives.
Happy Sukkot everyone!