Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Succot 2011

Succot by Rabbi Ariel J. Friedlander
14 October 2011

 

If you are in need of a Jewish calendar, look no further than the Book of Leviticus. Chapter 23 lists all the holy days of the Biblical era, including the one we observe this week:

“on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you shall keep the feast of Adonai seven days; on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest ... you shall dwell in booths seven days ... that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt:  I am Adonai your God.” (Lev. 23:39-43)

Tradition teaches that on Succot, we are commanded to make the Succah our main dwelling place. We should eat, sleep, study and pray in this temporary shelter, unless the weather is too harsh for it to be a comfortable experience. If it rains in your soup, then you may move the meal indoors! The minimum requirement is to eat the first night’s meal beneath the leaves and fruit. When I was young, my mother would take out the fondue set she had received as a wedding gift, and make a cheese fondue for my sister and me. We lived in the synagogue building, so we would take the left-over pieces of challah from the evening service, and the two of us would have a sit-down dinner in the Succah on the roof garden. We felt so terribly grown-up, and it was trulyzeman simchateinu, a time of our joy!

The Zohar, or Book of Splendour, first published in Spain in the thirteenth century, says that ‘righteous guests’ should join you when you sit in the Succah. There were seven of these ushpizin: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Each one represents important spiritual attributes through which the world may be nourished and perfected. In recent years, a list of women ushpizin has been created. Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel; Miriam and Esther are obvious candidates, but the seventh visitor may be any one of Abigail, Deborah, Hannah, and Huldah; or indeed any great Biblical heroine.

The synagogue of my childhood had a strong connection with the city of Prague, and so it was that when the lady responsible for decorating our Succah had to make an unexpected and immediate departure (for tax reasons) the day before the festival, the rabbi took one of his robes, a pumpkin and some sheaves of corn; and when the congregation entered the Succah they were greeted by their own special visitor:  the Golem of Prague. He was an honoured guest for many years!

The mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, is a core value across the spectrum of Jewish belief. Maimonides writes:

“while eating and drinking himself, one is obligated to feed the stranger, orphan and widow, along with the unfortunate poor ... [one who does not] is not enjoying a mitzvah but rather his stomach.” (Laws of Yom Tov 6:18)

We know we should contribute time and money to soup kitchens, food banks and other organisations that feed the hungry in our towns and cities. We should not forget to include the vital spiritual nourishment that feeds our hearts and souls and gives us the courage and strength to make a difference in our world. Perhaps it is time to make a list of your own ushpizin. Who will inspire you? With whom would you like to study? Who would you like to emulate?

Read last week's contribution here