Celebrating Sukkot

on Saturday, 01 October 2011. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Articles

The ORacle, October 2011 Issue

Our Temple Beth Or Sukkot celebration is always a spirited communal gathering filled with music, stories, and the beauty of the night sky above us. This year will be no exception—we will enjoy a Shabbat dinner hosted by the membership committee and then share Shabbat in our Sukkah.

Praying in our Temple Sukkah is one lovely opportunity to celebrate the holiday, but our Torah commands, “You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.“ (Leviticus 23:42). Sukkot is a home-centered holiday, and I encourage us to each take personal possession of this holiday, not solely to rely on our synagogue for observance.

What if each family built theit own sukkah—sharing meals with family and neighbors each day and sleeping in it weather permitting? Imagine being about to personally experience the message of this festival each day? I recently read an article by Rabbi David Booth reminding us about Sukkot’s many teachings I would like to share. First, a sukkah has to be open to the world, letting in starlight and air. Sukkot reminds us that our homes must be open. Our forefather Abraham was known for his hospitality to those in need. Sukkot urges us to consider how we can be even more generous.

Second, the Talmud teaches that it is a mitzvah to invite your teacher into your sukkah. Learning together is transformative, it is the heart of Judaism. What if we each brought words of Torah to our Sukkot meal? The laws of Sukkot provide rich opportunities for interpretation. For instance, A sukkah must have at least two and a half walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. Why two and a half walls? Think about the letters in the word "sukkah" (samech, kaf, hay) one letter has four sides, one has three sides and one has two and a half sides. Other great sources for Sukkot teachings include: Seasons of Our Joy by Arthur Waskow and Jewish Holidays by Michael Strassfeld.  

Third, our sukkah is open to the elements. This openness to the world reminds us of those who never have a roof over their heads, who cannot return to the comfort of their warm homes at the end of Sukkot. Sukkot reminds us to find compassion for others in need. Jewish Family Services offers resources each year through Project DVORA, their domestic violence outreach program. We will have their advocacy materials in our sukkah again this year. Cocoon House in Everett and other homeless shelters can always use our volunteer efforts. Halakically, legally, the etrog becomes worthless at the end of Sukkot—material possessions hold no lasting value. Lasting value is found in human connection and compassion.

At every evening service we say, “Praised are You Eternal, who spreads Your sukkah of peace over us.” As partners with the Divine, how can we each spread the sukkah of hospitality, learning, and compassion to those in our community this year?