Rabbi Mel Gottlieb’s 5780 Sukkot Greeting

These are days that are filled with joy and awe, received through the softness and fragility of life and the miracle of creation. We move from the ethereal heights of Yom Kippur to the earthy reality of Sukkot. Sukkot, the holiday where the fragrance of the etrog, and the branches of the Sukkah, the dwelling under the sky in moist evening, all bring us closer to nature and the Creator of nature; we invite our friends into the Sukkah, rub shoulders with them, huddle close against the cool night air, eat hot noodle soup, vegetarian chicken and kugel and carrots, invite in our ancestors and guests from Jerusalem to continue the dialogue, the conversation of the generations.

But do we also invite in people with whom we have strong disagreements politically and religiously, or do we only talk to those who ‘are like us.’ This practice of only speaking with those who agree with us can hardly be the mechanism that leads to true peace and harmony. And, unfortunately, this is a norm that is prevalent in our communities. So let us challenge ourselves this year and invite into our Sukkah those people with whom we have strong differences as well.  Conflict can represent an opportunity for us to gain insight into our neighbor’s point of view, create growth, and optimally develop new harmonious relationships with those whom we did not truly know and understand.

How can we transform conversations that can be hostile into ones that lead to greater understanding of the other?  Perhaps the head of the household can act as an example of bestowing respect on those who have different positions than s/he, and make an effort to listen and understand the underlying feelings that influence the ‘other’s’ position. This will greatly improve the relationship with the ‘other’ even if the different positions are not fully resolved. When one feels respected, rather than disrespected, the humanity of the other emerges, is palpable and this is healing to each party. The defensiveness is attenuated, and a spark of Shalom is ignited.

Sukkot is known as the holiday of PEACE and joy! So we must work to actualize this potential reality. The Sages give us several reasons why Sukkot is chosen for this noble aspiration. Firstly, we leave our homes, and go out and live in a Sukkah, a structure that brings us into closer contact with NATURE, and makes us all equal- the stars covering us, the birds and crickets singing to us, the grass and trees treating us to their aromas.  We have this sudden flash of insight that we may not need the beautiful solid structures that shut us out from nature and are often created through the sweat of such competition and enmity that we no longer have time to remember who we really are as members of this disparate but unique Jewish nation, all children of G-d.  We may begin to realize that our true security resides not in physical structures, but through faith. We can be protected by G-d in a Sukkah just as well as in our beautiful homes.

At Sukkot, we are brought into calendarial time, into a new space of memory, joining our souls to our ancestors who dreamed of a better world where the whole earth could dwell under the Sukkah of the Lord of Peace. Thus, we take each of the four different species and bind them together, symbolizing the possibility of accepting differences all under one central universal motif. Let us be blessed this year to invite both our friends and those who have not yet become our friends to our Sukkah and be elated to discover their humanity, along with the wonder of their ‘difference.’

Chag Sameach and Blessings of Peace,

Rabbi Mel

Leave a Reply