Sukkot – Festival of Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles, or Festival of Ingathering – is a Jewish holiday that R and I didn’t know about, or observe, until relatively recently (I’m old enough now that recent includes 10 years ago). We certainly started constructing and eating in a Sukkah the last few years that we lived in our previous home, but, as with everything else, our level of observance has increased substantially in the last 2-3 years, with the expansion of our home to include our boys, who have pushed us to a greater level of participation.
Here’s our sukkah this year:
And, last night, we slept in the sukkah!!
S is already just about asleep on the left, and R is reading to J with the help of a flashlight.
And, yes, it was quite cold!!
My night in the sukkah was punctuated by observations of the following:
- realization that my hips aren’t as happy with a hard surface as they used to be (even with a Therm-A-Rest® self-inflating pad under my bag), and I can’t sleep on my back!!
- there was a very loud party going on somewhere in the neighborhood
- our pool pump was noisy because the water level has evaporated down too low (I still need to close the pool – no time); I had to get up at 2am when the pump noise became so loud against the stillness of the night that I just couldn’t ignore it!!
- there are some interesting noise-making critters out there at 3am…
- rain is a great alarm clock (the rain started very gently at about 7am, perfect timing!!)
Before the High Holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur), I heard the podcast of the program On Being which featured Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, speaking about The Dignity of Difference (also the title of a book he authored). During the interview, he remarks on the significance of Sukkot, and the following spoke particularly to me:
So that is when we recall the 40-year journey through the wilderness when the Israelites had no homes. They were just essentially like Bedouin. They were living in tents or shacks. So for seven days, we leave the comfort of home. We build a shack with only leaves for a roof, so we’re exposed to the heat by day and the cold by night, and we just understand for seven days what it is to be homeless. Now how many of us, you know, in the West know what it feels like to be homeless? But we need to feel what it’s like to be homeless because there are a billion people on the face of this planet who are pretty near as it gets to being homeless.
Last week, we attended services marking the first two days of Sukkot – during those services, we hold two ritual objects – the lulav and the etrog – and shake them during the service in 6 directions (forward, right, backward, left, up and down). The lulav consists of a bundle made up of a palm branch, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches, and the etrog is a citron, with a lemon-like smell. R remarked to me how this practice seemed the most primitive and “weird” tradition we have in Judaism.
But, I think that’s just the point!! Some of the most powerful religious/spiritual experiences we have are those which engage us in both body and soul. It’s not always enough just to read about something, talk about it, or think about it. But to live it, to feel it, to recognize that you’re not in control of everything, as we so often are fooled into believing we are.
But, the nice thing about most Jewish holidays is that you don’t have to be miserable – if it’s raining, you should go inside!!