by Rabbi Evan Schultz, November 2017, Cheshvan-Kislev 5778
The following is adapted from my October 6 sermon:
It has been three days now since I put the finishing touches on our family sukkah, getting the bamboo roof and lattice walls up just in time on Wednesday afternoon to then shower and make it on time to Sukkot services here at the synagogue. Just yesterday, on Friday morning, I sat in the sukkah for the first time, gathered with some friends for coffee and conversation before heading off to work. It had rained the night before, I went out and wiped away the water that had pooled on the table and beaded on the chairs. As our group sat and enjoyed conversation, I noticed that several of the people sitting in the sukkah had to shield their eyes from the light of sun, rising before them.
It’s funny how Sukkot can change our perceptions – on most days of the year, having to wipe away the night’s rainfall at 7:30 in the morning could feel like an inconvenient task. Having the glare of the sun shining in our eyes can be an annoyance. Our instincts on most days would probably prompt us to just move inside – no glare of the sun, no puddles of rain to wipe up.
But Sukkot is different. Sukkot prompts us to notice the drops of rain that fell from the sky during the night. This festival of booths encourages us to bask in the morning sunlight and offer a blessing to God of thanks for the light that guides our way each day. Sukkot whispers to us to find a sense of joy in the everyday, to find wholeness in life’s simplicities – the light of the sun in our face, the morning dew, sitting around a table with friends, offering blessings of thanks with family.
On Sukkot we are prompted to build – not with stones and bricks, but rather with much simpler materials – wood, cloth, lattice, branches. It is in this structure, the sukkah, where we as Jews are prompted to feel a sense of wholeness, to realize the immense capacity of God’s creation, to place our faith in the word that God spoke.
In a sense, Sukkot pushes us to challenge all of our instincts, for seven days to flip our perception of the world, to reconsider that which we really need to feel whole and complete. Instead of sitting in our homes, we sit in a flimsy, temporary dwelling. Instead of worshipping all of our stuff, we live with just the basic needs – shelter, food, clothing, and our fellow human beings. Instead of grasping on to more “permanent” relics such as a menorah or seder plate, our symbols of sukkot, the lulav and Etrog, are delicate pieces of nature that we hold in our hands, n’tilat, raising up God’s creation, sensing the delightful aroma of the Etrog, sun in our eyes, dew upon our sukkah tables, realizing completeness is found not in a storage bin in our basement, but upon our trees and in the grass.
This is what I so dearly love about being Jewish – our holidays are not simply for the sake of busying ourselves or fulfilling God’s ancient words, but rather to offer us a full shift of perception, of seeing the world in a completely different light for seven days out of the year, of prompting us to look at all we have and ask ourselves, what is it I truly need to feel complete, where should I focus my gratitude and joy in the world? That sacredness is found less in material objects and spaces of grandeur built with stone, but in simple structures, open to guests and friends, around a table, dew from the evening beading upon our seats, sun rising, light shining upon our face – instead of moving inside to be more comfortable, offering a blessing of thanks, modem anachnu lach, for God’s majestic creations, for the world and we were creating in seven days, we venture outside, lulav and Etrog in hand, for seven days to too find completeness, gratitude, joy, and fresh eyes to the world around us.