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Sukkot – Fun Facts, Reflections and Prayers by Rabbi Nat Ezray

09/01/2021 09:36:13 AM


Rabbi Ezray

Don’t overlook Sukkot!  We need it now more than ever. Here are some interesting facts, reflection and a prayer that I hope will bring further meaning to Sukkot this year.

1. Sukkot is “THE HOLIDAY”

What is the most important holiday of the Jewish calendar?  Most people would respond Yom Kippur or Passover.  Some might even say Chanukkah.  When you look at our sources – you will discover that the answer is Sukkot.  In the Bible it is called “the Holiday – he’chag” The first century historian Josephus describes Sukkot as the “most holy and important feast”

2. We may not have dwelt in booths in the wilderness

Only once in the Torah, in the book of Leviticus do we read that we dwell in Sukkot in order to remember the exodus from Egypt.  Other sources say Sukkot is the holiday celebrating the fall harvest – chag Ha’asif – the holiday of gathering.

Most people who live in the wilderness live in tents – not booths to protect them from the swirling sand.  So where did the connection between booths and wilderness develop?  One theory is that we took existing practices connected to the agricultural cycle and as we developed as a civilization and wanted to commemorate important moments, we took existing celebrations connected to the agricultural cycle and gave historic interpretations.

Farmers used shelters in the fields during harvest for protection from the sun (or as temporary shelters to maximize work hours by sleeping near the harvest).  Maybe the booths were set up by pilgrims streaming into Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday. 

Regardless of origin of ritual, the meaning of commemorating the difficult journey to freedom is meaningful.  Any worthwhile goal requires discomfort and encounter with the elements represented in wilderness.  Freedom is something we earned through persevering through the difficult journey. 

3. Deeper meaning comes as we explore different explanations

Dwelling in a Sukkah reminds us that:

  • Life is fragile – like the Sukkah and the most important thing we can do is appreciate each day.
  • Leaving behind material possessions and moving outdoors for a week reminds us not to get too attached to things.  True joy comes through those we are blessed to be with.
  • Guests are to be welcomed – from the past and people in need.
  • Nature is to be appreciated.
  • Building something brings great satisfaction

4. Sukkot is about studying together as community

On the second day of Sukkot, everyone is supposed to attend a public reading of the Torah by the king in Jerusalem.  Look at Deuteronomy 31:10 -12.  Moses teaches that every seven years we are to gather everyone – men, women, children and the strangers in our community and read The Teaching.   The Mishna talks about a platform being set up in Jerusalem and everyone would gather to hear the King read.  The King began the reading with the same blessings over the Torah that we recite when we have an aliyah. 

The tradition ceased with the destruction of the 2nd Temple. We certainly honor this tradition as we teach our children and community – but wouldn’t it be nice to begin this tradition again?

5. The four species – What’s that about?

In addition to dwelling in the Sukkah, the Mitzva most associated with Sukkot is the shaking the four species – the citron (etrog), the palm frond (lulav), myrtle (hadas) and willow (aravah). This is another ritual rooted in agricultural celebration and fertility rituals – but the deeper meaning comes in our interpretations.

These interpretation range from:

  • appreciation of bounty
  • giving thanks with every part of our body
  • gathering different types of people together in unity.

6. The Commandment to be joyful

Throughout descriptions of Sukkot in the Torah, we are commanded to rejoice.  Can you really command an emotion?

No – but you can create a mindset and conditions which more often than not result in joy.  By coming together, including the entire community, sharing our bounty, dancing with the Torah – we remind ourselves that joy needs to be a part of life.

I know I have needed that reminder this past year.

7.  We Want you to Join us in the Sukkah!

Throughout the holiday we will welcome people into the Sukkah and share the blessings and have a chance to say hello.  Please sign up for a time slot and come by to celebrate this beautiful holiday together.  Let us know your favorite fact about Sukkot.

Here’s a prayer to recite in the Sukkah by Rishe Groner, specifically written for this time of ongoing coronavirus:

May we be safe. 

May we be protected. 

May we be loved. 

May we be abundant. 

May we be filled with joy, happiness and life.

May we draw water with joy, from the fountain of blessing.

And may we gather soon, all together, in the ultimate sukkah of peace; in a space where we can join hands and dance together; look at one another in the eyes and face and hold one another close, and experience the joy of closeness, as one. 

May we feel that love wrap around us, even now, wherever we are, knowing that no matter how hard and sad and desperate it feels, we can surrender into that feeling, that experience, even for a moment, right now.

I surrender. I let go. And I trust that it will be, soon.

Chag Sameach

Sat, May 21 2022 20 Iyyar 5782