Posts Tagged ‘Sukkot’

Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond

April 16, 2012

Looking for Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond?  Click here. 

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Tishrei 27: Four Days Left in the Journey

October 4, 2010

Finished-off sukkah after post-holiday storm.

The setting of this evening’s sun ushered in the 27th day of Tishrei, which means there are four days left of our 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei, including the Jewish High Holidays.  Perhaps your sukkah was vulnerable enough to be destroyed by a post-holiday storm.  The mahzorim (High-Holiday prayer books) have been packed away, the Torah rewound back to the beginning.  Winter’s coming, it’s time to get back to work.

But don’t let go of your spiritual travels of the past two months!  It’s not too late to reflect on the Eternal Moments you may have experienced, even record them in writing.  The task before us now is to draw in all that Divine energy we felt during the holidays, let it fill us, and turn our inspiration into action.  There are blessings to be said, people to be loved, Hebrew to be learned, a broken world in need of our help.

Judaism teaches us not to abandon the material world or separate ourselves from it, but rather to transform every “mundane” thing into a holy one.

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…

Jewish Holiday Greetings: Sukkot

September 27, 2010
sukkot harvest

lulav, etrog, Hallah, freshly harvested vegetables, Ecclesiastes

It is still perfectly appropriate to wish each other a Happy New Year (or Shana Tovah in Hebrew), just as people continue saying Happy (Gregorian) New Year for many weeks into January and beyond.

But maybe you’re looking for a Jewish holiday greeting more specific to the actual current Jewish holiday and wondering, What is the proper Hebrew greeting during these intermediary days of Sukkot? (September 26-29 this year) and what is the proper response?

Answer: Both come from the Festival Kiddush, as follows:

Person who initiates the greeting says: Mo’adim l’simhah!
Person who replies: Hagim u’z’manim l’sasson!

Hint about pronunciation: Each of the Hebrew words above puts the emphasis/stress on the last syllable.

Try it!

Hebrew Vocabulary:

Mo’adim = moments, “festivals,” “appointed times”
(singular: mo’eid)

l’ = for/to

simhah = joy, gladness, happy occasion

Hagim = holidays, celebrations
(singular: hag)

u’ = and

z’manim = seasons, times
(singular: z’man)

sasson = joy, happiness

Taste of Hebrew: Sukkah

September 26, 2010

Sukkah = hut, booth, “tabernacle,” shelter

Sukkot = plural of sukkah. The name of the holiday we’re in the middle of.

Sukkoh = his sukkah

Homework: See if you can find sukkoh (“his shelter”) in Psalm 27.

Tishrei 16: New Tradition: Post-Sukkah-Dwelling Tick Check

September 24, 2010

sukkah electrification projectMy faithful ol’ “giant-shower-stall” sukkah looks so much smaller and more vulnerable now that it stands on a huge lawn near the woods rather than in an Arlington postage-stamp back yard that was barely any bigger than the sukkah.   Two days into the holiday, I’ve observed a few pros and cons:

Pros:

1. The vulnerability of the little sukkah on the big lawn is so sweet, totally in tune with the holiday themes.

2. It’s so quiet here at night.  Aside from the din of the crickets.  The night air fairly throbs with them.

3. No more light pollution!

4. The nearest neighbors are far enough away from the sukkah that they won’t be disturbed if I drown out the crickets while practicing Ahat Sha’alti on the harmonica.

Cons:

1. There are a lot more mosquitoes out here amongst the protected wetlands, especially on warm nights.  Note to self: Buy more citronella candles.

2. The commute from the sukkah back to the house is a lot longer.  I and my guests can’t just dash back inside for forgotten items or the bathroom.  I even drove my car up and down the long driveway with trunkfuls of sukkah gear several times, just because it was easier and faster.   Now I’m likely to say, “Too bad we forgot that, let’s manage without.”   This is way more like camping.  It occurs to me that now we’re more closely approximating the ancient agrarian experience of our ancestors, who stayed overnight in the fields during the fall harvest!  Hm, maybe this should be a pro rather than a con?

3. It’s DARK at night.  That is, until the candles are lit.  (And the electric sukkah lights are fired up, thanks to some really, really long extension cords.)  This means the commute between the sukkah and the house is more treacherous at night.   So let’s just stay in the sukkah, which has suddenly become even cozier.  See Pro #3 above.

4. There are more animals of all types here, including deer ticks.  Looks like post-sukkah-dwelling tick checks will be de rigeur from now on.  We aren’t in Arlington anymore!

Tishrei 15: The Jewish Camping Holiday

September 22, 2010

Dining
al fresco.

Friends, mosquitoes,
Crickets
Homemade hallah
Homegrown tomatoes
Singing
Looking up through the pine boughs at the full moon, and, later, at the stars.
Delicious evening air.
No TV, no radio, no NPR.  Just crickets.
It’s camping in the back yard.  It’s Sukkot!

Tishrei 17: Quotes from Psalm 27

September 19, 2010
The Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms Scroll

Image by onBeing via Flickr

The Book of Psalms is called T’hilim in Hebrew.

We recite Psalm 27 every day during the the first 50 days of the 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei.  Starting one month before Rosh haShanah and continuing daily through Sukkot and Simhat Torah, Jews around the world repeat the comforting words of the psalmist:

“Gd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:2)

When you put it this way, our worries and problems suddenly seem smaller and less consequential, don’t you think?  I guess that’s the point.

There’s a beautiful waltz tune that was composed for the Hebrew lines of the following quote, whose meaning is already beautiful.  I’ve been teaching this one throughout the 60-day journey, every chance I get:

“One thing I asked of Gd, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the house of Gd all the days of my life; to behold the sweetness of Gd and to contemplate in His sanctuary.”  (Ps. 27:4)

One line of Psalm 27 that always startles is the tenth verse:

“Though my father and mother have forsaken me, Gd will gather me in.”  (Ps. 27:10)

Yep, that’s really what it says.  Maybe they really did forsake one.  Or maybe one simply grew up and moved away.

The final words of the psalm are comforting to many:

“Hope to Gd.  Strengthen yourself and be encouraged, and hope to Gd.”

Tishrei 13: Sukkot Is Coming

September 17, 2010

image

It’s Day 43 of our 60-day spiritual journey.  If you haven’t already joined in, please come aboard; it’s not too late!

Of all our happy holidays, Sukkot is the only one on which we are actually commanded, straight from the Bible, to Be Joyful.  Now that we’ve been judged on how we behaved during the past year (Rosh haShanah), spent ten days trying to make it right (Ten Days of Return), and got in touch with our purist selves (Yom Kippur), it is time to party.  Yes, it is!

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot always starts on a full moon, on the eve of the 15th of Tishrei. This year (5771) the holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday night, September 22.

Sukkot Basics:

1. Build a sukkah and live in it as much as possible during all seven days of the holiday.  A sukkah is a hut or booth (or “tabernacle”) that we build with a deliberately flimsy structure so that it is quite subject to the weather.   This small hut is built out in the open, directly beneath the sky, not under the shade or protection of other structures or trees.  To make it even more vulnerable, we leave lots of holes in the roof, quite on purpose.  The roofing material, or skhakh (schach), is largely what defines a kosher sukkah.  The skhakh is made entirely of natural material (detached from the ground), provides shade to at least 50% of the sukkah but leaves plenty of holes through which rain can fall.

Living in a vulnerable little house reminds us that ultimately our safety and comfort and happiness all depend on Gd.

My sukkah, with pile of skhakh ready for creating the roof

2. Every morning inside the  sukkah we take up the Four Species and shake them in the six directions.  These comprise the etrog (citron, pictured above), plus three kinds of branches: hadasim (myrtles), ‘aravot (willows), and lulav (palm frond).  The branches are tied together in a bundle that is usually referred to as the lulav.

3. An important part of observing Sukkot is hosting guests in your sukkah. The more the merrier!  In addition to our family, friends, and neighbors, we also invite the “Exalted Guests” in spiritual form, in this specific order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.  These guests are called ushpizin, which is Aramaic for “guests.”  There’s a wonderful movie called “Ushpizin,” which I highly recommend, for learning more about Sukkot and just for pure entertainment.

4. On Sukkot we read the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  Many famous quotes come from Kohelet, including “To everything there is a season,” “The sun also rises,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and my personal favorite: “Futility of futilities — all is futile!”

If anything in #4 above reminded you of a song, you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of Sukkot. Singing and dancing, common expressions of joy, are a big part of celebrating this holiday.

Hebrew names for the holiday include

HeHag (The Holiday)
Hag haSukkot (Holiday of Booths, or “Feast of Tabernacles”)
Z’man Simhateinu (Season of Our Joy)

‘Tis the season.  No matter what’s been going on in your life lately, you must now be joyful.   Sing.  Dance.  Find a way.