It is hard to envision Sukkoth on the other side of the High Holidays because of the monumental place of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the American Jewish holiday cycle. I composed a sermon a couple of decades ago bemoaning the slow death of Highway 66, which holds an iconic place in the American imagination. The article rued the demise of the charming and distinctive locales now no longer encountered because of the interstate system. Little towns, motels and restaurants are bypassed by truckers, bikers and tourists as they make their way to the west coast. “Sometimes,” I wrote, “the holiday cycle is the same as the Jewish calendar. The interstate highways of Passover, Hanukah, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are travelled so well by so many, but the little locales of the other holidays in Judaism get such short shrift and are sadly victim to this infrastructure.”
But Sukkoth is an important holiday in its own right. Back in the time of the Bible, it was really important and even bigger than Passover as a pilgrimage holiday. In the Rabbinic literature it was called “HaHaG,” the quintessential holiday. It no longer has quite that turbo-charge today, although it is still a very big deal in Jerusalem. Sukkoth’s Kohain rite in the Kotel Plaza is like no other spiritual moment. Still, Sukkoth has many things going for it, running on multiple cylinders, and therefore I commend it. Here are some facts in honor of the seven days of Sukkoth:
- It is a holiday that has a direct connection to nature. The lulav and etrog carry with it the symbolism and the prayer for rain of climate and habitat.
- It is a holiday where we are provided tools to not only celebrate the Heavens but, in some way, sway them by our waving of the lulav and Etrog. Tradition tells us that we actually vitalize the seven lower sphirot potencies of God in our ritual.
- It is a holiday with an “outward bound program” that thrusts us, albeit gently, into the wild to get a new perspective.
- It is an existential holiday that has us reflect on mortality; on our own life being a somewhat fragile hut subject to the ravages of time. We read from the book of Ecclesiastes, which ponders the verities and the vanities of earthly life and orients us to the spiritual.
- It is a social holiday with much entertaining of loved ones, friends and special “historic” guests in our sukkah.
- The sukkah is a time machine “blast into the past” which recalls Biblical tent dwellers and the ancient Temple of King David. It is also provides the spiritual “flux capacitor” to catapult us into the future, envisioning a messianic time.
- Sukkoth is a holiday that celebrates every kind of Jew- the studious, the loving, the uninitiated and the righteous. We hold all the species together to uniquely symbolize our strength in all contributing to the whole.
Sukkoth is the first “local” stop on the Jewish calendar year, off the beaten route of the interstate holidays. Get off at this exit and enjoy the color and vibrancy of this unique calendar moment. Help us celebrate it Yontif morning, October 5th and 6th and on Hoshana Rabbah morning, Wednesday, October 11 at 7 am.