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the curse of proximity

10/05/2023 09:18:52 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

Sukkot is such a joyous holiday. Coming five days after the weightiness of Yom Kippur, it offers us moments to celebrate. The pomp and circumstance of the Lulav and Etrog, whether we wave it during Hallel, or parade around the sanctuary reciting Hoshanot, prayers beseeching God to save us, is just joyous. Eating in the Sukkah is just fun. For the first time, we held a Sukkah hop, and it was clear from both the participants and the hosts that everyone had a good time. Scotch in the Sukkah can only be fun. What’s bad about savoring six world-class scotches in the Sukkah enjoying a beautiful Pittsburgh evening?

Sukkot suffers from its proximity to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in that too many people feel that they have had too much Jewish in too short a span of time. Perhaps if Sukkot occurred in November there might be more interest and engagement? Sukkot predates both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as it existed for quite a long time as the Fall harvest festival, well before Judaism came upon the scene. We instilled Jewish values and observances into Sukkot, and transformed an agricultural festival into a Jewish festival. It is called in the Torah He-chag, the festival, a title not bestowed upon any other holiday in the Jewish year. That tells us something about how important it was, and how important it should be.

It is a rather full holiday, and just when you think it is over, we have two additional festivals attached to the end. Shemini Atzeret, literally “eighth day of assembling”, was known far and wide as the day for the prayer for rain. If ever there was a day that Jerusalem was packed, it was Shemini Atzeret, as an agricultural society depended upon rain to survive. But that was still not enough. The day after Shemini Atzeret is when Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate Simchat Torah, while in the Land of Israel and in most Reform synagogues, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are blended into one day.

We do not know exactly when Simchat Torah began. The best we know is that up until the Medieval Ages, different Torah reading systems were in use throughout the Jewish world, many using varieties of the triennial system. Sometime around the 14th Century, in response to persecutions that Jewish communities throughout Europe were experiencing, Simchat Torah evolved. The name is a perfect name for the holiday, as Simcha means “joy”. One of the names of Sukkot is Z’man Simchateinu, the season of our joy.

Joy doesn’t automatically show up in our lives. Sometimes we have to seek it. Sukkot, Shemini Ateret and Simchat Torah provide ready-made templates for joy. There is one thing, however, that is necessary for the joy to happen. It needs you. May the remaining days of Sukkot through Simchat Torah be ones where your joys overflows.

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784