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Sukkot: Elevating the Physical

October 13, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

How to inject meaning and purpose in your holiday while shopping and cooking.

There is a certain irony in shopping for food and decorations and platters and more food to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot whose essential meaning is that all you really need is the Almighty. How do I reconcile the cooking and the new clothes and the string of lights and the fall-themed napkin rings with a celebration that asks that I move into a simple hut and let go of my hold on all but the most essential material possessions? Am I just going about it the wrong way?

Of course that is a possibility (!) but I think the answer may be somewhat different (at least I hope it is because I have a big list for the market and some fancy menus planned!). There doesn’t have to be a contradiction between my material preparation and my spiritual one. It all depends on my intent.

If I am using all these items as a way of elevating my holiday and connecting to God, then they become essential to the full experience of the day. If I am using them, however, solely to gratify my physical desires, then they are mere body indulgences and detract from the goal of Sukkot.

How do we determine which is which? I wish I had the magic answer, but it is a judgment call. I can buy new clothes because…well, because I like new clothes (!) or because they make me feel better about myself or because I was seduced by an ad or because I want to impress my friends (the reasons just keep getting worse and worse!)… or I can buy them because they will help me lift into the holiday, they will help me achieve the joy that is the hallmark of all or our celebratory days.


It’s a matter of intent and focus. I can shop (running from store to store to make sure that I have every exotic ingredient I need) and plan elaborate menus and cook and clean and do it all over again as part of a competition with the other women in my community or to impress my mother-in-law (actually she couldn’t care less) and my peers or because I enjoy eating… or I can do it because it’s a sign of my commitment to the day and a way to elevate our bodies, thereby helping us all get into the spirit of the day. The opportunity is there and the choice is ours.

It’s so easy to rationalize – “those new dishes are for the honor of Shabbos”, “that diamond bracelet marks the new year”, “I worked so hard I deserve that designer outfit for Sukkot” – but we need to be honest with ourselves. Do I want to make the holiday the best it can be? Do I want to experience the full spiritual pleasure available in the day? Are the accompanying material items just tools to help me realize this aspiration or are they the ends in and of themselves?

The answers to these questions impact not only the holiday but the preparation as well. I can either feel totally worn out from all the effort required to make Sukkot happen or I can feel excited by the ability to set the state to usher in the holiday. It’s a question of intent. It’s a question of focus. It’s a question of goals.

Sukkot is a wonderful holiday, a chance to really take a deep breath after the heaviness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and just enjoy the beauty and warmth of the Almighty’s embrace. I can use the material accoutrements that surround the holiday as a tool to further take advantage of this opportunity or I can allow them to drag me down. It’s my choice. And that's all I really need.

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