If you’re joined at one point to something solid, immovable, you’ll stay standing throughout the storm

October 10, 2008
succah tabernacles succot sukkot sukkah sucah sukah chag

Broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, 10th October 2008

As storm winds blow through the financial centres of the world is there a thought we can take with us in tough times? Here's mine. It's about the Jewish festival we celebrate next week: Sukkot, Tabernacles, when for eight days we leave the comfort of our homes and sit in huts, shacks, tabernacles, with only leaves for a roof in memory of our ancestors' journey across the wilderness. I call it the festival of insecurity, because we're exposed to the wind, the rain, and the cold.

When Elaine and I were first married, we had the challenge of building our first sukkah. I wasn't sure how we'd do it, because we didn't own a car. I had no way of transporting the materials. Then a friend said, 'I'm going to the timber yard. There's plenty of room in my car. Come with.'

So the next day I went round to him, and my heart sank. There on the table were architectural plans for the sukkah he was about to build. It was magnificent, a Taj Mahal among tabernacles, whereas I could hardly wield a hammer. Off we went to the timber yard, and he produced a long itemised list of what he needed, two by fours and suchlike, while I was reduced to asking for a little bit of this and a bit of that, like my mother's recipe for chicken soup.

We took the wood back, spent the day constructing our sheds, and then visited one another to see how we'd done. His was magnificent; mine looked like an outsized, lop-sided cardboard box. Still, it was a sukkah, and days later we celebrated the festival.

On the second day, in the synagogue, my friend looked crestfallen. What happened, I asked. 'The storm last night blew my sukkah down', he said. 'What about yours?' 'Oh,' I said, 'it's still there.' 'Impossible,' he said. 'I have to come round and see this.'

And he did. He couldn't work out how it had stayed standing despite the winds. Then he discovered why. To keep it stable, I'd joined one of the uprights to the house with a single nail. He gave me a smile and said, 'Now I know that you can build the most elaborate structure, but if it's freestanding, winds will come and blow it down. But if you're joined at one point to something solid, immovable, you'll stay standing throughout the storm.'

Then he added these words: 'The name of that nail is faith.'