Posted on October 2, 2014
When you think about our day, how much of it do we spend indoors? An awful lot it turns out. We leave our homes to sit in our cars so we can get to work. In between, we go the grocery store, bank, and get gas. Most of our fun activities are in theaters, malls, and other buildings. We go from vehicle to vehicle and from building to building. Inside our structures, we feel the coolness of the air conditioning, read by fluorescent lights, and sit once again in front of a screen. By comparison, how often do we hang out outside? When was the last time, we studied the sky, smelled the ocean breeze, felt soil between our toes, noticed a budding flower, or just took the time to breathe?
Sukkot, our festival of booths, gives us an opportunity to catch our breath. Five days after Yom Kippur, we leave the walls of our synagogue and houses and we go outside to hang out in our succahs. These ‘sukkahs’ are temporary huts reminiscent of the Israelites’ trek through the desert. These huts are decorated with sweet-smelling pine branches, palm fronds, colorful gourds and pumpkins, fruit, and beautiful decorations.
There is something so calming about sitting in a sukkah. It involves all our senses. We can hear the prayers recited over the lulav and etrog. We feel the cooling of the autumn air through the porous walls of the Succah. We can see the sun by day and the stars at night through the skhakh, the branches of the roof. We smell the lemon scent of the etrog and can taste the sweetness of Kiddish wine. Spending time outdoors in a sukkah can reconnect us with family and friends as we celebrate this ancient harvest festival.
I especially love studying Ecclesiastes during Sukkot. On Shabbat, we open this provocative book of the Bible and study it in the open air of our sukkah. There are stimulating sayings such as, “There is nothing new beneath the sun” (1:9) and “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.”(3:1) Is it true that there is nothing new in the 21st century? How about technology, medicine, and communication? What about human beings? Has our nature changed at all over the millennia? As we look at our lives, do we believe that there are destined times for experiences in our lives? Pondering questions on the significance of our lives gives us an opportunity to think about the days we are living. It slows down time itself and can heighten our appreciation for what we have.
Sukkot this year begins on Wednesday night, October 8. We invite you to bring your own dinner and eat it in the sukkah. Friday night, Oct. 10, will feature a harvest Sukkot Synaplex. It will surely be a lot fun. And for those who wish to study Ecclesiastes with me, I’ll be in the sukkah on Saturday morning, Oct. 11, at 9:00 a.m. Sukkot is a holiday of joy and celebration. We invite you to take advantage of a sukkah. Come study in one, eat, and rejoice. As Ecclesiastes says, “How sweet is the light, what a delight for the eyes to behold the sun!” (11:7). Sukkot is a breath of fresh air. Let’s take the time to enjoy the beauty of our world, spend time with our loved ones, and appreciate the world that God has given us as we gaze up at the stars.