One of the most enduring references to the sukkah that we build on Sukkot is found in the evening service: ufros aleynu sukkat sh’lomekha, “spread over us the sukkah (shelter) of Your peace.” What is the connection between the Divine shelter we request and the sukkah we build? One of the basic principles of rabbinic theology is that we are supposed to imitate God’s behavior. For example, as God provides the conditions that bring us food, clothing and shelter, so should we provide food, clothing and shelter to those who need it. As God is the healer, so should we ensure medical care and emotional support are available to those who need it.
What should we deduce about how people should act from the fact that we pray to God to spread that sukkah of peace? The sukkah, open to the stars and unsteady in the wind, reminds us of our fragility and dependency. It should also remind us that peace is only possible when we recognize our interdependence. Bringing peace is always good for both sides because conflict and the preparation for further conflict are costly economically and emotionally.
Bringing peace, however, is not just causing a cessation of violence and hostility. A real peace can only develop when there is justice, the meeting of basic human needs and a commitment to preserving the dignity of every person. In that sense, a treaty that ends violence is only the first step toward a real peace. And it is easy to disrupt — the sukkah of peace takes constant work to sustain.
As we think about bringing peace in the United States, we need to work on the prerequisites — meeting needs, bringing full justice and preserving every person’s dignity. Peace is achievable in our time if we recognize our interdependence and our obligation to do our part in bringing that peace.
For Israel, the challenges are great, but the preconditions for peace remain the same. The road to peace lies through ending creeping annexation on the West Bank, working to preserve human dignity in Israel and the Territories, and ensuring that basic human needs are met. The road to peace is not just a question of the cessation of war. In Israel’s case, the path to peace requires the recognition of our interdependence and the summoning of our empathy. We can join with God in spreading a sukkah of peace across the world.
Rabbi David Teutsch is the Wiener Professor Emeritus of Contemporary Jewish Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where he previously served as president, and co chair of the J Street Rabbinical and Cantorial Cabinet.