There are glass ceilings that keep people down. There are drop ceilings that hide things. There is the fiddler on the roof who balances tradition precariously while modernity rains down. There is a chuppa, which envelopes a new family.
There are rooftops covered with solar panels. Some of us are reminded that we live under someone else’s roof and with that comes responsibility. There is the American dream to own one’s own home (and roof).
We have some powerful images of roofs. We unfortunately can’t help but also think of hurricanes with people being stranded on their roofs as flood waters rise.
On this festival of Sukkot, let’s look up. We know that the most important part of the sukka is its roof. Schach, as it is called, is made of all natural materials through which the stars must be seen.
As Jews, our tradition guides us to avoid only “keeping our noses to the grindstone” and rather to look up and be proactive. Think of Deuteronomy 22:8: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.”
In the ancient Near East, the roofs were flat and were used for drying and storing produce, strolling and socializing (think of David and Batsheva — both were on their respective roofs), sleeping in warm weather. So whether building a new house or buying an old house that lacks one, one is not only to build the parapet which is to be at least 30 inches high and strong enough so that if someone leans on it, they will not fall. The barrier was meant to protect them.
We learn many values when we look up: solar panels show that we are environmentally conscious, a chuppa exemplifies a couple’s beginning with the support of family and a parapet shows that we really do love our neighbors as ourselves. On this Sukkot, may we live to our values, look up and reach for the stars. Chag Sameach!
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)