These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What a Lovely Booth You Have!

Posted on September 22, 2010 by Bookie

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sukkot is just moments away here in Jerusalem, and I can’t help but contemplate on a sight foreign to my Los Angeles eyes. In front of every apartment, in alleys, on balconies, and on rooftops sukkot dot the landscape.

It really gives you a sense of one of the many meanings of the holiday: the Israelite nation dwelling in booths on their way from Mizrayim (Egypt) to the holy land. Many Jews regardless of their particular flavor of belief and tradition are putting up sukkot to eat sleep and learn in(or play in or both) for the next seven (I love Israel) days.

With so many messages contained within this chag (holiday) it is tough to pick just one to write about. On one hand we have the acknowledgement that God is the Source in the end when it comes to our prosperity, as indirect and subtle as it sometimes seems. Although we are the ones who physically build our sukkot we remember a time when all was more obviously and directly provided by Him through protection in the harsh desert to the sustenance provided by the manna.

On the other hand it is a harvest festival. We decorate our sukkot with gourds and plants, fruit and veg, and all manner of things vegetal and earthy. It is a celebration of the partnership that human has with earth. One in which we work the land and treat it well, and it provides us with nourishment. I think this is what I am going to write about, and it still involves the big Name (that would be Hashem).

No other chag (yes I know about Tu B’Shvat that is why I said chag), do we decorate or celebrate with plants. As much as the Sukkah is a reminder of our ancestors, this holiday is also there to remind us of our charge. We are about to renew our cycle to Torah reading. On Simchat Torah we will be reading the last portion of the Torah coupled with the first bit of the first portion. This symbolizes a neverending commitment to Torah and study. We never finish learning and our commitment and observance (however that might be defined) to Torah is never 100%, there is always more to learn and do and grow from.

Another meaning of the never ending cycle is to remind us what it is all about. Moshe has just passed and chared us with keeping all of the Laws. We have been inundated with regulations after regulation, societal guidelines, private doctrines, etc. We have just finished reading months and months of nothing (for the most part) but LAW. But then we roll the scroll back and start with Bereshit. Now what is in Bereshit? The creation of humans. And what does Hashem tell humans to do with the world? To rule over it (ch. 1), to guard it, and to work it (ch.2). We are supposed to be partners with our planet. On the one hand (rule and work) we can use its resources for our benefit, like agriculture. On the other hand if we abuse the land and not take care of it (guard) then there will be no planet for future generations to be able to rule or work.

Sukkot and Simchat Torah are placed here to remind us that pledging to stop sinning, change our ways, and/or do T’shuva is not only about the nitty gritty halacha. It is also about the basic principles that Hashem set out for us at the Beginning. To use with caution, to have restraint, and to care for what has been graciously given to us. There is a reason that Hillel was able to convert someone using the simple mantra of “do not do unto others…” Because if we forget our foundations, and our basic principles that Hashem has charged us with, and get too wrapped up in the large amount of laws, then the future of the Jewish people, and dare I say it, humanity, is bleak indeed.

Let us go into Sukkot with a happy song in our heart, a clean and purified soul, and a remembrance not just of what Hashem has done for us, but what we can do to honor Him and His beautiful gift to us, Earth.