Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Gift of Sukkot

The Jews are a people with agricultural roots, finding many ways to mark the seasonal and environmental changes that occur throughout the year. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, recalls those days of wandering in the desert.. It is among the festivals that fall during the month of Tishrei, and therefore it places emphasis not just on the cycles of the earth, but also the cycles of our lives. The celebration of Sukkot leads us to focus on the importance of shelter and housing, our responsibility to welcome others into our homes, the environment and nature, and how we use the food we gather from the land to feed ourselves and others. We build the temporary dwellings, and decorate them with pumpkins and corn-stalks, palm fronds, candles and hanging fruit…to celebrate a harvest. Just as the sukkah, the customary temporary hut, is fragile and subject to wind and rain, so, do we also recognize the precious fragility of human life, and the importance of doing all we can to help those in need around us. Even though the Sukkah is a frail shelter, the liturgy instructs us to “sit there”. Why should we “sit there” in an inadequate shelter? The reason is that shelter is not found in the strength of the walls or the size of the room, but in being connected to life, and to being a part of the gift of the harvest.

The ceiling of the Sukkah should have holes in it, so one can see the stars. This is a reminder that God promised Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars.
One of the most important things that Sukkot teaches us is that life is fragile, and our world is not complete, Spending time in a flimsy hut makes you appreciate the things that you do have, and makes you realize that life can change very quickly. The symbolism of the hut is, for some, a sobering reminder of the insecurity of life. Sukkot is a time that makes us pause and reflect, but hopefully, also, moves us to action.

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