Sukkot — A Time for Simplicity, Joy, and Unity
by Amy Lansky (CJC Ritual Chair)
When I was growing up, my family went to shul on Sukkot and we bought a lulav and etrog (the symbolic items that are held and shaken each day of the holiday… a topic for a whole other article!). But we never had a Sukkah. Because of this, my understanding and relationship to his holiday was always a bit weak. In my reading about the holiday, however, I have now discovered that Sukkot is possibly one of the most joyous and spiritual holidays in the Jewish calendar! Quite fitting, given that it comes only a few days after Yom Kippur.
Sukkot is one of the “shalosh regalim” — the three festivals during which pilgrimage was made to the Temple in Jerusalem (the other two being Passover and Shavuot). All three festivals have historical, spiritual, and agricultural significance. Occurring in the Fall, Sukkot is the harvest festival, and the use of lulav and etrog evoke this connection to the plant kingdom. Historically, the building of sukkot or booths is supposed to remind us of how we wandered in the desert, living in portable booths.
Spiritually, though, Sukkot is “Z’man Simchatenu” — the time of our joy. The various scholars and sages had a lot to say about this. But if you think about it, it’s actually pretty obvious. We Jews tend to be an urban people. While we may have wandered through the ages, we usually lived in an actual dwelling. But how do each of us feel when we camp out? More connected to nature, more in touch with our bodies, more appreciative of the simple things, and perhaps also more aware of our unity with other animals and our human companions. These are the spiritual lessons of Sukkot. Our time in the desert was considered a time of simplicity, innocence, purification, and unification of our people. On Shabbat we sing about “Sukkat Shlomecha” — the sukkah of God’s peace that the Sabbath brings to us. When we were wandering in the desert, we were also under the protection of God’s cloud of peace and protection. However, once we entered the more urban life Canaan, we became subject to its influences and vices.
Sukkot reminds us of all these things: returning to a simpler faith in God; detaching from and learning to be more skeptical about the lure of riches and comfort; our unity with all of mankind; and having fun and enjoying our wondrous connection to the natural world.
One thing I do remember about my relationship to Sukkot as a child — the fun and excitement of visiting another family’s Sukkah. It was always a special treat! How can you celebrate Sukkot this year? Maybe you can camp out one night? Maybe you can remember to eat outside in nature more often? Or to simply meditate outside every day? Whatever you choose, remember that Sukkot is not about Pizza Hut, but Peace In A Hut!