Rejoice? September 28, 2013

First, gather friends and family. Together, build a structure with at least three sides. Roof it with bamboo or cornstalks, anything you can cut from the ground. Remember to leave spaces where the stars can shine through. Dwell in this place for a week.

“Dwelling” includes eating, talking, singing, napping, reading, relaxing, entertaining, all that is our life. Lounge here, dine here, enjoying the fruits of the harvest. Invite friends and strangers in to dine with you. If it isn’t raining and you’re up for the adventure, sleep in the sukkah you have built. The sukkah is one of the few Jewish practices that involves the entire body in the experience of a mitzvah, a commandment relating to Jewish practice and observance.

Sukkot encompasses a multitude of themes and symbols. This Jewish holiday is rich in life and lessons of an embodied faith.

Dwelling in a sukkah, a little hut open to the elements and slated for demolition only a week after its construction, one is returned to a time in Jewish history when the entire nation was homeless and wandering.

Dwelling in a sukkah invites people to remove themselves from both the materialistic things that normally fill our environment and the illusion of security that our stuff provides to us.

Many of us fill our homes with the most beautiful and expensive stuff we can afford – (sometimes more than we can afford). We are surrounded daily by our material things, symbols of our security and comfort and accomplishments.

Usually, we dwell in the midst of our stuff. Sukkot calls those who honor this holiday to leave their stuff behind for a week and return to a simpler existence.

Focus shifts from what we want
to what we need,
from what is additional
to what is essential.

Sukkot is a harvest festival, yes, but it is much more than that. It is a time when people of the Jewish faith are invited to step out of their comfort zones as a community and make sure that their life priorities are in line with what is of ultimate value. Stepping into a sukkah provides a physical framework for understanding what is ultimately important within a very intimate space.

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg writes:

Sukkot is the holiday of change! Sukkot is a celebration of the beauty of things that don’t last.
The little hut which is so vulnerable to wind and rain and will be dismantled at week’s end;
the ripe fruits which will spoil if not picked and eaten right away; the friends and family who may not be with us for as long as we would wish;
the beauty of the leaves changing color as they begin the process of falling and dying from the trees.
Sukkot comes to tell us that the world is full of good and beautiful things.
But that we have to enjoy them right away today because they will not last.

The children in our lives get out of the way in no time flat. Our elders die, taking their stories and our love with them.  The ones we love cannot not wait for us to finish other things and get around to them. The season of Sukkot brings into sharp relief the contrast between what we value and how we spend our days; the distance – if there is distance – between how we love and how we live.

And it does not rebuke us. Instead, we are invited to give thanks for our restored sight, to celebrate the realignment of our actions with our values.  Let us rejoice together, beloveds.

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