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Secrets of Sukkot

Assembled and organized by Rabbi Paul Kipnes
with the CCAR Facebook Group

Full Body Experience

One fulfills a mitzvah just by entering the sukkah. Unlike a lot of other mitzvot (Jewish rituals), which are fulfilled on a certain body part, the mitzvah of being in the sukkah is fulfilled with your whole body (also works well with seeing arba’ah haminim as representing your whole self). On Sukkot, we are commanded to be happy. Rabbi Lior Nevo

When we sit in the Sukkah, we should remember (know) that the ultimate sukkah is the human body: a rickety, temporary dwelling place where we experience great joy. Rabbi Dr. Rachel Adler

@travelincatdoc on Twitter told me that she always felt like Sukkot was God saying, “go outside to play! I see the entire holiday as an opportunity to sit in the sukkah and enjoy all those relationships we repaired over the previous six weeks. Rabbi Ruth Adler

Power of the Sukkah

The rabbis thought the best way to convert to Judaism by dwelling in a sukkah (see BT Avodah Zarah 3a). Or in other words, sukkah is the one single mitzvah that allows for the receiving of Torah. Rabbi Kerry Olitzky

The text in Leviticus does not say “remember,” but “know” regarding the Exodus and that the sukkah allows us to actually experience what our ancestors did. Rabbi Marina Yergin

There is a belief, that biting off the pitom, can assure a woman to have an easy delivery. Rabbi Lior Nevo

Connection with Nature

I am never more aware of how ancient Judaism is than I am when I am waving my plants around praying for rain. Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik

An artist in the group loved that the symbolism of the four species could be about God. She felt like no one ever let her encounter symbols in nature so strongly before. Rabbi Neal Janes

Life Lessons

Life is like the sukkah:
One strong wind can knock us down. Rabbi Kenneth Emert

And the flip side of that is true too: just as one strong wind can knock a sukkah down, so too is a sukkah re-built every single year. Both the sukkah and life are both fragile and resilient. Rabbi Dusty Klass

Expect the sukkah to get blown down! Like many things in life, the sukkah never quite stands up the way we expect. Rabbi Cy Stanway

The sukkah is the spiritual prooftext for partial credit. This halfway built house is still worth something. Rabbi Dara Frimmer

Attitude of Gratitude

After 7 or 8 days, most of us can come back inside our homes to a solid roof over our head, secure in our knowledge that our next meal will be provided. But we must be conscious of (and open our hearts to) those who every day face uncertainties about food and shelter. Rabbi Alan Cook
Sukkot creates a moment of empathy. Turn around while in the sukkah, and you will be looking at your sturdy house, knowing we can go in anytime but that there are people for whom a sukkah would be an improvement from living on the streets. Rabbi Larry Freedman

We are commanded to invite ushpizin (ancient guests) to share our meals in the sukkah. But because they don’t eat very much, we are commanded to take what we would spend on them and give it to those in need. Rabbi Tom Alpert

Expansive Symbology

The four species (lulav and etrog) are compared to everything – the patriarchs plus Joseph, the matriarchs, different types of people, different body parts, God through the tetragrammaton (four letter name of God YHVH). The fact that all of these metaphors exist in our tradition shows our creativity in how we connect with the divine and the world. That Judaism is accessible to anyone because there are so many right answers (see Vayikra Rabbah 30 and Pesikta de Rav Kahana). Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik

Hands On Judaism

After the cerebral work preparing for the Days of Awe, the physicality of erecting the sukkah is liberating. Schlep the poles, schlep the walls, up and down the ladder umpteen times with decorations, hang the lights, and put up the schach. Decorate. It feels good after months of sitting in front of a screen. Rabbi Don Cashman

Connection to Secular Holidays

The Festival of Sukkot was very clearly the inspiration for the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621. The Separatist Pilgrims observed only feasts ordained in the Bible, which they studied in Hebrew, and with Rabbinic commentaries. Their Fall Harvest Festival required Scriptural warrant, so they observed Sukkot (and were actually living in huts themselves at that early point). They observed Sunday with all rabbinic Sabbath regulations, but did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, which were not Biblical, but later Papist heresies! Rabbi Howard Berman

In the Christmas-Chanukah comparison, the Sukkah can be compared to the American Xmas tree. We build it, use cherished decorations year after year, even hang lights. We invite over friends to help decorate. We hang out. In the market of Mea She’arim (ultra orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem) near Sukkot one even finds tinsel for sale that said “Feliz Navidad,’ which the Haredim were purchasing to put on their sukkot. Rabbi Joel Abraham

Walled In, Covered Over

In order for the sukkah to be kosher, it needs to have four, three or two and a half walls, meaning that from above, it should look like one of the three root letters in the Hebrew word for sukkah, סוכה. Rabbi Andrew Ergas

You can use an elephant to make a wall for your sukkah. Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

Rabbi Aaron Alexander taught: On a rainy day, the sukkah is a reminder that the “kosher” status of a sukkah’s roof is determined not by what can be seen from the inside, but by what can get in from the outside–namely, rain. In other words, if rain cannot make it through, the sukkah is not kosher. If rain can enter through the roof (even if stars cannot be seen), it is kosher.
We are meant to be open to the elements that create unpredictable instability and vulnerability, and to feel that when we gaze upwards. Since what we “see” often distorts that reality, the capacity to see stars cannot be the determining factor (see Shulhan Arukh, Orakh Hayyim, 631:3). Rabbi Alex Kress

A Sukkah is like…

…Dr. Who’s Tardis. When we enter it, we travel through time, experiencing the temporary huts of our ancestors and partaking in ancient rituals, plus hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests of the past). Like the Tardis, the sukkah is better enjoyed with companion(s), and it’s bigger on the inside (since it is always open). Rabbi Elisa Koppel

…Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It is where Superman goes to connect with his home planet and ancestors, and in fact it is created with elements of Krypton to remind him of a place he has no actual memory of, but that is a part of who he is. Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik

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