As we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot, we recall the words of the Torah: “When you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord…And you shall take fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees…and you shall rejoice before the Lord.”As we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot, we recall the words of the Torah: “When you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord…And you shall take fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees…and you shall rejoice before the Lord.”
In ancient Israel, Sukkot was a joyous time when people from throughout the country would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the end of the harvest season. But most of all, they would come to Jerusalem and to the Temple to express gratitude for the blessings of their lives. And so has Sukkot continued throughout the centuries as our festival of thanksgiving; the biblical festival which inspired the pilgrims in 1621 to set aside a day of thanksgiving after their first harsh year in the New World.
Traditionally, and still among some people, a person would leave the comforts and security of his/her home, to enter into the frail and modest Sukkah to dwell there for a week. It was to be a time for considering one’s priorities and the worthiness of his/her pursuits. It was to be a time for turning away from our quest for “more” and “bigger” and to focus upon the many riches that we already have in our lives.
And something more that seems so relevant to the present time. Not only is the Sukkot a symbol of thanksgiving. It is also a symbol for the fragility of our world, and for the fragile character of life itself. Earthquakes, hurricanes, sudden serious illnesses or accidents; they all have a way of opening our eyes and hearts to the truth that life is too precious to take for granted, and that gratitude and joy go hand in hand.
And as Sukkot summons us to recognize the uncertainty and fragility of life, how can we not think of the grotesque tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas. What words are there that can comfort the families of the victims and those who suddenly found themselves under attack? We can only hope that we will come together as a nation, support and respect one another, and focus upon the many selfless acts of bravery and heroism that took place.
For all of us, let this Festival of Sukkot open our hearts to the blessings of our own lives. And let this festival remind us that the highest expression of gratitude is to reach beyond ourselves with kindness and with generosity toward those less fortunate than us.
Shabbat Shalom and a joyous festival,