Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, LMSW, Pastoral Coordinator, Shira Ruskay Center
In Jewish tradition, Sukkot is known as Zman simhatenu, the time of our rejoicing. We rejoice for the fullness of our fall harvest and for the completion of the Days of Awe. These days of joy, though, are mixed with an awareness of our vulnerability. This is symbolized by the two primary mitzvot of the holiday. The sukkah, a fragile structure, must have a roof open to the heavens. Its historical connections are with times of uncertainty- when we wandered in the desert recovering from slavery, and when farmers lived in huts at harvest time. Even in our urban and suburban settings, the sukkah forces us to be aware of the unpredictability of nature: rain, wind, bees and leaves falling into our soup!
The other mitzvah, the lulav and etrog also remind us of vulnerability. The pitom (extra stem on the etrog) can fall off and the willow leaves dry out and fall off, quickly changing from usable to unusable. The lulav is itself a prayer for rain. Also, within the text we use is the word hoshanna - save us.
Yet, these symbols of vulnerability also teach us how to make it through from vulnerability to a sense of fullness. In our prayers the Sukkah is also the image of protection; a place in which God shelters us. When we are open, not fortified, so we can allow ourselves to be aware of Gods presence in the world, we can feel protected and secure. Also, the elements of the lulav and the etrog symbolize different kinds of Jews. Since all four plants are needed to fulfill the mitzvah, we learn that our communities must be inclusive and care for each one in order to be complete.
These "Spirituality Notes" are excerpts from our monthly E-newsletter. Articles are © JBFCS Rita J. Kaplan Jewish Connections Programs and may be reprinted free of charge as long as this credit line is included.