Under The Sky

September 18, 2013
BY Helyn Steppa
Sukkot 5774

On Sukkot, we read the troubling text, Ecclesiastes. This megillah addresses the futility of life, a potentially incongruous theme for a holiday referred to as “time of our joy.” I searched through the book for a lesson on Sukkot, and I found some of the wording reflective of a larger message. We’ve all heard of the famous line: “Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the Heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1; and made popular by the Byrds’ version of a Pete Seeger song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”). However, when I read the entirety of Kohelet, I noticed a lot of references to occurrences “under the sun,” as well. So what exactly is the difference between what people do under the sun and under Heaven?

Yaakov Astor interprets the sun as “a metaphor for physical existence” in his article “The Sukkot/Ecclesiastes Connection.” We can see this in phrases such as “I saw justice replaced with wickedness under the sun.” In this world, there is unfairness and cruelty because the world does not acknowledge Hashem’s sovereignty. On the other hand, we are reminded, if only a little, that one should still enjoy the physical through the words “there is nothing better for man under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be merry.” These two verses temper one another, reassuring us that while we are allowed to enjoy the physical, we should be reminded of the spiritual.

Meanwhile, the word shamayim (Heaven or sky) is used in the context of Hashem, wisdom and truth — we “apply [our] heart to inquire and to search with wisdom all that was done under the Heaven … that God has given to” humankind. What happens under the Heavens is part of the ultimate meaning of life and involves only the purest intentions.

So this year, as you look up to the sky through the schach of your sukkah, consider whether you are sitting under the sun, under Heaven, or both.

Helyn Steppa is an 11th-grade student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

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