After the ten-day period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a literal breath of fresh air. Our focus turns from the internal world of selfassessment, forgiveness and atonement to the external gift of the earth in its autumnal glory.
Sukkot’s historical significance commemorates the forty-year period when the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in fragile, temporary huts. Its agricultural significance celebrates the fall harvest, honoring the relationship between human and earth. We are commanded to build a small, simple shelter (sukkah) with a roof of vegetation through which we can see the stars, and to live in it for seven days. It is an opportunity to leave our partisan, self-centered, materialistic lives and reconnect with the sacredness of family and land.
Although Sukkot is a festive and joyous holiday, it imparts many serious lessons. Unlike the High Holidays, the bulk of its rituals and celebrations occur in the home. This time we spend in a basic, small space with family and friends reminds us how important and valuable communication, community and sharing are. The temporary nature of the sukkah reminds us that, outside Israel, we remain wanderers and that our existence on earth is transitory. The fragility of the structure reminds us that we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food on our tables when so many have neither. We learn to appreciate more and take less for granted.
Most critically, however, Sukkot reminds us that our Torah commands us to recognize the holiness of the earth and the role we must play to nurture and protect it. All the holiday’s rituals reinforce our slowing down, simplifying and returning to the basics.
During the High Holidays, we are mindful of perfecting ourselves so we can repair and perfect the world through compassion, justice and peace. During Sukkot, we remember we must appreciate that world for what it is: God’s gift to us. It is our responsibility and within our ability to remain worthy of that trust.
This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on October 9, 2014.