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Thursday, 20 February 2014

What's worse: misguided spirituality or no spirituality at all?

Sukkah 17
Jamie and Gabe are liberal arts students in one of our local colleges.  I meet them at various Hillel events.  While they’re both lovely people, my relationship with them is very different.  Jamie is pretty apathetic about her Judaism.   She likes going to Jewish events, but is totally uninterested in any theological discussions.  She’s not anti-Judaism, she just doesn’t care. 

Gabe is a completely different story.  I can chat with him for hours on end.  He doesn’t believe in the Divinity of Torah.  He believes that you can be spiritual without mitzvah performance.  “Why would I need to put on physical tefillin to connect with spirituality?” he tells me.  With such strong attitudes contrary to traditional Judaism, is there any hope I could ever sway him?

Law 1. A gap of more than three handsbreadths from the walls of the sukkah to the schach would invalidate the sukkah. 

Law 2. If schach is placed on top of a gap in the ceiling of a house, it becomes a valid sukkah, as long as the distance between the walls and the schach does not exceed four arms-lengths (approx. 6’).

Essentially, these are the same two laws.  The schach is in the middle of the roof.  In the first law, there is air between the walls and the schach.  In the second, there is ceiling.  Why does the second law allow for a greater gap between the walls and the schach?

On a technical level, the answer is that we view the ceiling as part of the wall.  Thus, the wall is now “bent” at ninety degrees, culminating in the opening upon which the schach is placed.

On a deeper level, however, the Talmud is teaching us that something is better than nothing.  The ceiling, while not kosher as schach, is at least serving the purpose of covering.  The air-gap serves no purpose whatsoever.  So although it is much smaller, it is completely invalid.

When we meet people who are completely disengaged with their spiritual side, it is a much greater challenge to convince them to fill the void in their lives.  They don’t feel like their missing anything. 
Other people we encounter, who are in touch with their spirituality, look up and they feel that they are covered.  These people we can educate and instruct that what they perceive as spiritual cover is wanting and we can guide them towards actual schach.

All too often we dismiss people in the second category as misguided.  We think that they’re only interested in serving G-d the wrong way and they are hopeless.  The Talmud teaches us that people that seek cover from above are engaged, they are interested.  We must reach out to them and guide them in their spiritual quest.

Today, I pledge to embrace those who are seeking spirituality.  I shall not dismiss them simply because their spiritual aspirations do not match mine.  I will engage with them in the hope that one day we can stand in the same sukkah and together look up and gaze upon the same cover.   

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