I hope you all had an easy fast. On to Sukkot!
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|Mon, 09-16-2013 - 9:12am|
I really appreciated this column from Positive Jewish Living with regard to Sukkot. Do you have fond memories of Sukkot? Appreciating the natural world and our guardianship of it is so important. It's a great idea to expand the havest and thanksgiving themes of Sukkot with environmentalism.
Autumn is a season filled with ambiguity. Though the weather is still warm, the beauty of October evenings reminds us of the imminent change in the weather that will soon emerge. Sukkot transpires at the time of the turning of the season, perhaps allowing us the opportunities to contemplate the uncertainties of autumn—and of our lives.
One of my fondest childhood Jewish memories is holding my mother’s hand as we walked down the length of the synagogue’s Sukkah. The sight and smell of freshly cut corn stalks, rows of miniature pears, and apples lining the walls of the temporary structure return to me each year. It was an awesome place, filled with the joyfulness for which Sukkot is known. But these are childhood memories—and as beautiful as they may be, the magnitude of this holiday is much more profound. What do we seek when we enter the Sukkah during this festive season?
It could be a time to take heed to our extraordinary natural surroundings. The holiday’s Torah reading from Leviticus gives us a historical imperative for dwelling out-of-doors. God declares that we are to build Sukkot “in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” Those of us who have seen the vastness of the Sinai can only begin to imagine the sensations that our people must have experienced while in exile.
Sukkot began as an agricultural holiday of thanksgiving that indicated the arrival of the final harvest of the year. Granted, most of us are not genuinely engrossed with the act of harvesting. Yet sometimes we are too absorbed with our own matters to look out of our windows and contemplate the unrefined beauty of our surroundings. Commenting on Ecclesiastes 7:13, the midrash teaches us that when God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! Take care not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” Sitting in our sukkot in this desert affords us the opportunity to truly appreciate the beauty of this world that has been given to us. It is a time to think about our relationship to the environment, to the earth, to our role as guardians of the land.
Furthermore, there is a profound message about the human condition imbedded in the celebration of Sukkot. This is a time to step away from wealth and plentitude and to remember the fragility of our lives. At the time of the harvest, the season when we have the most, we are commanded to “dwell in booths” and make due with little. The temporary structure reminds us, as was noted by twelfth-century commentator Rashbam: “Lest you should say in your heart ‘My own power and wealth have won this wealth for me’ (Deut. 8:17) it is the practice to go out of the houses full of good things at the time of the ingathering, and to dwell in booths, in recollection of those who had no inheritance in the wilderness and no house to dwell in.” The impermanent structure of the sukkah reminds us that our own homes are impermanent, and that ultimately our lives are beyond our control. Sukkot is a time for expressing gratitude for having a roof over one’s head, no matter how grand or modest it may be.
May we all take the time to remove ourselves from our familiar surrounding, to acknowledge the wonder and beauty of this world in which we live, and to recall the blessings for which we should be thankful.
--Lisa Silverstein Tzur