Posted on September 23, 2022 by Gila Gwen Sack (Year '87-'88)
From the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz until Hoshana Rabbah, the Jewish calendar is filled with emotion. First, there is the period of national introspection leading up to Tisha B’Av. Then from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshana Rabbah, there are some 50 days of personal introspection and, hopefully, personal growth.
As a single Jewish woman, this time of year is equally important to me. From Rosh Chodesh Elul, there is a huge build-up; however, when Sukkot comes, as a single Jewish woman, I feel both literally and figuratively left out in the cold. This was emphasized even more during the Covid pandemic.
Jewish women are not obligated for time-bound mitzvot. On Pesach and Rosh Hashana, they have voluntarily taken on obligations. Somehow, Sukkot has been left out. According to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, Sukkot belongs to two different holiday cycles. The pilgrimage holidays (the Shlosha Regalim) as well as the cycle of the High Holy days.
Sukkot is described twice as zman simchatanu, the time of our joy. The Rabbis explain that one reason for the joy is the feeling of having been judged for life on Yom Kippur. The second reason is the joy of having brought in the harvest. In this day and age, our joy can be expressed through the recitation of Hallel. In this way, I too can express my joy. But is that enough?
According to Rabbi Eliezar, the sukkah represents the actual booths in which Bnai Yisrael dwelt in the desert. According to Rabbi Akiva, the sukkah represents the clouds of glory that followed Bnai Yirael in the desert. Either way, the sukkah represents our faith in G-d and His dwelling among us.
The women of the generation of the exodus exhibited great faith. It was Miriam who is said to have encouraged her father to reunite with her mother after his separation from her following Pharaoh’s evil decree. It was the Jewish midwives who had the courage to defy Pharaoh and let the babies live. Portraying great faith, the women of that generation did not participate in the sin of the golden calf. On the whole, it was the women who demonstrated great faith in G-d. Perhaps women do not need Sukkot to remind them of the importance of having emunah, faith.
Rabbi Sacks z”l, also translates simcha as shared joy. Sukkot was a time when families came to Jerusalem with their sacrifices. Today, Sukkot is also a time for families to gather together. Being single, I try to spend holidays and Shabbat with family and friends. Sometimes I do spend Shabbat evenings alone, but being alone is not being lonely. Even as I celebrate Shabbat evenings by myself, I know that I am part of a nation that is doing the same ceremonies and saying the exact same prayers. I am part of Am Yisrael.
Sukkot 2020, amid the Covid pandemic, was especially challenging for everyone, including myself, as families could not celebrate together as usual. Thankfully, one of my neighbors had a sukkah and offered me use of it on the chag. With pleasure, I was able to recite kiddush there. There is another important mitzvah on Sukkot; the taking of the four species. According to one midrash, the four species represent four different types of Jews in our nation. As a woman, I am included as part of the nation. Usually, I borrow the four species to make a bracha, but this past year during Covid, I decided to do it differently and purchased my own set. Thereby, I clearly wanted to affirm my identity as an inherent part of the Jewish nation.
This past year I attended a series of classes by Rabbanit Shani Taragin on women and the laws of Pesach; which ones are of origin from the Torah and which are rabbinic. She would not be able to give a class like that about Sukkot. My friend Sharon, who proofread this article (thank you), said to me, “Gwen,” (my former alias) “there is no clincher.” That is true. The reason is that, honestly, I am still trying to learn, trying to understand what my true role is. In the meantime, chag sameach.