My colleague, Rabbi Aliza Berk of the Bay Area Healing Center, poignantly illuminates the lessons that the festival of Sukkot bring to bear on the fragility we all are feeling during this economic crisis and recession:
Now we are celebrating the Fall harvest and pilgrimage festival of Sukkot; and the focus of the holiday shifts from the synagogue to the home. Sukkot is also known as zeman simhataynu, the festival of our rejoicing. It is a time to count our blessings. Sukkot comes to teach us to appreciate what we have and to hold our loved ones close. A sukkah is a temporary hut with a leafy roof used for Sukkot holiday meals, similar to the huts built during harvest season in ancient times. The sukkah reminds us of the delicate spiritual balance between recognizing our fragility and vulnerability and feeling sheltered by God’s presence. This is a time to reach out to those who need us and are in pain and aching from the battles of life.
This last year, our country has experienced devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and a major financial crisis. Many of us wonder how we can rejoice when our hearts are heavy, filled with fear about our future. During times of anxiety and fear, our rabbis remind us to focus on the words of prayer. One prayer that I always find very moving includes the words, “Ufros aleinu sukkat shelomeha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.” When I read these words, I feel a sense of calm and serenity. I imagine God’s loving embrace promising me shelter and protection from life’s challenges. I try to focus on the present moment and appreciate the gift of sitting in a fragile hut beneath a star-filled sky. Each of us can feel a sense of joy that in this moment life feels safe. Samson Raphael Hirsch taught that whether people “live in palaces or huts, it is only as pilgrims that they dwell, both huts and palaces form our transitory home. In this pilgrimage, only God is our protector and it is God’s grace which shields us.”
Why is the sukkah associated with peace and unity? There is a Hasidic teaching that observing the mitzvah of Sukkot draws down to this world a transcendent spiritual light. This divine light erases the differences between people and fills the world with an awareness of how we are all connected and we are all one.
On this festival of Sukkot, may we take stock of our lives, our homes, and the ways we organize our lives, and express our gratitude to the ultimate Source of our protection. May the Holy One of Blessing help us learn to fill our lives with acts of lovingkindness and look up in gratitude to the One upon which the sukkah of our life is based. May this be a zeman simhataynu, a time of joy, hope, faith and personal renewal.
© Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Rabbi Aliza Berk
For more Bay Area Healing Center Torah commentaries, click here.