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Why Sukkot Speaks to Us Now More Than Ever

October 1, 2020 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Three important messages for our time.

People are exhausted, fatigued. Children are in school and then they are not. Tensions within marriages and families are rising. Many feel isolated, lonely and sad. Worry about jobs and financial instability cause sleepless nights. What will be?

It is time for us to build our sukkah of peace. Beneath the stars we have been given the gift of serenity. The holiday of Sukkot comes just as we feel depleted and fills us with renewed energy. We must only stop and listen to the whispers in the night.

Here are three important messages that Sukkot brings us:

1. Shelter Under the Wings of Faith

We dwell in our sukkah for seven days. We leave our homes and all that is within. The dining room table, the mirrors and lighting, the comfort of our couch and we sit in a temporary hut, a sukkah.

Why a sukkah?

When the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt, God provided them with ‘sukkah’ booths of shelter. His clouds of glory would be their protection in the harsh desert wilderness.

Why wouldn’t God give His nation a more permanent dwelling?

This generation that left Egypt was weak in faith. God wanted His people to know forever that strength and security come not from a beautiful home or a fancy car. It is not about our possessions, security systems, bank accounts, or jobs. It is all about faith.

“Come!” God beckons. “Leave all your fears behind. I will shelter you beneath My wings. You will find your faith, you will discover serenity. Our connection will endure forever. Greater than any ‘thing’ is the knowledge that you do not live life alone. Find you fortress of faith.”

Reflecting on our sukkah helps open our eyes to the definition of true trust in God. Sukkot asks us to think: What matters in life? What sustains me? Whatever is important is right here with me. Everything else is temporary. The shelter of the Divine is the only shelter that remains forever.

These past few months we have learned how little we know. We have seen how much is out of our control. A virus, a miniscule germ, has brought the world to its knees.

Our sukkah reminds us that there was a time our people, too, felt helpless. Just as God sustained us and nourished both our bodies and souls, so too, will we find our sustenance. God will never abandon His people. As difficult as life seems, remember this teaching well. We have gone through an incredible journey, exiled throughout the four corners of the world. Given up for dead. And yet, here we are! Sitting in the sukkah booths as our forefathers did in the desert. The legacy remains alive. We are a miracle.

Renew your strength and courage. Inspire yourself. Ignite the spark that lies within your soul.

2. Plug Into Your Roots

If we don’t know where we come from we don’t know where we are going. We are clueless to the power that lies within.

What are my hidden strengths? What is my potential?

Just as we have physical genes so too, we possess spiritual genes. Our fathers and mothers who walked before us paved the way. They travailed, overcame obstacles, were tried and tested, all so that we their children find the resilience to go through our own moments of difficulty.

The Zohar writes that when the Jewish people leave their homes and enter their sukkahs, they merit to welcome the Divine presence along with seven guests. Seven shepherds descend from the heavens above and come as our ‘ushpizin’ guests.

The seven exalted ushpizin are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.

It is customary when entering the sukkah to invite them to join us with a special prayer.

When we sit in our sukkah and feel overwhelmed with what is happening in our lives, let us plug into the power of our roots. Our spiritual guests went through incredible challenges. They suffered mightily. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stood strong holding onto their faith as the whole world stood against them. Joseph was sold into slavery, thrown into prison and disgraced. Jacob thought he’d never see his son again. The grief was insurmountable. Moses and Aaron dealt with the pain of bondage, led the people through the desert for forty years but tragically never got to enter their beloved land of Israel. David was subject to rebellion, shame and his own son rebelled against him and threw him out of his royal palace. He never got to build the Temple in Jerusalem which had been his lifelong dream.

And yet.

These faithful shepherds sought only to bring kindness and truth into the world. They never lost their faithfulness, their compassion, their desire to make this world a better place.

God says: “You My children are shepherds, here to tend this world with love. It is therefore fitting for the faithful shepherds of old to dwell in the shelter of faith together with you, their faithful children.”

We are empowered knowing that we come from greatness, that we have the potential to overcome obstacles just as our forefathers did. Bring blessing into the world. Invite the ushpizin in.

3. Strength Comes from Unity

On the morning of the first day of Sukkot (when it is not Shabbat), we rise early and recite blessings on the four species. (Shehecheyanu blessing is only recited the first day, the remaining blessing recited the other days). The four species taken are: the beautiful fruit, the esrog; the palm frond, the lulav; the branch of a myrtle tree, the hadas; and the branches of the willow tree, the aravah. The four species together comprise one mitzvah. If one of the species is missing, the mitzvah is not fulfilled.

Each species represents another type of Jew. God says that we are to hold all four together as one. Each is necessary.

Whoever fulfills this mitzvah brings peace and harmony to himself and to the entire world.

These days, we need unity more than ever. Stop judging. Start loving. Call someone you know who is alone. Reach out to another Jew who is not like you. Give a good word, a smile.

God grants us peace when there is peace amongst us. Take the four species and seize the moment. Unity brings peace. Peace brings strength.

Find joy in your shelter of faith.

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