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don't worry. be happy. 

09/15/2021 10:10:37 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

While some might revel in the fact that this first month of the Jewish year features twelve holiday days out of thirty days, others might suggest that it is a bit of an overdose, as for some, once Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have concluded, they are over-Judaized, and need to take a break. The unfortunate victim of that is the festival of Sukkot, which begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, five days after Yom Kippur. I say that it is a victim because I think it is our most beautiful holiday.

Each of our three festivals has an agricultural element to them, with these elements pre-dating Judaism, but eventually melding with the Jewish components. Passover simultaneously celebrates the beginning of the barley harvest. Shavuot celebrates the winter wheat harvest. Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and the start of the rainy season. When combined with historical events in the Torah, Passover became a festival of freedom that marked the Exodus from Egypt. Shavuot commemorates God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai and the gift of the Torah. Yet Sukkot remained an agricultural festival, with later elements such as Hoshana Rabba added.

If there would be a time period when I would want a stranger to visit a synagogue, it would be during Sukkot. The service features shaking the Lulav (comprised of branches from the palm, myrtle and willow) and Etrog in six directions, to represent God being all around us. We march around the sanctuary in a festive processional also holding the Lulav and Etrog, as we beseech God one last time to accept our prayers of forgiveness. The tradition evolved that the gates of Heaven do not close fully at the conclusion of Neilah, but rather, remain open just a pinch, for additional prayers to be offered until Hoshana Rabba, when the gates finally close. The synagogue is filled with the fragrant aromas of the Etrog and the myrtle. There is much song and activity. Upon conclusion, we enter the Sukkah, reciting additional brachot leshev Basukka, to dwell in the Sukkah. We invite guests to enjoy meals in the Sukkah. Many spend much of their day in the Sukkah, and even sleep in it. Each day we recite a formula welcoming a Biblical guest into our Sukkah, starting with Abraham.

And if this was not enough, after Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of assembly, we tag on Simchat Torah to Sukkot. We sing and dance with the Torah as we celebrate the fact that we have once again concluded reading from the scroll and resumed Breisheet anew. Everyone who wants to hold a Torah is welcome both morning and evening. We hold group aliyot in the evening, including a special Aliya for all of our pre-B’nai Mitzvah children, and bless them. In the morning, more festivities, and everyone who would like an Aliya at the Torah is given one.

The partial arc of the Jewish year, beginning with the lowest point of Tisha B’av, commemorating the destruction of both Holy Temples, now ends on a high, with the singing and dancing and pure joy of Simchat Torah. This is what I would want a guest to observe, to learn that while we have our sad moments, Judaism is about joy and celebrating life. All of us could use some joy and celebrating right now. I encourage you to attend whatever observances your synagogue is offering this year for Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Your soul will thank you.

Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782