SUKKOT 5774 – September 18-25, 2013
“The Festival of Sukkot: Mind, Body, and Spirit”
By Rabbi Michael Menitoff, Dean of AJRCA Rabbinical School
Sukkot is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. It is seven days long. The first two days are full holidays. The five days afterwards are called Hol Hamoed, literally the weekdays of the holiday, or what we refer to as the Intermediate Days of the Festival. They have characteristics both of holidays as well as regular days. The final day of Hol Hamoed has a name of its own, Hoshana Rabba. It is considered the last day of the High Holy Day season and the final opportunity to repent. Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah follow. While they are considered festivals in and of themselves, Leviticus 23:36 creates ambiguity by defining Shemini Atzeret, at least, as the eighth day of Sukkot. Simhat Torah is the designation of the last day of the holidays. On it, the reading of the Torah is completed and begun anew. Notwithstanding the different emotions of the contemplative Shemini Atzeret, which includes the Yizkor Memorial Prayers, and Simhat Torah on which congregants dance with the Torah scrolls, the two holidays are combined in the State of Israel.
As with the other Pilgrimage Festivals, Sukkot has a cerebral aspect. It commemorates a historical event about which we are told to study, namely the dwelling in sukkot (booths) commanded to the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The holiday also recalls the harvest season in ancient Israel. A serious Jew is enjoined to use his/her mind to learn about these and other aspects of the holiday in preparation of its observance.
Perhaps more than any of the other Pilgrimage Festivals, however, Sukkot has an important physical component, as well. We ourselves are commanded to dwell in a sukka, to take our meals and offer our blessings therein. While there is no explicit commandment actually to build a sukka, many Jews take it upon themselves to do just that. It is not uncommon for people to climb ladders in order to place the sechach (covering) on top of the sukka. We and our families also take pride in decorating the sukka and making it look as beautiful as it possibly can. While the requisite physical energy is not as great as for building a sukka, the waving of the lulav (palm branch) accompanied by the etrog (citron) and the marching with these species are additional physical activities which engage us during the Festival.
Finally, our hearts and souls are especially touched by a lesson associated with the very nature of the sukka: its temporariness and the ease with which it can be damaged. Its use may be impaired by inclement weather, particularly if we happen to live outside Southern California. And we come to know all too well of the fragility and frailty of our lives themselves. We are reminded of that significant truth whenever we dwell in a sukka or visit that of a neighbor or friend. And we recall how easily life changes, such that we are well-served by appreciating each precious moment given to us.
Thus, Sukkot truly engages our minds, bodies, and our very souls. Moadim Lisimha. A festive Sukkot to you and your loved ones!