Sukkot and the Places We Live
I have a memory of Sukkot which each year increases my energy to celebrate this ancient Jewish holiday.
It occurred four years ago, on a cool sunny day as I waited for a parent to arrive to pick up a bar mitzvah student from his lesson.
I asked the young man to walk with me as we discussed the importance of Sukkot in our tradition.
We spoke about the importance of remembering that we as a Jewish people are descended from a humble desert people.
We spoke about how lucky we are to live in freedom, and that although we live in comfortable homes, there was a time when our ancestors -- exposed to the elements -- carried and slept in small huts.
This is not far reach for many of our own families. Many of our parents and grandparents when they first came to this country lived in crowded, unventilated apartments.
We also talked about the importance of spending more time outdoors, not to hide from the elements, but rather to truly experience the elements and to inhale the earth.
As we approached the edge of the trees which border our secondary parking lot we noticed a trail of bottles, containers and plastic bag.
"Where did these come from?" asked the young man.
"They come from people who have nowhere to go, who late at night sit in the woods and either rest or find shelter," I replied.
The young man took a few steps into the woods, looked around at the debris, and then at the sky which was partially obscured by tree tops, and declared.
"Then I think we need to build better Sukkahs for the homeless."
It was sincere and it was powerful.
There is an inclination at this time of the year to droop our shoulders and bemoan "another Jewish holiday." Indeed, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur take a lot out of us.
But then Sukkot comes, and we are encouraged to we rev up our spirits again. It is a time in particular to consider our relationship with our environment.
Back in Canada, Sukkot falls at the beginning of autumn where leaves are turning shades, where winds lightly blow and often the first dusting of winter descends.
And as is the Jewish tradition, it is customary to spend at least one night in the Sukkah to feel just a bit exposed to brisker temperatures, wind, rain, sometimes even a dusting of snow.
But in the middle of the night, when you look up at the sky, you can't help feeling how lucky you are to be alive; to count the stars, to wipe away the dew, to open one eye to the dawn.
It is romantic and very spiritual. But there is a more concrete side to this experience which begs us to transition from the philosophy of religion, to its practice.
As the young man on the eve of Sukkot noted, there are many who do not have safe and permanent places to live.
Most mornings, as I drive to work, I notice a middle aged man walking the sidewalks. Later in the day when I come home for lunch, there he is still walking the sidewalks. And in the evening, he is gone - I imagine to some place which provides some form of shelter.
We are fortunate that there is a homeless shelter which operates in Glen Cove. Yet, homelessness still exists within and beyond our community.
The portion of the Book of Isaiah which we read on Yom Kippur reminds us to "feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked. (Isaiah 58:7).This is the time to follow through.
This is also the time, in spite of ou post High Holiday weariness, to remember others, for we are a people of empathy.
Just as we were slaves in Egypt, we empathize and act on behalf of those who lack freedom. And just as we were once homeless desert wanderers, we enhance our commitment to provide others with food and shelter.
It is noteworthy that during the Yom Kippur fast, a family of five entered our building and respectfully requested something to eat.
Sukkot reminds that we are often sheltered.
Indeed, contrary to the stereotype that some may perpetrate, most of those without shelter are either victims of economic hardship, or suffer from some sort of cognitive challenge.
Friends, there is much more work to be done to perfect this world. That is the Jewish mission.
And this week, on Sukkot, we are reminded that this pursuit of ultimate justice begins at home, within the echoes of a tradition which began thousands of years ago. And let us continue to contribute bags of food to Project Isaiah until the close of the holidays next week.
We are a people descended from huts. Let us rejoice, but let us also be aware, there is still much to do.
The words "we need to build better Sukkahs," echoes within me.
Let us fully experience Sukkot, and feel just a little bit exposed.
And let that feeling extend from our homes to others, as we strive to, in the words of the Alenu prayer, L'taken Olam, B'malchut Shaddai, "to heal a broken world within God's creation."
Indeed, we are sparks of that God. Every one of us.
No matter where we live.
Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday) Shabbat shalom.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman