Commentary for Sukkot

16 Oct

One of the oldest metaphors used to describe the relationship between the Jewish People and God is that of a marriage. Dating back to Biblical times, this comparison has itself spawned many others that extend this metaphor involving many facets of Jewish life, but one of the most well-known envisions the three pilgrimage holidays- Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, as the stages of a marriage ceremony, with Passover representing the betrothal, Shavuot the marriage ceremony, and Sukkot the consummation.

 

Another, less well-known comparison, looks at this metaphor on a more individual level. It compares the relationship between God and each individual Jew at the time of the High Holidays as a marriage in crisis. We admit that we have done wrong, and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we have an honest discussion with God to determine whether or not we want to put in the effort to make it work.

 

Coming a mere five days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot is our first chance to show God that we are truly committed to this relationship. Sukkot is a holiday of many mitzvot and customs, and many of them are geared towards helping us in this endeavor, either by prescribing actions that help us show our dedication directly or by serving as symbolic reminders of what we should be doing.

 

The Sukkot sacrifices show our willingness to give gifts to God, just as God has gifted us with the food that sustains us. In the Sukkah we expose ourselves to the elements, trusting in God that they will not harm us. The lulav, etrog, myrtle, and willow, which we are commanded to bring together on Sukkot, symbolize Jews of all different levels of knowledge and observance. Each night it is customary to sing songs and tell stories of biblical figures whose virtues we wish to emulate. We start on the first night with Abraham, who was renown for his generosity and for inviting others to dine with him in his tent, and so we also invite guests to dine with us in our sukkah, including the poor. Rabbi Moshe Bamberger teaches that the position of the s’chach (the roof of the sukkah)- constructed out of the leavings of the plant kingdom that are usually useless to humans for the purposes of construction or consumption- high above the bounty of the harvest being served on the table us teaches not to be haughty, take our position for granted, or look down on the poor, for we, too, may one day be in their situation. We have spent the past two weeks promising to be better. On Sukkot, we are given the chance to prove that we will be.

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