GOOD MORNING! Judaism has something for everyone. If you like to drink booze, we have Purim. If you like asceticism or self-denial we have Yom Kippur and Tiash Abov. If you like to play with fire, we have Lag B'Omer (celebrated with bonfires!). If you like to dance, we have Simchat Torah, and ... if you like the great outdoors, we have Sukkot!
Sukkot starts Wednesday evening, September 22nd. Sukkot means "booths." During the 40 years of wandering in the desert we lived in Sukkot. We are commanded in the Torah regarding this holiday, "You shall dwell in booths for seven days ... so that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 23:42-43). We are commanded to make our Sukkah our main dwelling place - to eat, sleep, learn Torah and spend our time there. If one would suffer from being in a Sukkah - i.e. from rain or snow - or heat and humidity - he is freed from the obligation to dwell there. We make, however, every effort to at least eat in the Sukkah - especially the first night.
The love and enthusiasm you put into building a Sukkah and decorating it makes a big impact on your children. A friend told me that his father was a klutz (not handy) with tools and their Sukkah would oftentimes fall down. But, what he remembers is his father's love for the mitzvah of building the Sukkah and happiness in building it each time. We cannot decree that our children have our love for our heritage. However, by showing them our delight and energy in the mitzvot, they build their own love for Torah and the holiday. A teacher once said, "Parents only owe their children 3 things: example, example, example."
We are also commanded to wave the arbah minim, the Four Species, during the week-long holiday. There are many deep and mystical meanings to be found regarding Waving the Four Species. One understanding from waving in all four directions and up and down -that the Almighty controls the whole world, the winds, the forces and everything everywhere. A second lesson from holding the Four Species together - that all Jews are bound together as one people, be they saints or sinners, knowledgeable or ignorant (see Dvar Torah!).
The Torah tells us, "...On the fifteenth of the seventh month (counting from the Hebrew month of Nissan when the Jews left Egypt) shall be the holiday of Sukkot, seven days (of celebration) for the Almighty. The first day shall be a holy convocation; all manners of work (creative acts as defined by the Torah) you shall not do; it is an eternal decree in all of your dwelling places for all generations" (Leviticus 23:34-35).
Sukkot is called zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. Joy is distinct from happiness. Happiness is taking pleasure in what you have. Joy is the pleasure of anticipating a future good. If we trust in God and know that everything that the Almighty does for us is for our good, then we will know great joy in our lives!
Deuteronomy 16:13-15 tells us "The festival of Sukkot shall be to you for seven days when you gather from your threshing floors and your wine cellar. You shall rejoice in your festival ... for the Almighty will bless you in all of your produce and in all of the work of your hand and you shall be completely joyous." It is fitting that Sukkot is a harvest festival. People who work the earth are amongst the most religious of people trusting in the Almighty (followed perhaps by fundraisers ... ). They take a perfectly good seed that could be eaten and they stick it in the ground, not knowing whether there will be rain or drought or floods or pestilence. They put forth hard work not knowing the outcome. They trust in the Almighty for their food and their very existence.
The mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah teaches us trust in God. We tend to think that our possessions, our money, our homes, our intelligence will protect us. During Sukkot we are exposed to the elements in a temporary hut. Living in a Sukkah puts life into perspective. Our possessions are transient - and our corporeal beings are even more transient than our possessions. Life is vulnerable. Our history has borne out how transient are our homes and communities. No matter how well-established, wealthy and "secure" we have become in a host country, in the end it too has been a temporary dwelling. Our trust must be in God.
As King David wrote in Psalms 20:8 "There are those who trust in chariots and those who trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Almighty." Only the Almighty is the Creator of the world, the Master of history, our personal and caring God Who can be relied upon to help us.
While we had our two Temples in Jerusalem, during the Festival of Sukkot, 70 offerings were made for the nations of the world - so that the Almighty would provide rain for their crops. The Talmud tells us that if the nations of the world understood the value of what the Jewish people provided them, they would have sent their armies to defend our Temple in Jerusalem to keep it from being destroyed!
Sukkot is one of the Shelosh Regalim, Three Festivals (the other two are Pesach and Shavuot), where the Torah commands everyone living in Israel to leave their homes to come to Jerusalem to celebrate at the Temple. For the last 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple, we've been unable to fulfill this mitzvah. May we soon be able to fulfill this mitzvah once again in its entirety!
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