Sermon: Sukkot Morning

Written by Student Rabbi Nicola Feuchtwang — 5 October 2020


In the middle classroom of Alyth Kindergarten, there is a recess in one wall, like an old-fashioned chimneybreast.  It is an utterly inviting nook.  On many of my visits there, whether at a time when it was bustling with children, or during quiet evening meetings, even as a supposedly mature adult, I have often found myself yearning to crouch inside it and hide, or hold a little tea party, or just snuggle down with a book.

The urge to create dens and caves starts early in childhood and seems to be pretty universal – and some of us never completely outgrow it.  Which of us hasn’t created a nest or den behind a sofa, under a table or bed, beneath a tree, in a climbing frame, or  treehouse …  a secret place, free from adult control.

I think one of my best den experiences as a child was a pirate ship which 4 of us constructed between 2 pairs of bunk beds;  but I have been in shops and in spaceships, in castles and caves…

Inside your den, YOU get to choose what happens. In your imagination, the den can be your own special place where you are in charge, and you invite in just those people and creatures whom you want…

In your little den, you can hide, unseen, until it gets too lonely, or you start to worry that maybe the others have forgotten about you;  or you can role play adventures and battles, until it gets too scary..

We learn a lot from building dens that can serve us well in life:  how to make the most of available resources,  how to develop an idea and turn it into something real;  cooperation, teamwork…  also basic science lessons about gravity: that not all structures are stable! Or warm. Or waterproof.  Or free from creepy crawlies. That ‘cosy’ can feel just as good as ‘grand’.  We do know that the den is not really a spaceship or a castle – but the creativity and energy of play help us to grasp how it might feel to command a mission …or just be a bit more in control of our lives.


I want to focus on the idea of a ‘special place’, because the den has another dimension too, which I think can be related to something called Temenos.  Originally in Ancient Greek culture, a temenos was a piece of land marked off from common usage and assigned to be an official domain for a king or a god.  Examples might include a sacred grove or the precinct of a temple.  A temenos could also be a place of sanctuary and asylum, literally, somewhere a person could seek refuge.

More recently, Jungian psychology has used the term temenos for the notion of a special place, physical or in our own mind, where “inner work” can take place for personal development.

Is it too far-fetched to say that almost any ‘den’ can be a temenos?  And I think this idea is relevant to our sukkot too.


Later in the service we will hear, in the Haftarah, part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple – perhaps the ultimate temenos in our own religious history –  and his vision for what that particular building could become.   He knew it was only a building, a symbol, when he said:

“Can God really dwell on earth?… the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this House which I have built…”

But he also prayed that the Temple would be a place from which the prayers of all might be heard, and effectively invited guests from far and wide.


Before that, we will be reading from Leviticus the verses which outline the basis for our customs on this festival– including the instruction to live in “sukkot” (booths) for seven days as a reminder of the long wilderness experience of the Israelites.

A commandment for all generations; a permanent reminder of impermanence and vulnerability.

The word sukkah is related to the Hebrew roots   סך    and    סכך    , and I have become fascinated by its ‘semantic field’ or range of meanings.

  • Soch’ means a thicket or lair, somewhere that a dangerous animal might lie in wait, or a place to which one might retreat, perhaps the original den.
  • A ‘sukkah’ in Genesis is a temporary shelter for animals such as Jacob constructed for his flocks; in prophetic literature it is a hut in the field or vineyard for when you need to make the most of daylight at harvest time while also on the lookout for predators; it is the shade from the sun which Jonah built himself outside Nineveh when he was sulking and waiting to see what would happen to the city.
  • The material with which we cover the roof of our sukkah is ‘sechach’ – meaning to weave together, and ‘sachach’ is also to overshadow or cover, and to protect or screen. It is a concept used in Psalms[1] for the development of an unborn child, it is God metaphorically placing a hand over Moses’s face[2] while the divine presence passes by;  it is the veil or curtain over the sanctuary in the desert, and it is also the protective posture of the cherubim both in that sanctuary and later in the Temple built by Solomon.

Each of these conveys to me something of care and security, within a place or situation which is of itself mysterious, hazardous, liminal.

Perhaps curiously for us in 2020, ‘sach’ is also the root of the word masecha   מסכה , mask:  not only the mask we wear for disguise at Purim, but also the screen or face covering which has become part of lives this year, offering some degree of protection in a dangerous world.


Have you braved the elements this week to try and create a sukkah in your own home, as a sacred space, a temenos, in which to reflect on the world (and get very wet)?

Or did you create an indoor nest or den last night as part of the Alyth Sleep-In?


This year at Sukkot as we re-enact our own idiosyncratic Jewish version of the den, we are reminded yet again, as if we needed it, of our vulnerability in a world which is changing too fast. And if the circumstances of this year make it impossible for us to invite guests into our sukkot in the traditional way, let us continue to be creative in how we invite the divine presence into our lives and our homes, and find new ways to offer refuge and sanctuary to others who need us.

Let us make our homes and sukkot and dens be temenoi  – special places in which we can pause, reflect, and develop.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

[1] Psalm 139:13  תְּ֝סֻכֵּ֗נִי

[2] Exodus 33:22