Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Opinion: The Lessons of Unsheltered Homelessness for a Week by David S. Gruber

As a reader of this blog, you know that the encampment under I-45 has been on our minds lately. We are actively working with the residents of this tent city to connect them to housing. Now, I don’t mean to scare you, but you may see many more similar encampments up now for the next seven days, not only here in Dallas, but all over the world. Why? Jews the world over, celebrate Sukkot or the Festival of Tabernacles. During this festival, Jewish Law commands Jews to eat, drink and sleep in temporary structures, much like the ones under I-45, for seven days.

What is the rationale behind this idea? The Bible addresses a nation, which is made up mostly of farmers. As autumn arrives, and they gather the fruits of their labor, they are liable to attribute all of their success to themselves. And since not everyone’s crops are successful, those who have been successful might look down on those who have not, and attribute their failure entirely to them. Especially in the Land of Israel, which depends on rainfall for the watering of crops attributing success or failure to one’s own actions makes little sense. And so, everyone is commanded to go out of their homes, and expose themselves equally to the elements for an extended period of time, to remind themselves of how little control they really have over their own existence.

Now, why not just teach this as a lesson, or have everyone expose themselves to the elements for an hour or two? Well, because it probably would not work. The only way to truly grasp how things work is to really experience them. More importantly, the only way to develop empathy for those for whom things may not have worked that well, is to walk a mile in their shoes, or live a week in their tent, as the case may be.

Today’s American economy is vastly different from the economy of Iron Age Palestine. Very few of us are farmers, and those that are do not have to depend on natural irrigation only. However, it is still true that while hard work is important, much of success and failure in our world is due to God, or karma, or luck, take your pick. The universal message of Sukkot in our globalized economy is that we should not forget this. The difference between us and those folks under I-45 is not that great, after all.  

1 comment:

  1. David, This is exactly what God has recently convicted me about, I do not deserve the beautiful home with a warm bed to sleep in. But I also do not even deserve the ground in a tent to sleep in. I "deserve" nothing, but it is only because of God's grace and mercy on me, and I am the the greatest sinner of all, that I have anything. Thanks for confirming it to me.