Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to Party in the Sukkah

Sukkot is the only festival that is termed z’man simchateinu “the time of our joy.” Torah tells us, You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities (Deuteronomy 16:14). God wants us to experience joy! Is that consistent with worship and religious behavior? Absolutely – Psalm 100:1 says, Serve God in gladness, come into God’s presence with shouts of joy.

Is it easier or harder to be joyous in a cramped, fragile hut open to the elements and utterly lacking the appurtenances of our comparatively luxurious homes (including a roof, windows, and the miracle of indoor plumbing)? I think we can learn something useful to answering this question from the tradition of the arba minim (four species) we bring to the sukkah: lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah. Talmud (Menachot 27a) tell us:
The four plants are bound together in one cluster. It is comparable to Israel’s endeavor to conciliate God, which is successful only when all of Israel are together in one cluster.
The religious goal of connecting with God is here identified with quality human relationships. When we come together and get along with one another, then we can connect with God. When we repair and improve our relationships with each other, we can more easily repair and improve our relationship with God.

We have a choice: we can see time spent in a sukkah as time spent in a cramped, drafty, shabby hut – or we can see it as a wonderful adventure in family time, an opportunity to enhance precious relationships without the distractions of TV, computers, video games, and telephones. In a sukkah, there is time to eat, talk, tell stories, catch up, reconnect, and spend genuine quality time with people we love. What could be more joyous than that – for us and for God?

If you don’t have your own sukkah yet, there are plenty available for anyone to use. Most synagogues have sukkot. Pack up a picnic dinner and take your family or invite a few friends. Eat, laugh, tell stories and jokes, shakes the lulav and etrog, feel the breeze, gaze up at the stars, and luxuriate in the wonder of being alive in this universe and having loving relationships.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

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