The lulav and etrog are verdant and vibrant, a riot of fragrance and color. I take them, shake them, inhale their power. As I do, I whisper the prayer: “May my shaking bring down blessings from the four corners of the earth, from the expanse of the heavens to my simple sukkah down below.”
I stand in my sukkah and say: “You, Giver of Life, showerer of love, send your beleaguered people your gifts of love. And just as you sent shelter to our ancestors in the desert, send shelter in this desert of 2020, in this darkness, in this pandemic. May the shelter of Your shade overtake us, slake us, make us feel loved and protected.”
My quaking, my breaking, my forsaking my old ways, my prayerful placating of the past two weeks, of the High Holy Days season, erupt in this grand finale: Sukkot is the last of the trilogy. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we beg for another year and confess and repent all the mistakes of the previous year. But Sukkot is the hug at the end, the holiday of joy, the holiday of love.
This year our community has seen too much pain: illness, death, economic downturn, addiction, depression, estrangement, bitter vitriol and divisiveness. But if there’s one thing Sukkot reminds us of, it’s the joy and love. The Sukkah represents God sheltering us from all harm. The four species represent taking disparate elements of the community together – the good, the bad, and the ugly – in unison, and creating oneness. The vulnerability of sitting outside under the elements, with a thatched roof for security, represents our smallness, our humbleness, our neediness.
We may not need any more reminders of our frailty. But we most certainly do need to be reminded that, in that frailty, we need one another.
Sukkot is arguably the least-celebrated holiday in Judaism, and that’s a shame. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are important, to be sure, but nothing can replace that joy in Judaism. Somewhere along the way, the PR team has lost its bearings. If the High Holy Days season were a Netflix series, I’d summarize it thus:
Part one: Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish people congregate in synagogues across the world (except in a global pandemic) to reconfirm their allegiance to Judaism, to crown God as their king by blowing the shofar, and to pray for a happy, healthy sweet new year. Also, they eat apples and honey, and, weirdly, a fish head.
Part two: Yom Kippur. The nation fasts for 25 hours, not even drinking water. They confess their sins of the previous year, ask God and each other for forgiveness, and commit to a better future. Finally, they eat. A lot.
Part three: Sukkot. After all the heaviness of the previous holidays, the nation celebrates with God by sitting in simple huts and shaking the lulav and etrog, symbolizing God’s protection and love. Also, they dance with the Torah, celebrating its annual completion. And they eat. More.
Now imagine that you’re binge-watching the series, but only watch part one and part two. What would your impression be of Judaism? Serious. Awe-invoking. Heavy. Solemn. There’s a time and place for that, but it’s like going to the bar mitzvah service and skipping the kiddush. What about the celebration at the end? What about the enjoyment? What about the love in our relationship with God? It’s skewed without part three.
So this year, friends, let’s tap into part three. Let’s get in all that love. Let’s heal the pain and the bitterness, because, OMG, that was sooo last year. Shana tova.
Read Ruchi Koval online at cjn.org/ruchikoval. Connect with her on Facebook at ruchi.koval and on Instagram @ruchi.koval.