Hi! I’m Eli and I started last month as the new Executive Chef and Rental Business Manager at Greene – I am so truly honored and excited to join this incredibly holy community, and to help grow and evolve the culinary program at Greene. To that end, I’d like to share a bit of Talmud I’ve been thinking about as we approach Sukkot, the harvest holiday.
(א) שִׁעוּר הַסֻּכָּה גָּבְהָהּ אֵין פָּחוֹת מֵעֲשָׂרָה טְפָחִים וְלֹא יָתֵר עַל עֶשְׂרִים אַמָּה. וְרָחְבָּהּ אֵין פָּחוֹת מִשִּׁבְעָה טְפָחִים עַל שִׁבְעָה טְפָחִים.
The dimensions of a sukkah: its height may not be less than ten hand-breadths (approximately three feet) or more than twenty cubits (approximately 35 feet), and its width may not be less than seven by seven hand-breadths(two feet by two feet).
So the Talmud says that the minimum size of a sukkah is three feet tall by two feet wide – essentially an exceedingly short telephone booth. Given that we are directed to dwell, eat, and invite others into our sukkah, what gives? The size directed is barely big enough for a single person to shake a lulav in!
In the Psalms, King David writes “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, and the earth He gave to the children of man” (Psalms 115:16). The Talmudic scholars translated that to mean that the earth was the responsibility and domain of man, and that while G-d might have a say on what goes on on earth, G-d’s presence does not dwell there, allowing humankind autonomy and free will. But that explanation also runs into a problem: in the Torah, it tells us that the shekinah (G-d’s presence) descended over the ark to keep it protected as the Jews traveled through Sinai. So it was decided: the domain of G-d spans from the heavens to the top of the ark (approximately 3 feet off the ground), and humanity is responsible for the rest down.
Thus, we are required to build our Sukkah tall enough to invite in G-d’s presence. Making it big enough to fulfill the rest of the commandments comes later, but the first directive is to remember: we are responsible to pursue holiness in our actions. We invite G-d into our Sukkah to show G-d that we are caring over the earth and sea (and the three feet above it) with the same patience and compassion that we hope G-d shows us.
I am so excited to get to do that work for a piece of land as holy as Greene this summer – from utilizing more from camp’s incredible vegetable garden to starting a compost pile, from finding ways to reduce our paper product usage to partnering with more local farms for our proteins and produce, there are so many ways that Greene can work to fulfill the responsibility to the earth that building a sukkah teaches us. How lucky are we, to get to do so on a piece of land as beautiful and holy as Greene Family Camp. I can’t wait to get started alongside all of you!