D’var Torah For Friday, October 14, 2022

Sukkot is one of the most important of all the Biblical holidays. As Philip Goodman wrote in his book The Sukkot/Simchat Torah Anthology, “The festival of Sukkot is rooted in the Bible, which delineates its basic laws and recounts the historical events related to it. According to the Pentateuch, Hag ha-Sukkot (Feast of Booths) or Hag ha-Asif (Feast of Ingathering), as the holiday is alternately termed, is one of the three pilgrimage festivals on which the Israelites were enjoined to make a pilgrimage to the chosen place in Jerusalem. It prescribes the manner of observance – dwelling in booths (sukkot), prohibition of work on the first and eighth days, observing sacrifices, use of the Four Species [lulav & Etrog] and rejoicing over the harvest. 

The observance of Sukkot is intended to help reconnect us with the natural world. This is part of the reasons why we dwell in the Sukkah. But it is so much more than that. According to Isaac Aboab (a 17th Century Rabbi and scholar from the Netherlands), “The commandment to dwell in the sukkah is intended to teach us that a man (or woman) must not put his (or her) trust in the size or strength or salutary conveniences of his (her) house, even though it be filled with the best of everything; nor should he(she) rely upon the help of any man(woman), even though he(she) be lord of the land. But let him(her) put his(her) trust in God whose word called the universe into being … (Menorat ha-Maor 3.6.1).”

And if this is true of Sukkot, how much the more so on Shabbat Sukkot. This year Shabbat happens to fall in the middle of the festival of Sukkot, and therefore it is regarded with special reverence. This is in part because Sukkot, at least in Biblical times, was the most important holiday for our ancient Israelite ancestors. Without a successful fall harvest, their entire winter could be in jeopardy. Hence it is of even greater importance to celebrate the world beyond our doors.  

Shabbat and Sukkot have another connection as well. Shabbat is the day of menucha, the day of rest. As Franz Rosensweig argued, Sukkot “is the feast of both wanderings and rest. In memory of those long wanderings of the past which finally led to rest, the members of the family do not have their merry meal in the familiar rooms of the house but under a roof which is quickly constructed, a makeshift roof with heaven shining through the gaps. This serves to remind the people that no matter how solid the house of today may seem, no matter how temptingly it beckons to rest and unimperiled living, it is but a tent which permits only a pause in the long wanderings through the wilderness of centuries.” 

There is also yet another connection. This is our second year we are able to gather together in person, for those who are able and who so choose, which is a rare blessing for us during these challenging times. This means we have the opportunity to create the additional blessings of community through the custom of ushpizin, of welcoming guests into our sukkah. In this case, it means welcoming each other both as hosts and guests.

With this in mind, we invite you to join us for Shabbat observances and then follow up with the mitzvah of layshev b’sukkah, to dwell in the sukkah. Thank you to our Men’s Club and WRJ Sisterhood for providing our lovely sukkah just outside the entryway to the synagogue. There you can take up the lulav and etrog and enjoy a little nosh. 

On this Shabbat Sukkot, may we all gather to celebrate the blessings of the natural world, the blessings of the rest and calm, and the blessing of community to be found in our Shabbat and Festival observances.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff