Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sukkot 5770

This Friday evening is the start of the weeklong Sukkot celebration. On the surface this is Judaism’s version of Thanksgiving, but it is so much more. Here are some interesting insights into the holy day.

1. According to tradition, Sukkot will be the only holy day celebrated in the Messianic Age.

2. While we are told that the sukkah represents the tents in which our ancestors dwelt while wandering in the Sinai, this is clearly nonsense. We dwelt in tents, not booths, and if Sukkot were really a reminder of Sinai we would spend the week in tents. The sukkah is in fact reminiscent of the temporary shelters used during the autumn harvest in which both harvest and harvesters took shelter.

3. The sukkah must be flimsy, temporary, and open to the elements. Why? Because the sukkah teaches us that there is no shelter from the storms of life. There is nothing we can build that will protect us from life’s catastrophes. Coming as it does on the heels of Yom Kippur and the notion that we have been written into the Book of Life, Sukkot is a huge slap of awakening. Being inscribed into the Book of Life has nothing to do with avoiding danger, sorrow, suffering, or death. Rather it means that whatever this year brings, you cannot escape it, and you are challenged to spend your time l’chayyim: promoting life, enjoying life’s gifts, and giving thanks for them.

4. The book of Leviticus tells us: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40). This is the lulav that, together with the etrog (citron), we wave in all directions as an act of symbolic magic. The lulav represents the masculine energies of the universe. The etrog represents the feminine energies of the universe. We hold them together and symbolically seek to unify masculine and feminine within ourselves and among ourselves in a hieros gamos, a divine marriage of opposites. This is an affirmation of the unity of all opposites in, with, and as God, the source and substance of all reality.

5. The text we study during Sukkot is Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), one of the most challenging books of the Bible. Kohelet places doubt above faith, or rather it places doubt at the heart of true faith, and challenges us to live rightly without the crutch of imagining that we are thereby earning some reward. There is no reward. We do right because it is right. Kohelet teaches us how to live in a world of uncertainty. If Sukkot is the holy day of messianic times, Kohelet is the Torah of those times. The messianic age is not one in which all questioning stops and answers are provided, but the time when the deepest questioning begins and no answers are given. That is to say, when we live without knowing, we live with true faith, a faith that transcends mere belief.

6. Among the traditions of Sukkot is ushpizin inviting our ancestors into the Sukkah. Couple this with the practice of inviting friends to eat together in the sukkah and you begin to realize that the message of both Sukkot and Ecclesiastes is that friendship is the key to living well in a world of uncertainty. (See Ecclesiastes 4:12, the threefold cord of friendship).

Sukkot is a powerful holy day period. Don’t let the week go by without honoring it in some way. At the very least read Ecclesiastes. And, if you will pardon a moment of rank self-promotion, you might enjoy reading my version of the text called the Way of Solomon.

Hag Sameach Sukkot,

1 comment:

Claire said...

Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday. The sukkah is now up, with flowers, sekhakh, vines and lights. We don't eat or sleep in it (cold! wet! cramped!), but it's a fine quiet place for seated meditation.