It’s there, lurking in the forecast for this week and the weekend with cute little gradeschool snowflakes to denote the days it might happen. Those innocent looking little snowflakes belie the fact that we don’t yet have studded tires on the truck and that we’ll be spending 3 days this week in the Shabbat RV 2.0 with only a few inches of scant insulation between us and the winter weather outside.
And yet, this all makes sense when I look at our Sukkah outside.
Hashem asks us to build a sukkah, a temporary dwelling that must be open to the elements, after Yom Kippur. We’ve just opened ourselves up and begged Him to forgive us and grant us a shiny new clean slate and He tells us, almost in response, build a sukkah. Nothing in the Torah or timing of the holidays is a coincidence, so it’s obvious that Yom Kippur and all that atonement has something to do with now building a hut in the yard and dwelling in it. We’re taught to leave our homes with their thick, sturdy walls and comforts and instead move closer to Hashem, showing our trust in Him by instead eating in a small hut where we can see the stars.
Our sukkah this year is definitely a modest dwelling. Mr. Safek built it on the smaller of our two decks, just off the dining room. While it does fit the halakhic requirements of a sukkah, it is small and we have to kind of cram into it. Instead of the lush palm fronts we used to use in Florida, we have dry bamboo and some pine boughs. The cold winds that we’ve been having coming down the mountains mean that my husband has already had to re-arrange the roof a few times and there is a decent pile of leaves accumulating in the bottom.
Ours is not the picturesque, beautifully decorated Sukkah I see on pinterest or on my Facebook feed, but we’re grateful to have a sukkah of our own at all. We also have a esrog all the way from Israel and the arba minum, the collection of branches that my son and husband hold and shake each day even if they’re feeling a bit blue from the chill. When our newer neighbors ask us what it’s all about, we just reply, “We’re Jewish.” Over the years, they’ve grown accustomed to that being the explanation for a lot of things that are different about our family and they just take it in stride.
Hashem has just given us a gift on Yom Kippur, a gift we probably didn’t do much to deserve. He has given us His trust, allowing us to try another year in this world, to see if we can do better at bringing His holiness into the world. He’s trusted us with His creation and trusted us to be His ambassadors to this world. He’s wiped our slates clean, all our debts forgiven. So, when He asks us to build a sukkah, even in Alaska, it seems a small thing to do in return. We do it with joy, most people decorating their sukkahs and here in Alaska, even Orthodox Jews who do not keep kosher fully or who drive to shul on Shabbos will still build a sukkah. I actually find this mitzvah more universally kept among Jews here than many other places we’ve lived. Perhaps Jews in Alaska grasp the idea of trusting Hashem to shelter us in the wilderness on a deeper level?
Wednesday, we will move our now winterized Shabbat RV 2.0 to our Synagogue for the winter. There will be no more running water and we are limited in what electricity we will have as well. Each week, I will have to choose between what will get plugged into the extra extension cord for Shabbos. Will it be the hot water urn, a crockpot, or the small extra heater? We’ll have one bigger heater for the main compartment, but beyond that, I’ll have to choose whether we need hot drinks, hot food, or hot bodies more. Right now, we plan to spend one Shabbos per month at home to rest and recuperate, but the rest we hope to spend at the Synagogue, as we did all summer.
It’s a lot about trust, just trusting that our short, dark Shabbos will pass by easily and that we’ll be sheltered and protected by Hashem there just as in our Sukkah. Perhaps He’ll reward us with some nice views of the aurora borealis or a visit from some moose, which are more numerous in town in the winter as they come down from the mountains to forage for food.
For me, this theme of trust began last year when we came back to our conversion path after our break. When we came back, I decided that I was ready to do whatever was asked of us rather than trying to resist and push our lives the way I thought they should go. I was ready to trust and just surrender to this process even if it meant leaving Alaska. I’d accepted that we were in the wilderness and that we’d have to wander a while, just trusting that Hashem would guide and protect us and lead us to our destination.
Now, as the sun is out less and less and the snowflakes appear in the weather forecast, I’m preparing to trust a little deeper and let go a little more, trusting that we’ll find ways to stay safe and warm for Shabbos just as we find ways to eat in our Sukkah.