Monday, October 13, 2008

Thoughts Before Sukkos 5769

Sukkot starts shortly before sunset tonight. There are two aspects of Sukkot that impress me every year. One is the theme of vulnerability. Any other time of year, we can sit at our tables and securely look at raindrops coursing down our window panes. If rain blows in, we close the windows. We look at the stove and timers for the air conditioning to determine our comfort.

On Sukkot, we have no protection against rain. We hope and pray that we won't get washed out of the Sukkah. We have no choice. At the same time, we are aware that rain occupies an important place in the natural balance, however it may inconvenience us. To properly observe the mitzva of Sukkah, we must leave the possibility of even a slight rain penetrating the roof of the Sukkah If we cover the roof, then the Sukkah is no longer fit for the performance of a mitzvah.

The Sukkah is often visible from the street. People who pass by often ask what they are. It is at times like that that one has the opportunity to explain how we were in the desert for forty years, provided for by G-d. Sukkot tends to be more of an open holiday, where people visit each other's Sukkahs. Pesakh by contrast is a holiday in which various strictnesses make visiting our neighbours more complex for some people.

On Pesach, the children of the household ask questions about the seder. On Sukkos, passers by ask questions about the Sukkah. Additionally, in the times of the Bet HaMikdash (the temple), sacrifices were offered on behalf of the nations of the world. During Pesach, the goal of perfecting ourselves is a dominant theme. On Sukkos, the theme of bringing light to the world seems much more revealed.

Between the three festivals, you have Pesach, which involves self improvement. This paves the way directly for revelation on Shavuos, which is the festival seven weeks after Pesach when the Torah was given. Both preparation and revelation leave us the ability and duty to bring light into the world.

One of the other distinguishing features of Sukkot is the blessings said on the four species. The lulav, (palm branch), esrog (citron), hadassim(myrtle),and arovos (willow) represent between them the entire spectrum of Jews, from those with good deeds and Torah knowledge to those with neither learning nor good deeds. All four species representing all types of Jews are necessary for the blessing on the four species. If one of the four is missing, then the mitzvah can not be performed.

On Sukkot, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of the holidays. Just as the organs of the body have separate functions that are interconnected and interdependent, so too does our calendar of holidays function, and within it the Jewish people represented by the four species.

There is a saying that if you don't know how to explain something, that you really don't understand it. The questions of our children at our tables and the questions of passers by who note the presence of a" shack" a "hut" or a "tent" in our front yard focus us. The effort needed to explain to others gives us a clarity within ourselves. Our interdependence on this good ship earth is very much revealed during this long holiday. We are all connected, all interdependent. And it is all very clear during Khag HaSukkot, the Festival of Booths.

Khag Someakh. May the Jewish people and the world be blessed

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