From the Rabbi’s Desk

 From the Rabbi’s Desk October 2023

Rabbi Carla Freedman

By the time you read this, the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be behind us, and we will be heading into Sukkot.

In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, that is, before 70 CE, the events we
call “the High Holy Days” were much less important than Sukkot, which was the last of the three Pilgrimage Festivals mandated by the Torah: Pesakh, Shavuot, and Sukkot. On each of these occasions, every adult male Jew was required to present himself at the Temple, with the Torah-commanded offerings.

Apparently, families made the journey to Jerusalem together, if they didn’t live too far
away. The (male) head of the household would present the required sacrificial animal at the Temple and would then bring the cooked meat (from the Temple altar) to share with the family. In those days, meat was far too expensive to be eaten frequently, so this was an occasion of some special pleasure.

Each of these Pilgrimage Festivals had an agricultural aspect. Pesakh was associated with
the barley harvest, Shavuot with the wheat harvest, and Sukkot with the harvest of all
produce that would see the community through the winter. So Sukkot was especially important. If the crops were good.. lots of root vegetables, grapes for wine, date honey for many purposes,figs and pomegranates…then people would come to Jerusalem to pray for their survival during the winter.

The Torah specifically speaks of “celebrating” Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40) and mentions the
component parts of the lulav [a palm branch, a myrtle branch, and a willow branch, with a citron {etrog}].

But when the Temple was destroyed and it was no longer possible for Jews to bring sacrifices to it, and when the Romans forbade Jews to even enter what had been Jerusalem, all the Pilgrimage Festivals lapsed. In their stead, the observance of the New Year and the Day of Atonement rose to prominence, especially as a liturgy of prayers developed, to give these occasions their meaning and unique emotional resonance. Similarly, as Jews moved to various places outside Judea, their connection with the
Judean agricultural cycle diminished, especially in places (i.e., Europe) where they were forbidden to own or work land.

So Sukkot declined in popularity, and the focus became the construction of “booths” or huts, in which we are supposed to dwell; the booths may have originally come from the practice of erecting temporary dwellings in the fields for the workers, so that the harvest could proceed expeditiously, before the rains came. After the agricultural emphasis declined, the explanation of the booths shifted to a “remembrance” of the temporary dwellings of the Israelites en route from Egypt to Canaan. Today, people build these fragile “dwellings” and invite guests to enjoy the fall weather and fruits in them; depending on how “early” or “late” the holy days occur in the fall, and where one lives, it can be too wet or too cold or too snowy, or, in Florida, still way too hot…to spend much time in the sukkah.

We will celebrate Sukkot on Friday, September 29th; come to temple by 7:00 pm
and shake the lulav in the sukkah our Men’s Club will have put up, and our Sisterhood will have decorated!

Sukkot was originally a seven-day festival. it was extended by one day, apparently because people were too joyful to return home yet…hence the eighth day of Sukkot is called Sh’mini Azeret, the eighth for stopping, and a ninth day was added to celebrate the end of one annual cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of another…a rejoicing in Torah, Simkhat Torah.  We will celebrate Simkhat Torah on Saturday, October 7th, at 7:00 pm); we will once again open the scroll all around the sanctuary, and the evening will include a brief Yizkor (memorial) service. If you haven’t seen or participated in opening the scroll all around the room, you are in for a very moving experience. And we need all hands on deck(literally)…so please come!

The appropriate greeting for Sukkot and Simkhat Torah is…khag sa-me-akh…or for the
Ashkenazim amongst us, Gut Yontif… Either way, “happy holiday”.