A Fresh Look at An Ancient World
In 1990, it the behest of the acclaimed astronomer Carl Sagan, NASA turned the camera’s of Voyager 1 to face earth. In a photograph captured from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers, Earth's apparent size is less than a pixel – one pixel out 640000. The planet appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight scattered by the camera's optics.
This picture was famously referred to as “The Pale Blue Dot.” Carl Sagan, remarked about it:
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
This perspective is overwhelming and difficult to imagine. It’s a fact of our existence, but one which we feel uncomfortably small considering. The truth is that we, human beings are not comfortable with the powers of nature much closer to home. We, alone amongst the species of our planet, have spent our history inventing marvelous and miraculous ways to avoid experiencing the natural world.
Air conditioning, heating and screens. Umbrellas, raincoats, boots and seat warmers built into our cars. Of course, these are primarily a function of comfort, but in a much deeper way, they also serve to alleviate our fears of inadequacy in the face of natural power. A power, that Hurricanes and storms remind us of all too clearly.
Our disconnect from the natural word allows us the disillusion of thinking that we are far more invincible than we actually are.
The Beis Yaakov of Izbitz explains that this disillusionment is part of a larger concern of human kind. We do not enjoy staring our inadequacies in the face – we don’t like looking at our weaknesses head on. So we hide from our own smallness. We create spaces where we can be content, comfortable and secure, and at all costs, we avoid stepping outside of those bubbles. And there’s good reason for it too. On a psychological level, it could be quite dangerous to expose oneself so completely to the totality of the universe.
So Hashem gives us Chag HaSukkos. It comes after the Yamim Noraim; at time where we’ve done some serious reflection and introspection and have begun taking the necessary steps to change those things about ourselves that we’re not so proud of.
With this fresh perspective, Hashem asks us to step outside of the comfort zone expose ourselves – not too much, just a little. And this idea is reflected in all the halachos of Sukkah.
We need a structure that is temporary, but one that provides shade. A structure in which one can feel the rain, and see the stars. The roof is all natural and it cannot be so high that we forget where we’re sitting.
The goal of leaving our homes, and entering the Sukkah is to get in touch with our vulnerabilities. To reconnect with the natural world, and thereby recognize our own smallness.
The Sukkah provides an opportunity to open ourselves to an encounter with the Master of the Universe, Creator of Heaven and Earth. We’re stripping away a layer of hubris and invincibility and acknowledging that we have more to achieve, more to grow and greater distance to cover.
But ultimately, the purpose of it all is to recognize that nothing is possible without Hashem. All of our brilliance, ingenuity and creativity is meaningless without His desire for us to be here. The Sukkah is a week-long demonstration that despite the vastness of universe, Hashem cares about me and you.