After months of preparation, meticulous planning, collective engagement, and Divine partnership, we find ourselves at a very special time of the year. While this describes the arrival of the mid-term election season, my thoughts have been much more immersed in the successes of the High Holy Days and, currently, the celebration of Sukkot.
(Take note, the deadline for registering to vote is October 22nd- https://registertovote.ca.gov/)
Because of the diversity within our community, I frequently have the opportunity to explore and explain the “what”, “how”, and “why’s” of our Jewish tradition. Understandably, our celebration of Sukkot has led to a whole host of interesting conversations, with many focusing on the large, beautiful sukkah that was constructed on Shirley’s patio. (Many thanks to the Maintenance Department, the Sisterhood, resident volunteers, and the Field family)
“What is this thing?”
“Oh, it’s time for that tent-thingy, right?”
“Isn’t this a lot work, just for a week of celebration?”
So, what exactly is a sukkah…and why is it so important for this time of year?
The commandment to celebrate the week-long festival of Sukkot, as well as to build a sukkah is based on several passages in our holy Torah. In Exodus 23:16, the Israelites are told to collect a portion of their Fall harvest, gather as a community, and provide it as a pilgrimage offering in G!D’s honor.
Later, in Leviticus 23, G!D informs Moses:
34 …on the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Sukkot, for the Eternal, for seven days…
42 You shall live in sukkot (huts) seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot,
43 in order that future generations may know that I caused the Israelites people to dwell in (S)ukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt – I, the Eternal, am your G!D.
Curiously, in Exodus the celebration is referred to as the Festival of Ingathering, while in Leviticus the same festival is described as the Feast of Sukkot. Naming discrepancies are fairly common throughout the Torah; however what’s notable about this inconsistency is how the name Sukkot is also found elsewhere in the text to describe an actual geographical location.
It first appears in Genesis (33:4) as the location Jacob arrives at immediately following his dramatic reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau. After departing from meeting Esau, Jacob is said to have found this place to build a house and construct sukkot/booths/tents to protect his livestock. Later in Exodus (12:37), this location (now known as the City of Sukkot) is the first location the Israelites arrive at immediately following their release from slavery- it’s the spot of their first taste of freedom!
As described in the verses from Leviticus, we are instructed to live/dwell in the sukkah for the length of the festival. What are the associations we have while dwelling in this temporary, fragile structure?
On one hand, it evokes a deep sense of gratitude about the many blessings I’m afforded. I have appreciation for the protection and security (physical, emotional, spiritual) that I regularly experience by having a roof over my head, gainful and steady employment, and a network of supportive family and friends. On the other hand, I’m also constantly reminded of my general disconnect from the elements (and power) of the natural world. I’m forced to encounter the illusions of permanence and control that my material possessions lead me to buy into. This realization often stokes my fears and anxieties about the uncertainties that lie ahead. Ultimately, I’m led to recognize and honor both the power and powerlessness that I possess; as well as to honor the support and protection G!D provides for me.
This both/and of gratitude and anxiety also likely reflects the state of mind that both Jacob and the Israelites experienced when finding themselves in the city of Sukkot. Both were able to look back with gratitude and relief for having endured an incredibly intense and exhaustive experience. Yet, both were also likely filled with the angst and fear of not knowing what’s coming next in their lives.
As we now find ourselves immediately following the High Holy Day sequence, given the intensity, t’shuvah work, and hope we experienced over the past month of celebration and worship, it’s quite appropriate that we are commanded to replicate a similar experience as our ancestors. May we find the strength and support to honor this experience and let it propel us towards further growth, success, and joy during the upcoming year.