This coming Sunday evening begins the Festival of Sukkot, one of the major commemorations of the Jewish calendar. In the Torah the Israelites are commanded: “When you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord. And you shall take fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees…and you shall rejoice before the Lord.”
In ancient Israel, Sukkot was a joyous time when people from throughout the country would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the end of the harvest season. But most of all, they would come to Jerusalem and to the Temple to express gratitude for the blessings of their lives. And so has Sukkot continued throughout the centuries as our festival of thanksgiving; the biblical festival which inspired the pilgrims in 1621 to set aside a day of thanksgiving after their first harsh year in the New World.
Central to the observance of Sukkot is the Sukkah which we erect, and in which some people dwell throughout the festival. And I hope that you and your family will join us this Sunday morning as we build and decorate our temple Sukkah. It promises to be fun for everyone, and especially meaningful for the kind of lives we live.
It may well be that of all of our Jewish symbols, it is the Sukkah which most captures what we are about as Jews. Not only as a symbol of thanksgiving and gratitude for the good that we do have in our lives…but it is the outdoor and always vulnerable Sukkah which summons us to remember that in our world, there are so many for whom the vulnerable and threatened Sukkah represents their constant state. Those who are homeless…those who are hungry…those whose lives are so threatened because of political strife or ancient hatreds and animosities.
For all of us, let this Festival of Sukkot open our hearts to the blessings of our own lives, and may we know that the highest expression of gratitude is to reach beyond ourselves with kindness and with generosity toward those less fortunate than us.
Rabbi David Greenberg