Magazine article Tikkun

Celebrating Sukkot This Year: The Jewish Thanksgiving and Reconnection to Nature

Magazine article Tikkun

Celebrating Sukkot This Year: The Jewish Thanksgiving and Reconnection to Nature

Article excerpt

Celebrating Sukkot This Year: The Jewish Thanksgiving and Reconnection to Nature

(Sunday night, October 9 - October 16, 1995)

One reason Sukkot is absent from the lexicon of most American Jews is that it comes five days after the High Holidays--Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur--and many Jews feel that they've already done their "Jewish thing" for a while. If services already feel boring and removed from their lives, another chance to sit in synagogue certainly doesn't sound really exciting. But if that's your experience with your local synagogue, don't go. You can still do Sukkot as a family observance, even if you skip services.

Sukkot is the Jewish Thanksgiving, a time when people live in flimsy little booths first constructed for life in the desert after the Israelites had left Egypt, then later used in ancient Israel to house Jews when they came to Jerusalem to bring their fall harvest offering to the Temple.

Living in a sukkah for seven days can be an incredibly powerful experience, particularly for contemporary urban and suburban dwellers who rarely have this kind of contact with nature. The temporary walls (often put together by connecting old doors from your garage or cellar), the partial roof made of tree branches or palms and leaves, are meant to allow us to view the stars from within, leaving us vulnerable to the elements.

Why vulnerability? It's a spiritual exercise with political consequences. So much of our pursuit of career and wealth is aimed at protecting us from being dependent or needy. We build elaborate protective structures around us, hoping thereby to gain security. Jewish tradition doesn't put that impulse down, but Sukkot puts it in its place, reminding us that ultimately all the material goods we've assembled around us can't protect us, that we too are also part of the natural order, and that the mystery and grandeur of the universe must necessarily leave our egocentric pretenses in shambles. So, for seven days we live in a hut that we decorate with fruits and vegetables, nothing separating us from the rain or the cold but the branches and palms arranged in such a way that there is enough space between them to see the stars.

We read the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which punches holes in our pretenses. "Vanity of vanity," says Kohelet, "all is vanity," and "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted . …

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