May 16, 2024
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May 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The following is based on a holiday message from my friend Rabbi Lior Engelman.

Sukkot is a time for recognizing our spiritual giants, and this gets expressed in the ushpizin (“guests”) custom of welcoming a different patriarch into the sukkah on each night of the holiday: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. By extension, I feel that Sukkot is a time for recognizing more historical spiritual heroes, whether ancient, such as Rabbi Akiva, Rashi, or Maimonides, or modern, such as Henrietta Szold or Hannah Senesh. In dealing with exceptional figures, however, it often happens that we forget the real person who faced real challenges and worked hard to overcome them. We tend to focus on the end result, and the figure becomes larger than life, worthy of great admiration but incapable of teaching us how to navigate through our own lives. This is where another key aspect of Sukkot comes in: the importance of the journey.

Many religions facilitate an appreciation for the here and now, for the journey, for a way of life. Religion encourages people to take more time to enjoy life’s individual moments along the way. The bedrock of Rabbinic Judaism is halacha: the way.

The holiday of Sukkot is a celebration of the journey of life. We mark the 15th of Tishrei not because of a specific event that occurred on it, but as an expression for a long-term process: “In order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt,” (Leviticus 23:43). On Passover, we celebrate the beginning, the exodus to freedom; on Shavuot, the peak moment of receiving the Torah; but on Sukkot we highlight the whole journey. At first glance, only on Passover and Shavuot is there a true reason to be happy, for these holidays commemorate events that substantially improved our situation: We were granted physical freedom on Passover and spiritual freedom on Shavuot. But Sukkot does not express a turning point, and yet nonetheless it is precisely this festival that is called “the time of our happiness.”

At heart, the happiness of Sukkot resides in the journey. As opposed to many people whose happiness exists only at climactic moments in life, and will thus inevitably be short-lived, the Torah educates us to find our happiness at all times and at every hour in a life of continuous development, a life of journey.

Fittingly, the primary mitzvah of the holiday is to bring normal life into the sukkah: eating, relaxing, sleeping. Our time in the sukkah is not designed to be a peak holy moment but to be an expression of happiness for the journey. And in a cute manner, the colorful, construction-paper chains that have decorated our sukkot from time immemorial (and have kept our children out of our hair for a few precious hours on the eve of the holiday) speak to the holiday’s emphasis on neither beginning nor end but on the middle, on the way.

As we welcome the ushpizin into our sukkah—and I encourage you to add generously to the traditional list of the seven patriarchs, whether ancient or modern, male or female, personally related and/or known to you or not—it is appropriate to focus on their journeys. How did this person achieve greatness? How did they struggle with their challenges? Did they fall, and if so, how did they rise? A focus on the journey that each of our spiritual guides took may help pave the way for our own journey. Happy Sukkot!

By Teddy Weinberger

 

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