Sukkot Commentaries

A section for posting commentaries from any source, as well as personal comments, about Sukkot.

45 thoughts on “Sukkot Commentaries

  1. Wendy Berk

    From The Hebrew College

    Abodes of Possibility: Sukkot 5784
    By Risa Dunbar

    Exodus 33:12-34:26

    I have always felt that celebrating Sukkot in New England means facing the tension between our physical vulnerability, and our tradition’s description of this season as “the time of our joy.” Some years it has been impossible to sing in the Sukkah while drenched and shivering, or to enjoy dinner as shreds of multicolored decorations are whipped into my food by the wind. But Sukkot, at its best, can serve as a time for grappling with the varied paradoxes of the world. One expression of the sacred paradox of Sukkot that I find particularly notable comes to us on Shabbat Chol HaMoed, the Shabbat between the official ‘holiday’ days of Sukkot. In that Shabbat’s Torah reading, we are thrust back to the moments following the Golden Calf, when in a moment of spiritual crisis and beseeching, Moshe goes up Mount Sinai to speak with G?d and asks to see the Divine. G?d responds that Moshe cannot see G?d and live. As a compromise, Moshe is instructed to take shelter in the cleft of a rock, protected by G?d’s hand. It is in this place that Moshe dwells, before the Divine passes before him in a cloud, and we hear the refrain of the words that so animate this Jewish month of Tishrei:

    וַיֵּרֶד יְהֹוָה בֶּֽעָנָן וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם ה’’׃
    וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהֹוָה ׀ עַל־פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא ה’’ ה’’ אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת׃
    נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵׂא עָוֺן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה

    “And YHVH descended in a cloud, and stationed G?d’s self beside him there, and called out the name YHVH. And YHVH passed before his face and called out, “YHVH YHVH, G?d showing-mercy, showing-favor, long-suffering in anger, abundant in loyalty and truth, keeping loyalty to the thousandth [generation], a bearer of guilt, rebellious sin, misdeed, and clearing [these sins].” — Exodus 34:5-7, partial

    These words are eternally evocative but this year, as I moved to Jerusalem for my Hebrew College year in Israel, I found myself particularly drawn to the images of the place where G?d utters these words (within a cloud) and the place where Moshe hears them (within the cleft of a rock). My deepest reference and relationship to clouds is the fog that surrounds my home city of San Francisco. The clouds there are often misty and ephemeral, yet can be so powerfully dense that they completely block visibility, inconveniencing millions of people. And this attention to clouds extends beyond the particular fog of San Francisco. When we notice a sky without clouds, we often speak about it in reference to the clouds it lacks, saying “the sky is spotless.” Any way we speak of them, clouds have a sense of presence. Or in the case of the Cloud of G?d, The Presence.

    In contrast, Moshe is cradled inside of the cleft of a rock, a formation which often appears as though the rock is splitting, or is a narrow opening that might trap us inside. It is often dark, without the guarantee of light ahead. And it is precisely in this harsh and mysterious fissure that Moshe experiences one of the most intimate moments with the Divine that we have in our tradition.

    The softness and the harshness, the intimacy and the grandeur, of these two images strike me so startlingly that I can’t help feeling like that is the whole point. As Carl Jung explained, and Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld has championed, “the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions and a great witness to the truth.” Jung wrote that “only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” We have a paradoxical and true G?d, so it is only fitting that we have an illustration of communing with that G?d blooming with paradox.

    Our Sages and poetic liturgists notice the Cloud of G?d, HeAnan, in Moshe’s moment of revelation and connect it to the Clouds of Glory, the Ananei Kavod, which are ambiguous—yet definitively “protective”—clouds that are with the Israelites during their desert travels; eventually the Sages even connect these Clouds of Glory to the Sukkah itself. According to the Shulkhan Arukh, a 16th century Sephardic code of Jewish Law, the Ananei Kavod are a manifestation of G?d’s presence, which accompany and protect the Israelites from the desert’s searing sun. The Medieval French commentator Rashi bolsters this, saying that the Ananei Kavod led us throughout all of our forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (a Medieval Rabbinic authority) goes further, saying that the clouds gave personal attention to every Israelite based on their own individual needs. And each of these Rabbinic authorities seem to notice that just like Moshe can, paradoxically, only commune with G?d when G?d is concealed in HeAnan, so too was the Divine able to reveal care to us through the Ananei Kavod because of their inherently concealing form. Centuries later, in the 1700s, Rav Moshe Adahan, head of the Moroccan Beit Din (Court of Law), connected the Ananei Kavod to the Sukkah itself. In his liturgical poem Sukkah v’Lulav, he wrote: “The Clouds of Glory encircled us as four directions, above and below.” Thus, the entire Sukkah is a manifestation of the Ananei Kavod.

    It is hard to feel like the world we are in is soft, even when we are surrounded by people we love. It is hard to feel as though we are in a place of shade when the darkness threatens to be an unyielding night. It is hard for us to suspend our disbelief that the walls surrounding us are safe and reliable enough to risk joy. Yet, the text we read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot urges us not to dispose of these feelings and these recognitions of hardness, but to understand that even when the Sukkah as the Ananei Kavod feels unreachable, sometimes the Sukkah as a crag in the rock can be exactly the cradle that we need. For Moshe, for G?d, for us, they are both abodes of possibility. May we continue to merit and find abodes of possibility, and be blessed to have the eyes to see them, and the faith to know that there will always be space for us in the crag, the cloud, and the paradox.

  2. Aryae Post author

    Fallen Leaves

    A story about the essence of Sukkot, which occurs in 1968 in the San Francisco fog at the House of Love and Prayer, with a transcendent teaching from Reb Shlomo.

    (From Chapter 21 of Holy Beggars.)

  3. Wendy Berk

    From JTS

    Impermanence by Design


    If your sukkot are anything like mine, something usually falls off or blows away at some point during the week. This was true of my backyard sukkah in North Carolina, whose hanging decorations were not securely fastened enough to withstand the wind, and the skhakh of my Upper West Side balcony, which unfortunately ended up on someone else’s roof.

    Sukkot are impermanent by design. This is our lesson and our meditation throughout the week. In the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 23a), our rabbis argue about how strong a wind a sukkah should be able to withstand in order to be considered kosher: does it need to be able to withstand a strong wind, or just average wind? We can feel the tension—on the one hand, we want our sukkot to be strong and sturdy, on the other hand, the holiday pushes us to acknowledge that they may just blow away. The Mishnah in Sukkah 22a suggests that in the ideal sukkah, one should be able to see stars through the roof—in order, I think, that we might contemplate the great expanse of the universe, and our relative temporality and insignificance.

    Our rabbis assigned Kohelet, the book of Ecclesiastes, to be read on the holiday of Sukkot as a further directive to contemplate impermanence. “All is transient!” Kohelet exclaims (Eccles. 1:2) and spends the rest of the book trying to reconcile with this fundamental truth of our lives.

    What is the purpose of pursuing anything, Kohelet asks, if we are all headed for the same end? What is the point of not only wealth, but wisdom? Wisdom doesn’t protect us from our inevitable death.

    In 1973, Ernest Becker published his book The Denial of Death, a psychological schema that placed at the center of most human behavior this very fundamental fear: that our lives are insignificant, and we will die. His ideas developed into Terror Management Theory, a psychological theory stating that many of our actions are motivated by our need to insulate ourselves from our “deep fear of living an insignificant life destined to be erased by death.” Avoiding the fact of our mortality thus ends up animating nearly everything we do as humans.

    According to Terror Management Theory, the pitfalls of this unexamined fear are not only personal and spiritual, but social and political, because one way that we address this fear is by assuring ourselves that we are part of an important group. We may tell ourselves, “Well, my life is short. But I’m part of the most important group, culture, religion or nationality. So that will outlive me.” It’s easy to see how this can become quite a dangerous ideology.

    We see this problematic way of addressing fear of death playing out in other ways as well: we derive psychological comfort from not thinking about the climate crisis, or about the erosion of our democracy. Supremacist ideologies are taking hold perhaps in part to counteract our sense of individual insignificance, the same discomfort of the human condition upon which Kohelet spent twelve chapters reflecting.

    At its worst, religion can be merely a way of denying death, at times to dangerous ends: by means of asserting our cultural or religious supremacy.

    But at its best, religion can be a roadmap for how to truly grapple with our impermanence. I believe that it is too tall an order for most people to confront their own mortality in a vacuum. We need narrative, ritual, and community to come to a sense of peace and wisdom—indeed, this is the journey that Kohelet takes: from fearful immobilization as an individual facing mortality, through a meandering and contradictory path through hedonism and greed, ultimately to the conclusion that doing mitzvot is the best way we have to live as mortals (Eccles. 12:14). (Whether this was the author’s conclusion or added later by the sages, we can still choose to integrate it into our interpretation of the book’s message).

    Thus we come to Sukkot. We have the blessing of a week-long ritual that rehearses impermanence for us in an external, physical, communal, and joyful way. Our tradition gives us this gift. We learn not to take for granted those structures that we hope to continue, but to work together to continually rebuild them. We also learn to embrace impermanence. Our tradition tells us: there is no use in denial, and there is no use in comforting distraction. Together, we practice impermanence with our eyes wide open, looking at the stars together.

    As we continue to eat, sing, and dwell in sukkot together this week, may we be shaped into human beings more capable of facing the uncertainty of life. During this zeman simhateinu, may we confront our fears not only with wisdom, but with joy.

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Sukkot and Sacred Spaces
    By Rabbi Pinchas Giller, PhD
    The abiding theme of Sukkot, in Kabbalah, is the consecration of sacred space. The various main systems of Kabbalah concur that Divinity flows into the world through the instrument of ten emanations, or sefirot, stages in the descent of God’s energy into the world. The upper three of these emanations are purely cerebral, the levels of Wisdom, Understanding and Consciousness (Chochmah, Binah, Da’at, acronym: Chabad). The lower seven sefirot deal with the way that Divine energy is expressed in the phenomenal world. The first level of this process is psychological, in the relationship of Lovingkindness, Judgement and Mercy (Chesed, Din, Rachamim or Tiferet) while the final stage is God’s manifestation in physical life, in the qualities of Longevity, Grandeur, Sexuality and Existence (Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkhut).

    The rituals of Sukkot evoke and support these seven lower levels of existence, though the motif of seven units that is represented over the seven days of the Festival. Four species of vegetation are brought to the worship service on the Sukkot holiday: the myrtle (hadas), willow (’arava), palm shoot (tamar) and citron (etrog). In the kabbalistic classic Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, the four species represent the body itself, both the human body and the Divine cosmic body of God:
    The etrog is the Shekhinah, the heart, the essence of the limbs of the body, which are the myrtle, the palm and the two willow branches. The heart is in the center, and the rest of the limbs surround it. Because of this, the etrog is the Shekhinah, as the Masters of the Mishnah taught (Sukkah 29b): if its stem has been removed, or if it has been blemished, it is unfit. For it must be like the Shekhinah, of whom it says: You are completely beautiful, my bride, there is no blemish in you (Song of Songs 4:7). The palm branch, that is the lulav, of which it says: If the leaves have split off, it is unfit … Whoever blesses it on the first day of Sukkot, binds themselves to the unity of everything, Life! (Chai, whose numerical coefficient is eighteen) for the eighteen vertebrae in the spine. Therefore the Masters of the Mishnah taught: the lulav resembles the spine. The secret meaning of the lulav is (Psalms 92:13) the righteous shall flourish like a palm (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 29a).

    The myrtle has a triune nature, in that it is made up of a series of three leaves in a cluster, which invokes the three Patriarchs, paradigms of the intermediate sefirot Chesed, Din and Tif’eret. The two willow branches invoke Netzah and Hod. The palm shoot or lulav, symbolizes the quality of mercy or Tiferet, while the etrog, or citron, symbolizes Malkhut. Holding the lulav and etrog together is an act of unification, symbolizing the union of the transcendent and the corporeal.

    The lulav is shaken eighteen times. This action, like the eighteen blessings of prayer, relates to the eighteen vertebrae of the backbone. Since the lulav is symbolic of the Divine backbone, any fracture in its structure renders it unfit for use. Hence, the lulav and petitional prayer are ways of meditatively imagining the Divine.

    The spherical etrog is held in the left hand, in line with the heart, invoking the wholeness of the paradigmatic figures Jacob and Solomon. The etrog has the same aroma as the tree from which it comes (Sukkah 39b; Rosh Ha-Shanah 14b), indicating the immanence of the Tree of Life in the realm of the Tree of Knowledge. The lulav and etrog are instruments of the adherent’s union with the emanation of God into the World.

    According to these kabbalistic interpretations, the symbols of the Sukkot festival celebrate the descent of Divine effluence. The sukkah itself represents the sanctified inner realm of the holy. Its six dimensions, (up, down, north, south, east and west) as well as the central point of its existence, also evoke the seven lower sefirot. Elsewhere, the Zohar introduces the concept of every day of Sukkot being an opportunity to “fix” the energies of one of the lower seven sefirot, through the act of inviting the seven shepherds, the ushpizin or Divine guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David (Zohar II 103a).

    So it is that the practices of Sukkot sanctify the spatial nature of Divinity as it flows into the physical world. Chag Sameach!

    Wendy’s note: Reb Zalman’s list of women ushpizin: Miriam, Leah, Hannah, Rivkah, Sarah, Tamar, Rachel.

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Rishe Groner

    We’ve reached that point in our journey.
    We’re standing at the moment we call Hoshana Rabbah.
    “The Big Ask”

    The moment where all of our personal work, our review of ourselves, our building of a deeper connection with the meaning of the Divine in our lives, comes to a culmination in a point of the deepest connection.

    Last week, as we prayed the Neilah prayer, for the “locking of the gates”, it wasn’t the gates of Divine abundance being locked in our faces – the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) tells us it was a moment of our own being locked in with our beloved, as close as possible to Divine embrace.
    And on Hoshana Rabbah; this final day of Sukkot today, we reached the point where an additional seal is added to that space of locked-in embrace with the Divine.

  6. Wendy Berk

    From AJR/CA

    “The Beauty and Blessings of Sukkot”
    By Rabbi Mark Diamond

    One of the two primary mitzvot of the Sukkot holiday is the precept to dwell in a sukkah. The fragility of the booths we construct is an integral part of the holiday observance. A properly-made sukkah should sway with the elements, at least a little bit.

    My early adventures in sukkah construction featured a ramshackle booth that was adjacent to a Jewish student house in Northfield, Minnesota. Not only did the sukkah suffer the ravages of an early snowfall, it caused quite a stir with the campus administration. I fondly recall one day when the dean of housing drove by, slammed on the brakes of his car, and queried me about the unauthorized structure that violated every building code on or off the campus. I replied: “Don’t worry, it will come down in a week!”

    Like the shaky sukkah, our lives are often subject to powerful forces beyond our control. No sukkah is guaranteed to withstand all the elements of nature. Likewise, no one is exempt from the trials and tribulations of life. For seven days each year, we forsake our permanent abodes and dwell in humble huts. These temporary accommodations teach us humility. They remind us of the frailty and uncertainty of human life. They compel us to ask: Do we have a destiny to fulfill on this earth? Or is our fate merely a series of chance events, our lives as fragile and tenuous as a sukkah blowing in the wind?

    The question has ancient roots. The Talmud tells us that for two and a half years, the schools of Hillel and Shammai debated the most profound existential question of all. The Shammai team contended that it would have been better had God not created humankind. The Hillel team argued that it was better that God put us on earth.

    Finally, they voted. Normally, in a dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, Hillel wins hands down. Not in this case. When all the votes were in, Shammai prevailed. The sages decided that it would have been better had God not created us. However, since our creation is an indisputable fact, we should scrutinize our deeds. In a variant tradition, others say that we should consider our future actions.

    Is there an ultimate purpose to life? In classic rabbinic fashion, the sages answer with a resounding maybe. In pure philosophical terms, it would have been better had we not been brought into this world. Nonetheless, since we’re here anyway, we must justify our existence by performing good deeds.

    There is a charming tale about how the Hassidic master Rabbi Hayyim of Zanz prepared for the Sukkot holiday one year. On the eve of yom tov, he told his children that he urgently needed several thousand rubles. Responding to their father’s timely request, they went from door to door borrowing the money from wealthy members of the community. Upon their return, Reb Hayyim distributed all of the money to the needy.

    As the rabbi and his family entered their sukkah that evening, he said, “People are accustomed to decorate their sukkah with all manner of pretty ornaments. The beauty of my sukkah is different. Tzedakah is what makes my sukkah beautiful!”

    As we celebrate the festival of Sukkot, we are mindful that so many in our community and across the globe do not enjoy the blessings of food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities.

    The rebbe’s tale reminds us that tzedakah beautifies the holiday and gives purpose and meaning to our existence. Our lives do indeed matter when we share our blessings with those in need.

    Hag Same’ah

  7. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Published in the Times of Israel

    The shaman’s rainstick: The eco-Torah of Sukkot

    When Israel was encamped, the pillar of cloud was…like a sukkah and made a canopy over the tent (of meeting) from without, and filled the mishkan (inner sacntum) from within…and this was one of the clouds of glory that served Israel forty years in the wilderness: one on their right and one on their left and one before them and one behind them and one above them and the cloud of the Shekhinah in-between them.” (ch. 14 of B’raita Dim’lekhet Hamishkan, also in Yalkut Shimoni, Pekudei)

    In Kabbalah, God is called the soveiv kol almin, what surrounds all worlds, and the m’malei kol almin, what fills all worlds. In this ancient midrash, the ultimate principle of God that fills and surrounds all, the Shekhinah or the indwelling presence of God, takes the form of a pillar of cloud that makes itself manifest within and around the mishkan, the dwelling place created for God.

    But the midrash also tells us that the Shekhinah dwelt “between” the people of Israel – in other words, that Shekhinah dwells on this earth when the people make a dwelling place for her “between them”, that is, in their relationships and connections. We will return to this idea below. First, let’s explore how the lulav itself draws God’s presence into our lives and world.

    1) Why a Lulav?

    Sukkot is about water. Everyday in ancient Israel, the priests poured water on the altar and sung prayers asking for the blessings of water. The four species (arba minim) of the lulav are all about water too: The lulav itself, the date palm, was the most water-loving plant of the desert; the myrtle (hadas) needs the most water of the mountain plants; the etrog fruit among agricultural trees requires the most rain to grow; and of course the “willow of the streams” (arvei nachal) are synonymous with abundant water, often growing with their roots right in the streams.

    Each of these species represents one of the primary habitats of the land of Israel: the desert, the mountain, the lowland (sh’feilah in Hebrew), and the river or riparian corridors. Each of these types of habitat is distinguished by how much rainfall and how much groundwater are found there. Together, the four species make a kind of bioregional map of the land of Israel, and they each hold in greatest abundance the rains that fell where they grow in the year that has passed. That’s why the tips of each species, the pitom of the etrog, the unsplit central frond of the lulav, the end leaves of the myrtle and the willow, cannot be dried out: it would be like praying for good health while eating junk food.

    Bringing these four species together, we wave them in all directions around us, up and down, praying that the coming year will again bring enough water for each of these species to grow and thrive, and with them all the species of each habitat. All the other explanations you may have heard for the four lulav species (like, we wave them to show that “God is everywhere”, or, they represent “the spine, eyes, lips and heart”) are lovely midrashim, but this is the real reason. We are praying, fundamentally, for the climate, for the stability and sufficiency of the rain and sunshine, on which depend every being living upon the land, whether plant or animal (or fungus or bacteria).

    How can we make our prayers heard? We can make them heard by hearing them ourselves. When we pray for abundance and sustenance while living in ways that destroy our climate, it is like praying with a dried-out lulav, or worse, praying for health while eating not just junk food, but poisons and toxins. We need to pray for abundance and sustenance, but we also need to pray for the wisdom and ability to act consistently with our prayers, to change how we live so that we might live sustainably on the earth. As the Torah enjoins us: Uvacharta bachayim! Choose life!

    2) Hoshanot

    What does it mean to be a “nation of priests”? Abraham was told that through his descendants, “all the families of the earth” would be blessed. If you look at the liturgy and at midrashic teachings on Sukkot, you will see that this means praying for all other peoples and nations – according to the midrash correspond, the seventy bull sacrifices brought over the holiday correspond to the seventy nations. But it also includes, as we read in the Hoshanot prayers for each day, the crops, the animals, the trees, the rains, and the sustenance of all the earth. We cry out on each day, pleading for sustaining blessings for all of these: “Please save human and animal! Please, save! Please save flesh and spirit and breathing! Please save likeness and image and weave! Please save the ripe fruit, sweeten and save! Please save the clouds from withholding! Please the animals from miscarrying! Please save the rooting of the breathing trees! Please save, Renew the face of the earth!”

    What species and habitats need our special prayers this year? Some examples: Save the polar bears from drowning; save the fireflies from becoming lost; save the honeybees from colony collapse; save the coast live oaks from decay; save the old-growth redwoods from becoming lumber; save the cloud forests from vanishing; save the seas from dead zones. Not all environmental crises are our fault, but they are all exacerbated by the pressure, stress and loss of habitat created by both global climate disruption (a.k.a. climate change) and by our use of more and more land for our purposes (which also accelerates climate change). What can each of us do to protect the particular species in our own locale and “bioregion”? How do each of our actions and choices about what to buy and use and how to live affect species in other places? Finding out the answers to these questions is part of what we need to do to make our prayers real. All ecosystems are connected, and we cannot harm one without harming the others, so any prayers we make for individual species or places are also prayers for the whole Earth.

    Our prayers help us to focus on this by asking us to be aware of the fragility of life, on the fragility of all that is “suspended on nothingness”, t’luyah al b’li mah. Two of the lines from the Hoshanot are especially striking: “Please save the soul from desperation! Please save what is suspended upon nothingness! Hoshana nefesh mibehalah! Hoshana t’luyah al b’li mah!” Behalah, desperation, can mean all the forces that turn us away from action, that make us believe that we cannot make a difference. The way to save the soul from “behalah” is to fulfill the mission described in the Hoshanot: to act as priests and pray on behalf of all the other species, to fix what we can. Part of this process includes mourning for what is being lost, and celebrating what remains.

    3) The month of Tishrei

    We have been praying, fasting, purifying ourselves since the new moon of Rosh Hashanah, for one overwhelming reason: to make ourselves ready and worthy to pray for the well-being and fertility of the earth, the crops, the animals, and all the peoples. Only now, after we have completed that process through Yom Kippur, can we start to say those prayers. That’s why the tradition says the gates don’t really close until the last day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah. That’s why it’s traditional to wear a kittel on that day (kittel is the shroud many men an some women wear on Yom Kippur, as well as on their wedding day and in death), and why the Chazan (cantor) may don a kittel the first time we say the prayers for rain, on the following day of Sh’mini Atseret.

    On Yom Kippur, in the Sefardic prayers, there are long confessions that detail every possible sin. One of the sins confessed in this list, among such varied items like “I have misled people in business” and “I ate outside a sukkah on Sukkot” is so very deep: “I have not chosen life / Lo bacharti bachayim.” To do t’shuvah, repairing ourselves and returning to God, means to choose life. Sukkot teaches us how.

    4) S’khakh

    If you know how to build a sukkah, you know that its roof is made of s’khakh, branches and leaves. This is not only the essence of the sukkah, it is also the reason why it’s called a “sukkah”. S’khakh can be made of anything that grows from the ground. To be s’khakh, however, the material must both be cut off from the ground, and yet not manufactured into something new and finished (e.g., one cannot use a woven grass mat). S’khakh can’t be held together by wire, and it should not be tied down in any way. It should ideally rest on plain wood, not metal. All these rules are referred to by the idea that s’khakh cannot be made of anything that is “m’kabeil tuma”, that is able to become ritually impure.

    An object can become “impure” or tamei only when it is fully part of the human world. So, for example, if one is making a chair out of wood and has attached only three of the four legs, the chair is not finished and it’s not able to become impure. The categories of ritual purity are human constructs, as the Talmud explicitly acknowledges. Nothing that is wholly part of Nature can become impure, and nothing that is in process of being made into a human artifact, but that is unfinished, can become impure. (Nevertheless, some materials, like metal, just by being extracted and refined, are considered part of the human world, even before they are made into something specific.)

    The essence of what it means for s’khakh to not be “m’kabeil tuma” is that it is in-between Nature and the human world, neither attached to the ground nor manufactured or turned into a human object: it is cut from the ground (or from a tree growing in the ground), but not yet re-formed or shaped into something useful or woven or tied down. The roof made of s’khakh represents many aspects of the “in-between”: the interface between heaven and earth, the space between atmosphere and ground, the meeting place between us and God, but it also (and most importantly) represents the transitional space between Nature and our human-made world.

    S’khakh is the “in-between”, the filter and screen through which we experience the greater reality of divinity and nature. It also represents the atmosphere and climate that gives us ran and tends and protects us, and it represents the fragility of that protection.

    Traditionally, s’khakh should cover more than half the area above the Sukkah by creating more shade than light, but it should have openings throughout, smaller than a handbreadth, but big enough to see some stars. At night with a light on in the Sukkah it may seem like there are almost no openings. But what is unseen permeates what we see, like the stars that shine through the sky and the s’khakh. Shefa, the blessing of overflowing abundance, pours in, whether we are aware of it or not. The sukkah gives us the privilege and opportunity to sense this happening.

    An essential aspect of Sukkot is to teach us to live in the “in-between”, to find shelter and comfort in vulnerability and in making ourselves open to the elements, and to bear witness to the Shekhinah-radiance that underlies all that we can experience. Being aware of the fragile liminality of our separation from God and from Nature, right over our heads, is an entry to thanksgiving, acceptance, and joy.

    5) Shaking the lulav

    We read in the midrash above: “When Israel was encamped, the pillar of cloud was…like a sukkah and made a canopy over the tent from without, and filled the mishkan from within…and this was one of the clouds of glory that served Israel forty years in the wilderness: one on their right and one on their left and one before them and one behind them and one above them and the cloud of the Shekhinah between them.” We are surrounded by the divine presence, what is called “glory” or kavod in the Bible, or Shekhinah in rabbinic and post-rabbinic Judaism. If the lulav is meant to draw down shefa and blessing to the Earth and all creatures, then we shake or wave it in all directions both because we want to draw blessing from all quarters of creation, and because we need to simultaneously bring blessing to all quarters and corners of creation. Right and left, before and behind, up and down.

    When we wave or shake the lulav toward the Earth, we are waving in the direction of all that binds us together, all that we are made of, the direction of adamah, our substance, and Shekhinah or Malkhut, according to Kabbalah. The Earth is one manifestation of Shekhinah, which truly rests in the “in-between”, in the relations between all creatures, in the “weave” of creation, and in the weave of human caring. (Note that shaking the lulav down is the last direction for most folks, but there are different orders for waving the lulav. For some Hasidim and Mizrachi Jews, the last shake of the lulav is behind us, rather than down.)

    Sukkot reminds us that our relationships are not just with other humans, but with the world that is one step beyond the human, the more-than-human world that provides us with all that we need. All creatures are our relations. Both the s’khakh and the lulav draw us by steps toward the greater physical and spiritual reality which is the bed and bedrock of our lives.

    When we pray for all creatures, as our tradition bids us do on Sukkot, we act this out ritually by shaking the lulav. We wave or shake the lulav three times in each direction, returning the lulav and most especially the etrog after each shake to our hearts. A kavanah for each set of three shakes could be to shake the first time to receive blessing from the direction, from all that could come from there), the second time to send blessing to that direction (and all that dwell there), and the third time to express gratitude or to unite our hearts in compassion with the One who cares for all of them.

    It’s not enough to hope for blessing: we call for blessing by using our whole bodies, using what we gather from the earth, and gesturing and dancing towards all the directions. We need to make this physical gesture into a real prayer by purposefully acting change our impact on the planet, to change ourselves, instead of changing the climate. What we give to the Earth must also become a blessing. A blessing for all the families of the earth, mishp’chot ha’adamah, all the tribes of species and genus, of region and ecosystem, all our relations of earth and sea and sky. This is how we can choose to act, how we can measure our actions, in an age of global climate change and uncertainty. This is how we should measure government policies, community decisions, and justice itself. This is how we can ask God to “renew the face of the ground” chidush p’nei ha’adamah, and be answered.


    The final dimension of action is joy: V’hayita ach sameach! And you will rejoice! The gates are still open, and the way through them is joy and service: both are the characteristics of acting as priests to bring down blessing for all our relations. May we all be blessed to rejoice, to receive the Shekhinah dwelling between us, in all our relationships, with all the creatures of heaven and Earth.

  8. Wendy Berk

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    From his book, The Month of Tishrei

    … Through the Avodah of the Cohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies, the Cloud that rises up from that intimate, sacred space, flows upward and becomes the S’chach, the embodiment of the Clouds of Glory (Mitteler Rebbe, Ateres Rosh, Yom haKipurim, Chap 2. Tzemach Tzedek, Ohr haTorah, Sukkos, p.1,722. Rebbe Maharsh, Hemsheck veKacha, p.84). The metaphysical Anan that rises from that intimate, sacred inner space, flows upward, and four days later settles back to earth becoming the S’chach. The S’chach of the Sukkah is in this way an embodiment of the Ananei haKavod/Clouds of Glory in which we dwell during the seven days of Sukkos…

    …As the day of Yom Kippur is unfolding, we are more and more disconnected from the externalities of this world and from our assumed identity. We squeeze and push ourselves in our prayers, we sweat in our Avodah, and we peel away more and more layers of self, until we arrive at the deepest recess of our our soul. Through our perseverance and perspiration, a metaphysical vaper, an Ohr Makif/Encompassing Light, flows outward and is projected from within us, much like the smoke of the cloud of incense that arose from the actual burning of the Ketores. It is this ‘perspiration’, ‘vaper’, ‘smoke’ that rises from us and becomes the S’chach of the Sukkah in which we sit.

    … Just as the Teshuvah of Klal Yisrael in the Desert, which culminated on Yom Kippur, brought back the Clouds of Glory on the 15th of Tishrei, our Teshuvah on Yom Kippur creates and draws down the spiritual Clouds of Glory on the 15th of Tishrei, the first day of Sukkos. Interestingly we see this cumulative process of Teshuvah, which culminates on Yom Kippur and becomes manifest in the Clouds of Glory on Sukkos, is rooted even earlier in the Avodah of Rosh Hashanah, as we are taught that the vapor produced from the hundred sounds of the Shofar creates a cumulative meta-physical “cloud” that becomes the very S’chach we sit in on Sukkos (thus S’chach is numerically 100).

    All Of The First Half of Tishrei Is Revealed in Sukkos

    The Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra, c.1479-1573) explains that there is significance to the fact that Sukkos begins on the 15th of the month, when the moon is full (Metzudas David, Mitzvah 117). A full moon is a full revealing of everything that has transpired during the first 14 days. Whereas the first 14 days of the month are a time of concealed and inward illumination, on the full moon, Sukkos is an outward-moving revelation of everything that has occurred inwardly.

  9. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    By: Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

    Sukkot: On the Heart for all Time
    Torah Reading: Leviticus 22:26-23:44
    Haftarah Readings: Day One: Zechariah 14:1-21; Day Two: 1 Kings 8:2-21

    The joy and celebration of Sukkot is not limited to time or space of this world. In fact, according to the prophet Zechariah, whose words are read as the Haftarah on the first day of the holiday, Sukkot is the holiday that all will celebrate together in the World to Come. Zechariah was of the last biblical prophets, who taught as the Jews were building the Second Temple and reorganizing Jewish presence in the land of Israel.
    Much of Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of the distant messianic future. As such, Zechariah’s words speak of great redemption when all will know and testify to the existence and oneness of God. Zechariah predicts: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name.”
    These are the words that end the Aleinu liturgy said in every prayer service on the Jewish calendar. In an easy to miss phrase, the same prayer says V’hasheivota el levaveicha – translated by many as ‘take God to heart’ but really is a demand to actively put God on your heart. It is the knowing and feeling that we truly come to know God.
    In Jewish thought, the heart has many functions. Kohelet Rabbah (the rabbinical commentary on Ecclesiastes) records that the heart sees and hears, stands and falls, feels and knows, breaks and heals. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (1873-1936) says the heart is like a seismograph, recording every tiny tremor even if our conscious minds remain unaware of the impact.
    Today, we know that the heart is not actually the source of love – the ancients were mistaken. But, doctors and scientists also tell us that the relationship between heart and emotions is extraordinarily intimate. Our emotions can actually change the shape and affect the operation of the heart.
    In life, we all live great joys and sorrows. It is in loosening the membranes surrounding the heart that we truly experience emotions leading to introspection, meaning, and growth. This is the sacred invitation to place God on your heart and feel it in every moment – as a companion to the celebration, a comfort to the affliction, a renewal from the mundane. This is the fulfillment of the universal promise of redemption associated with Sukkot.
    Hag Sameach.

  10. Wendy

    This is a Sukkot reflection from Aryae and me based on Aryae’s experience sleeping in the Sukkah.

    When you follow the mitzvah of sleeping for seven nights in the Sukkah, you can’t help noticing the brightest light in the night sky: the moon. The first night it’s full, and the night is flooded with moonlight. The second night it’s less full. By the end of Sukkot the moon is only half full, and the night is noticeably darker. Why should our High Holiday cycle end with the world getting darker?

    Another holiday where the light changes each night is Hanukah. According to Rabbi Hillel we should light one candle the first night, two the second, and so on, until we light eight on the last night. But according to Rabbi Shammai we should light eight candles the first night, seven the second, and so on. The rabbis say that we follow Hillel in this world, and Shammai after Moshiah — after the world is redeemed. The meaning? According to Hillel, each night of the holiday our eyesight gets better, so we can see more light in the world. According to Shammai, each night of the holiday our eyesight gets better until on the last night, we can see that underneath it all, there is really only One Light!

    Regarding the moon, Reb Shlomo taught that the Jewish people are associated with the moon. When the moon gets smaller, and the night gets darker, we are not discouraged, because we shift from outer vision to inner vision. We know that the darkness is temporary, and the moon will soon get brighter again. This is called emunah — usually translated as “faith.” But Reb Shlomo said the real meaning is “night vision.”

    Sukkot — where we leave our comfortable houses and live in the frail, temporary little Sukkah — teaches us about impermanence, and about emunah, about living under the wings of the Almighty. Our night vision reveals that, no matter how dark things may look tonight, tomorrow the light is coming back.

  11. Wendy

    From Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits
    We are in the special time of year following Yom Kippur leading up to Sukkkot. It is a potent season, indeed. Reb Zalman zt”l would teach (in the name of Shnei Lukhot Habrit ) that a new Divine Names enters Earth’s cosmos during this time. The first day a new yud enters, the next day a new heh, the following day (Shabbat this year) a vav and the day before the full moon of Sukkot the final heh arrives, brining forward a pure unblemished Name of G!D for this year.
    Yom Kippur culminates in purification. The seven days of Sukkot invite “colors”; each day has its own flavor. Kabbalah tracks the seven days with the secret of seven (ex the seven colors of the rainbow, seven lower S’firot – Grace, Healthy Boundaries, Harmony, Tenacity, Receptive Gratitude & Humility, Community, and Presence). Its fun to consider and adds light and texture to this sacred holiday completing the season

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi Fred Guttman

    Why the willow?
    There is the story of the palm and the myrtle and the etrog all being annoyed that the willow is with them. The etrog is so shapely and has a sweet perfume. The myrtle is also perfumed and shares a name Hadassah with Esther, and the palm is stately with it’s crown of leaves and dates. But by the end of the story they learn that the weeping willow is compassion, feeling the pain of the natural world in it’s big heart…

  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    Sukkah in the Skies with Diamonds
    A Story from Gershon…

    My memory isn’t as great as it used to be, and quite selective at that. For example, I have no trouble remembering a Talmudic aphorism I hadn’t thought of in 50 years or a prayer I hadn’t recited in 30, but I can easily forget to bring home toilet paper even when I just received a text in that regard, read it, duly noted it, and replied with an enthusiastic “absolutely.”
    But among my warmest memories during this cooling season of Autumn is of my dear father climbing out the window of our fifth-story apartment in Brooklyn and into a tiny hut he had constructed on the platform of our fire-escape. It was the Sukkot holyday, and where else could he fulfill the mitzvah of eating in a ritual lean-to than on a fire-escape five floors above the bustling streets of Canarsie. And my mother, her eyes rolling upward way into their sockets and sighing at each trip to the window, dutifully handed him dish after dish, cup after cup, glass after glass, supporting his fulfillment of this special ritual which God instructed Moses to instruct us to perform every year around this time. The ritual? To dwell in a flimsy temporary shanty covered with leafy branches, decorated with inspiring scriptural passages and a print-out of a special prayer called Ushpizin, Aramaic for “Guests.” My father would invite these guests by reciting the prayer and they would arrive like clockwork every Sukkot, and wait patiently each meal for him to crawl across that paint-cracked window-sill to join them in their annual meal together. Specifically, they were the spirits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David, and on occasion a local squirrel. And we kids would sit inside slurping on kneidel soup while looking out the window at my father talking and singing with his seven Ushpizin.
    Having recently arrived from Denmark to the U.S., we had ended up in a predominantly non-Jewish neighborhood, so during the ensuing 9 days of the festival, the fifth floor fire-escape got lots of puzzled glances from people below walking up and down Sackman Street. I found out years later that the local fire marshal had issued my father a citation giving him 10 days to take the sukkah down. I’m sure my father and his spirit guests had a good laugh on that one.
    Not being a Jewish neighborhood, I can imagine what passersbyers and onlookers and other varieties of gawkers must have wondered as they craned their necks to view what must have appeared to them like some kind of gigantic bird’s nest nestled way up there on the fire-escape. Especially at night, when candles burned inside of it, and neighbors could hear my father singing and reciting prayers in Aramaic, and perhaps even the boisterous laughter of seven ancestors being entertained by my mother’s humorous renderings of everything. I wonder to this day what the folks on the street must have thought, though. Like what in the world is it with these Jews, that precisely when it starts to get cold and rainy, they build a hut with a leafy leaky roof to eat in? And this particular dude does it on a frigging fire-escape 5 floors up!
    And as for those of you who are reading this and are pissed off that no spirit women were included in the Ushpizin, no way would my mother have allowed it. My father was still quite good looking back then.
    Who said aboriginals are the only ones who visit with their ancestors, speak to them, sing with them, create shrines for them. Bullshit! We do it too. Even on a goddam fire-escape! And rather than shock them with modern-day settings like inside the apartment where refrigerators are humming and radiators sizzling, we honor their ancient manners by fashioning a special 3,500 year old hut so they would feel at home. Now, who does that?
    My mother, the reason her eyes rolled a lot during Sukkot was because of the extent to which my father would go to make Sukkot happen no matter the circumstances. She knew the rules of our tradition, that even according to the strictest ritual laws, you weren’t required to sit in a sukkah if you didn’t have one, or if mitigating circumstances prevented you from comfortably building one, or if mosquitoes were assaulting you, or if it was raining, or if it was too cold, or if a rusty shaky, never tested fire escape was your only venue for constructing one.
    But my father, he was unconcerned that he and his sukkah could conceivably – at any moment – break loose and crash down into the alleyway below. After all, he had seven special angels surrounding him.
    And they still visit him to this day.

  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    These are two commentaries about reading the prophet Zechariah on Sukkot


    Yes, we are living in the end times, says the prophet Zechariah. We are always living in the end times.

    So he tells us in his prophetic book, whose last chapter (14) we read in synagogue on Sukkot, the Feast of Booths.

    But Zechariah sees the end times as a good thing. Why?

    God, he says, is arranging regional dynamics in our favour. In fact, God is always doing this. So, we might as well act now to create a nonviolent world. We must insist that our leaders show integrity, generosity, and concern for the oppressed. And, if they fail, we must do it ourselves. A mantra will guide us: Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit (Zech. 4:6).


    In the final chapters of his book, Zechariah describes an end-times scenario. The region’s final war is waged against Jerusalem. Foreign invaders capture the city, plunder the houses and rape the women. Two-thirds of the city’s people perish. The violence is brutal; the grief is heart-rending.

    Colorful drawing of a horse wearing bells that say “Holy to the Lord,” drawn over a text of the prophet Zechariah’s vision of the end times. At the side is a handwritten excerpt from the text that says “On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses ‘Holy to the Lord, Zechariah 14:20.”
    But survivors extend compassion, experience healing, and receive true prophecy. God then moves mountains, re-routes rivers, flattens deserts, and re-creates the cycle of day and night. On that day, a spirit of healing prevails. Survivors from all nations recognize their spiritual kinship. Together, they pray for rain in Jerusalem’s restored Temple. The world is so holy, even horses wear priestly sashes.

    But you know and I know: this version of the end times is only a possible future. It’s not the most likely outcome of current events. So, to believe in it, we need hope. We need to see past a linear chain of cause and effect into a realm of spiritual promise. So Zechariah shows us how to look, using familiar metaphors of creation, exodus, and unity.


    In the creation story of Genesis 1, the world begins in darkness. God’s first creation is light. God then divides light from dark, starting an alternating cycle of evening and morning (Gen. 1:1-5). This cycle of days then gives a rhythm and stability to all creation.

    Still, the world has seen many bad days in this fixed cycle. Some have come from divisions between people. These divisions can seem as fixed as the cycle of day and night. So, Zechariah sees that God could re-work this cycle any time. God could try something new, a different open-ended experiment, a beginning of wild new potentials. God could create a world without the old divisions. In that [new first] day, there shall be a continuous day…of neither day nor night, and there shall be light at eventide (Zech. 14:6).


    On that new kind of day, the world might even see a new Exodus. Not the same as the old one, but one the world needs now.

    At the crossing of the Red Sea, the waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left (Ex. 14: 22). When that happened, mountains skipped like rams, hills like sheep (Ps. 114:4).

    On the new day, Zechariah says, mountains and water could move in unexpected ways. They could once again provide people with what they need to survive: abundant water for an arid land, even in the dry summer season. Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives could split, leaving a huge gorge. And then, in that day, fresh water shall flow from Jerusalem, part of it to the Eastern Sea, and part to the Western Sea, throughout the summer and winter (Zechariah 14:8).

    Such a flow of water could transform agricultural life, making farming more accessible to everyone. It could then lead to a more equitable distribution of work, wealth, and power. Perhaps no one would sell themselves into indentured servitude again. Thus, the water, starting as a stream as narrow as the antenna of a grasshopper could become a flowing river of healing, purifying waters (Yoma 77b-78a).


    And, on that new kind of day, a leader could appear who has the spirit of the LORD…wisdom and insight…counsel and valor…devotion and reverence (Isaiah 11:2). Maybe this leader would not stir up familiar but bitter national and ethnic divisions. They might represent no particular human group, but only the unifying presence of God.

    Then, it could be as if God will be One and God’s name will be One (Zech. 14:9) Or, as Targum Yonatan understands it, the entire would could have a shared mystical experience, and all problems of intercultural communication could end.

    Radical hope? Yes. It is possible, says Zechariah, to create a sustainable society marked with justice, peace, and holiness. But something different and special will only emerge if people do the work. Zechariah speaks into his own historical time, but his words reach into our time, too. We must seize the moment; develop the spirit; let go of greed; strengthen acts of justice; imagine the impossible; and take hope seriously. This, Zechariah teaches, is the divinely revealed guide to ending the troubles of human history.

    Twelve students are taking my graduate course on “Ritual and Sacred Ceremony” at the Vancouver School of Theology. They represent nine distinct religious traditions. Our family has invited the whole class to visit our sukkah.

    Students will enjoy the best of Jewish ritual: home based, food filled, seasonally attuned. seasonally focused.

    But those are just an extra bonus. Really, I’m inviting the students because our Biblical prophet Zechariah told me to.

    When war and plague have finally ended, “survivors from every nation will gather in Jerusalem…to celebrate Sukkot,” wrote Zechariah (14:16).

    Zechariah’s time-stamp — according to his book — is 520 BCE. He has seen two empires at war; he describes a region in ruins. But he feels hope; he dreams about restoration. And he recommends communal, multi-faith prayers for rain on Sukkot.

    Why? For historical, ceremonial, spiritual, and political reasons!


    Zechariah is called a “post-exilic” prophet, because he wrote as Jews were returning from exile. In 586 BCE, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar exiled wealthy and educated Jews from Judea. He expected his empire to become richer, and Judea to become poorer. Just 47 years later, his empire fell to Persia. Persia preferred healthy, self-governing colonies, and allowed Jews to return to Judea.

    Returning Jews saw themselves as indigenous people re-connecting with their land. But local inhabitants did not welcome them. Poor Jews who had survived the wars in Judea resented them. Non-Jewish locals suspected them. Negotiations between groups were so challenging, it took twenty years for the returnees to build a modest little Temple. In 516 BCE, just before Sukkot, the building was completed. Sukkot would have been the post-exilic community’s first formal open house event. An opportunity — Zechariah advised — to welcome its multi-faith, multi-cultural neighbours.


    Sukkot practices today echo Biblical practices. We build huts, share seasonal foods, and eat outdoors. On the last day, we pray for rain and remember our dead with Yizkor prayers.

    Imagine a Sukkot celebration after war has torn up a region. Small groups of survivors gather in one place. They set up huts and tents; welcome one another as guests; harvest and hunt together as best they can; eat together outdoors; and grieve their dead together.

    Somewhat like the feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. The colonists and their Native treaty-mates, the Wampanoag Confederation, feasted together. Three years earlier, many Wampanoag had died of a plague. Earlier that year, half the British colonists had died. Still, the survivors celebrated their friendship.

    Neither the treaty nor the peace lasted. But the memory of the ceremony haunts us — as an ideal.


    Menorah, scrolls, and Jerusalem are important Jewish symbols. All show up in Zechariah’s book. But he is not attached to authorized traditional symbols. In his numinous dreams, he sees an olive tree, a flying bathtub, a measuring tape, and the four winds. Each one shows him an aspect of God.

    Horses appear, too. They start as terrifying weapons and transform into divine messengers of peace. When the great interfaith Sukkot comes — Zechariah dreamed — horses will be dressed as high priests, wearing sashes that say “Holy to the Lord.”

    Zechariah felt spiritual potential everywhere. In people, animals, and plants. He saw all life intertwined in a single regional ecology. And all humans morally responsible for its balance. Literally, he said, we must all pray together for “rain.” Metaphorically, he meant, we must act together as environmental stewards.


    Zechariah knew that greed threatens ecological balance. He saw profit-driven empires roll over everything in their paths. For him, there is only one way to resist: together. By sharing economic justice. Acts of care. Business integrity.

    Today we like to say: all major spiritual traditions teach these values. So, why not gather once a year to affirm them together? Sukkot — Zechariah says — would be an excellent time. That’s what our class will do. Together.

  15. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    Life Lessons from Kohelet

    This is a YouTube video of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaching about Sukkot and Kohelet.
    It is 53 minutes long, but well worth it/

    Below is a shorter teaching

    Succot For Our Time (extract from Koren Sacks Sukkot mahzor)

    Of all the festivals, Succot is surely the one that speaks most powerfully to our time. Kohelet could almost have been written in the twenty-first century. Here is the picture of ultimate success, the man who has it all – the houses, the cars, the clothes, the adoring women, the envy of others – he has pursued everything this world can offer from pleasure to possessions to power to wisdom and yet, surveying the totality of his life, he can only say, in effect, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

    Kohelet’s failure to find meaning is directly related to his obsession with the “I” and the “Me”: “I built for myself. I gathered for myself. I acquired for myself.” The more he pursues his desires, the emptier his life becomes. There is no more powerful critique of the consumer society, whose idol is the self, whose icon is the “selfie” and whose moral code is “Whatever works for you.” This is the society that achieved unprecedented affluence, giving people more choices than they have ever known, and yet at same time saw an unprecedented rise in alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, stress-related syndromes, depression, attempted suicide and actual suicide. A society of tourists, not pilgrims, is not one that will yield the sense of a life worth living. Of all things people have chosen to worship, the self is the least fulfilling. A culture of narcissism quickly gives way to loneliness and despair.

    Kohelet was also, of course, a cosmopolitan: a man at home everywhere and therefore nowhere. This is the man who had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines but in the end could only say, “More bitter than death is the woman.” It should be clear to anyone who reads this in the context of the life of King Solomon, the author of the book, that Kohelet is not really talking about women but about himself.

    In the end Kohelet finds meaning in simple things. “Sweet is the sleep of a labouring man.” “Enjoy life with the woman you love.” “Eat, drink and enjoy the sun.” That, ultimately, is the meaning of Succot as a whole. It is a festival of simple things. It is, Jewishly, the time we come closer to nature than any other, sitting in a hut with only leaves for a roof, and taking in our hands the unprocessed fruits and foliage of the palm branch, the citron, twigs of myrtle and leaves of willow. It is a time when we briefly liberate ourselves from the sophisticated pleasures of the city and the processed artefacts of a technological age, where we take time to recapture some of the innocence we had when we were young, when the world still had the radiance of wonder.

    The power of Succot is that it takes us back to the most elemental roots of our being. You don’t need to live in a palace to be surrounded by clouds of glory. You don’t need to be gloriously wealthy to buy yourself the same leaves and fruit that a billionaire uses in worshipping God. Living in the succah and inviting guests to your meal, you discover that the people who have come to visit you are none other than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives (such is the premise of Ushpizin, the mystical guests). What makes a hut more beautiful than a home is that when it comes to Succot there is no difference between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. We are all strangers on earth, temporary residents in God’s almost eternal universe. And whether or not we are capable of pleasure, whether or not we have found happiness, nonetheless we can all feel joy.

    Succot is the time we ask the most profound question of what makes a life worth living. Having prayed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be written in the Book of Life, Kohelet forces us to remember how brief life actually is, and how vulnerable. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” What matters is not how long we live, but how intensely we feel that life is a gift we repay by giving to others. Joy, the overwhelming theme of the festival, is what we feel when we know that it is a privilege simply to be alive, inhaling the intoxicating beauty of this moment amidst the profusion of nature, the teeming diversity of life and the sense of communion with those many others who share our history and our hope.

    Most majestically of all, Succot is the festival of insecurity. It is the candid acknowledgment that there is no life without risk, yet we can face the future without fear when we know we are not alone. God is with us, in the rain that brings blessings to the earth, in the love that brought the universe and us into being, and in the resilience of spirit that allowed a small and vulnerable people to outlive the greatest empires the world has ever known. Succot reminds us that God’s glory was present in the small, portable Tabernacle Moses and the Israelites built in the desert even more emphatically than in Solomon’s Temple with all its grandeur. A Temple can be destroyed. But a succah, even if broken, can be rebuilt tomorrow. Security is not something we can achieve physically but it is something we can acquire mentally, psychologically, spiritually. All it needs is the courage and willingness to sit under the shadow of God’s sheltering wings.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi Richard Address

    This is a commentary on Kohelet

    Shabbat Sukkot: All Things Flow Into It

    Chag Sameach! The festival of Sukkot welcomes us with the Lulav and Etrog, the decorated Sukkah and concludes with the joyous celebration of Torah in Simchat Torah. Quite a week! As with the Pilgrammage Festivals (Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot) there is an assigned book from the Wisdom literature that is read during the festival. For Sukkot, it is the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the more famous books of the Bible. Many of our generation have the Byrds album that featured “Turn, Turn, Turn”. Well, this is the original lyric (Ecclesiastes 3).
    This is a great book to study. It is, at one glance somewhat depressing, in that the theme of much of it is that all we do is, in the end, emptiness or, according to one translation, futility. There is a horrid description of aging in chapter 12. Yet, the book ends with hope and, if you can take the time to read the book and discuss it, I think you will find many hidden jewels. Let me suggest one that I think relates to us and our life journey.
    Look at the 1st chapter of the book and you will see some of the more famous passages of Biblical text. “One generation goes and another comes, but the earth endures forever. The sun also rises and the sun sets–and glides back to where it rises….All streams flow into the sea; yet the sea is never full…the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear of hearing…Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 4, 5, 7, 8, 9). Why is this so powerful for us?
    I think a message here is to remind us that we are part of something greater than our own self. That we are, in every way, part of nature; that there is a cycle of life and we are part of that cycle; the cylce of birth and death, decay and renewal; that our lives, in a very real way, flow into the collective history of humanity. That is why the linkage to Simchat Torah, I feel, is so real. That end celebration of Sukkot renews Torah. We finish Deuteronomy and immediately begin Genesis. It is a symbol of life itself. We are part of this eternal evolution, this ebb and flow of humanity. Instead of thinking that since we are part of this eternal cycle our life is futile; what the tradiiton is telling us–especially important as we grow older–is that because we are part of this cycle, our life must be lived so as to have meaning and the search for that meaning is a life long challenge. We do not stand apart from history, we are history; and so again, what we choose to do with our life and how we choose to live that life helps define us and, ina very real sense, our own place in that history. By our existence, we flow into the river of time and bhy what we choose to do with that life, we add to that collective experience. So when you participate in that Simchat Torah celebration next week, know that yoiu are seeing a symbolic enactment of our own life; from one generation to the next, we have another chance to renew and re-define our life, to write our own new scroll, to become part of the eternal flow of Jewish life and human history.
    Have a wonderful Sukkot. Chag Sameach
    Rabbi Richard F Address

  17. Wendy

    From Reuven Goldfarb


    Jews! Yidden!

    What if Pesach came on Rosh HaShanah,

    and we had to clean out our chumatz,

    do t’shuvah, and eat matzah, all at the same time?

    What if Purim ever fell on Shabbos,

    and we were commanded to drink so much Kiddush wine

    that we forgot the distinction between friend and enemy,

    then had to get up early and daven Shacharit, read Torah,

    drink lots more, and then remember the difference

    between day and night, the seventh day and the other six days,

    Jews and other people, the sacred and the profane —

    it would be hard! — not to mention sacrilegious

    to invade the Shabbos with revelry and role reversals.

    Suppose Tisha b’Av came on Tu b’Sh’vat,

    and we had to plant a tree while weeping,

    inaugurate new life in the midst of sadness —

    why, it might make us…ambivalent —

    and aren’t we Jews divided enough as it is?

    Suppose Chanukah came on Tu b’Av,

    and we bid goodbye to the longest nights

    while feeling the drafts of the looming Autumn…

    we’d be so twisted backwards and forwards we’d fall over

    and forget to stop dancing to light candles;

    we’d look for our soul-mates in a spinning dreidl!

    So how many are the good things the Almighty has done for us…

    He gives us Pesach in Springtime

    and Rosh HaShanah in the declining balance time of the year;

    Purim at the end of Winter and Shabbos every week;

    Tisha b’Av at the height of Summer

    and Tu b’Sh’vat when the almonds blossom in Berkeley and Yerushalayim;

    Chanukah in the midst of Winter

    but Tu b’Av in the soft glow of Summer.

    To everything there is a season

    and a time for every purpose under Heaven.

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    This includes a teaching on Kohelet

    The Pursuit of Joy (Ki Tavo 5775)

    Happiness, said Aristotle, is the ultimate goal at which all humans aim.[1] But in Judaism it is not necessarily so. Happiness is a high value. Ashrei, the closest Hebrew word to happiness, is the first word of the book of Psalms. We say the prayer known as Ashrei three times each day. We can surely endorse the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that among the inalienable rights of humankind are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    But Ashrei is not the central value of the Hebrew Bible. Occurring almost ten times as frequently is the word simcha, joy. It is one of the fundamental themes of Deuteronomy as a book. The root s-m-ch appears only once in each of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, but no less than twelve times in Deuteronomy. It lies at the heart of the Mosaic vision of life in the land of Israel. That is where we serve God with joy.

    Joy plays a key role in two contexts in this week’s parsha. One has to do with the bringing of first-fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. After describing the ceremony that took place, the Torah concludes: “Then you will rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst” (26:11).

    The other context is quite different and astonishing. It occurs in the context of the curses. There are two passages of curses in the Torah, one in Leviticus 26, the other here in Deuteronomy 28. The differences are notable. The curses in Leviticus end on a note of hope. Those in Deuteronomy end in bleak despair. The Leviticus curses speak of a total abandonment of Judaism by the people. The people walk be-keri with God, variously translated as ‘with hostility,’ ‘rebelliously,’ or ‘contemptuously.’ But the curses in Deuteronomy are provoked simply “because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart out of the abundance of all things” (28:47).

    Now, joylessness may not be the best way to live, but it is surely not even a sin, let alone one that warrants a litany of curses. What does the Torah mean when it attributes national disaster to a lack of joy? Why does joy seem to matter in Judaism more than happiness? To answer these questions we have first to understand the difference between happiness and joy. This is how the first Psalm describes the happy life:

    Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners or sat where scoffers sit. But his desire is in the Torah of the Lord; on his Torah he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in all that he does he prospers. (Ps. 1:1-3)

    This is a serene and blessed life, granted to one who lives in accordance with the Torah. Like a tree, such a life has roots. It is not blown this way and that by every passing wind or whim. Such people bear fruit, stay firm, survive and thrive. Yet for all that, happiness is the state of mind of an individual.

    Simcha in the Torah is never about individuals. It is always about something we share. A newly married man does not serve in the army for a year, says the Torah, so that he can stay at home “and bring joy to the wife he has married” (Deut. 24:5). You shall bring all your offerings to the central sanctuary, says Moses, so that “There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice in all you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.” (Deut. 12:7). The festivals as described in Deuteronomy are days of joy, precisely because they are occasions of collective celebration: “you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the strangers, the fatherless and the widows living among you” (16:11). Simcha is joy shared. It is not something we experience in solitude.

    Happiness is an attitude to life as a whole, while joy lives in the moment. As J. D. Salinger once said: “Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid.” Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to God. It comes from a different realm than happiness. It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude.

    Paradoxically, the biblical book most focused on joy is precisely the one often thought of as the unhappiest of all, Kohelet, a.k.a. Ecclesiastes. Kohelet is notoriously the man who had everything, yet describes it all as hevel, a word he uses almost forty times in the space of the book, and variously translated as ‘meaningless, pointless, futile, empty,’ or as the King James Bible famously rendered it, ‘vanity.’ In fact, though, Kohelet uses the word simcha seventeen times, that is, more than the whole of the Mosaic books together. After every one of his meditations on the pointlessness of life, Kohelet ends with an exhortation to joy:

    I know that there is nothing better for people than to rejoice and do good while they live. (3:12)

    So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to rejoice in his work, because that is his lot. (3:22)

    So I commend rejoicing in life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and rejoice. (8:15)

    However many years anyone may live, let him rejoice in them all. (11:8)

    My argument is that Kohelet can only be understood if we realise that hevel does not mean ‘pointless, empty, or futile.’ It means ‘a shallow breath.’ Kohelet is a meditation on mortality. However long we live, we know we will one day die. Our lives are a mere microsecond in the history of the universe. The cosmos lasts for ever while we, living, breathing mortals, are a mere fleeting breath.

    Kohelet is obsessed by this because it threatens to rob life of any certainty. We will never live to see the long-term results of our endeavours. Moses did not lead the people into the Promised Land. His sons did not follow him to greatness. Even he, the greatest of prophets, could not foresee that he would be remembered for all time as the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had. Lehavdil, Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. He could not have known that he would eventually be hailed as one of the greatest painters of modern times. We do not know what our heirs will do with what we leave them. We cannot know how, or if, we will be remembered. How then are we to find meaning in life?

    Kohelet eventually finds it not in happiness but in joy – because joy lives not in thoughts of tomorrow, but in the grateful acceptance and celebration of today. We are here; we are alive; we are among others who share our sense of jubilation. We are living in God’s land, enjoying His blessing, eating the produce of His earth, watered by His rain, brought to fruition under His sun, breathing the air He breathed into us, living the life He renews in us each day. And yes, we do not know what tomorrow may bring; and yes, we are surrounded by enemies; and yes, it was never the safe or easy option to be a Jew. But when we focus on the moment, allowing ourselves to dance, sing and give thanks, when we do things for their own sake not for any other reward, when we let go of our separateness and become a voice in the holy city’s choir, then there is joy.

    Kierkegaard once wrote: “It takes moral courage to grieve; it takes religious courage to rejoice.”[2] It is one of the most poignant facts about Judaism and the Jewish people that our history has been shot through with tragedy, yet Jews never lost the capacity to rejoice, to celebrate in the heart of darkness, to sing the Lord’s song even in a strange land. There are eastern faiths that promise peace of mind if we can train ourselves into habits of acceptance. Epicurus taught his disciples to avoid risks like marriage or a career in public life. Neither of these approaches is to be negated, yet Judaism is not a religion of acceptance, nor have Jews tended to seek the risk-free life. We can survive the failures and defeats if we never lose the capacity for joy. On Sukkot, we leave the security and comfort of our houses and live in a shack exposed to the wind, the cold and the rain. Yet we call it zeman simchatenu, our season of joy. That is no small part of what it is to be a Jew.

    Hence Moses’ insistence that the capacity for joy is what gives the Jewish people the strength to endure. Without it, we become vulnerable to the multiple disasters set out in the curses in our parsha. Celebrating together binds us as a people: that and the gratitude and humility that come from seeing our achievements not as self-made but as the blessings of God. The pursuit of happiness can lead, ultimately, to self-regard and indifference to the sufferings of others. It can lead to risk-averse behaviour and a failure to ‘dare greatly.’ Not so, joy. Joy connects us to others and to God. Joy is the ability to celebrate life as such, knowing that whatever tomorrow may bring, we are here today, under God’s heaven, in the universe He made, to which He has invited us as His guests.

    Toward the end of his life, having been deaf for twenty years, Beethoven composed one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, his Ninth Symphony. Intuitively he sensed that this work needed the sound of human voices. It became the West’s first choral symphony. The words he set to music were Schiller’s Ode to Joy. I think of Judaism as an ode to joy. Like Beethoven, Jews have known suffering, isolation, hardship and rejection, yet they never lacked the religious courage to rejoice. A people that can know insecurity and still feel joy is one that can never be defeated, for its spirit can never be broken nor its hope destroyed.

    [1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1.

    [2] Journals and Papers, vol. 2, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1967, p. 493.

  19. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    Reb Gershon on Kohelet

    Reeling and Realing
    A Teaching from Gershon…
    You may be familiar with the famous Solomonic adage: “That which is, has already been; and that which is yet to be, already was” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). It’s a nice wise saying, but it’s also kind of depressing when you think about it. Basically, Solomon (10th century, B.C.E) is suggesting that – in his own words -“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), that you and I are simply wasting our time existing, each of us running in place like a hamster inside a wheel, exercising a lot of effort, expending a great deal of energy, yet getting nowhere and accomplishing nothing. Anything we feel we’ve achieved fresh and anew, it’s already been done many worlds back, long before this one (Ecclesiastes 1:10). On the surface of it, the entire writ known as Ecclesiastes, or Ko’helet in Hebrew, comes across as quite a dismal scripture. In fact, the man who had it all – Solomon – set this disheartening tone to his prose at its very onset: “Hot-air of a lot more hot-air — everything is bullshit; what purpose is there for humans in regard to all of their striving under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).
    Face it – life does seem like that. We work all day so that we can eat, feed our families, gas-up our cars, pay our utility bills, make the rent, so that we might thrive in order to go to work so that we can eat, feed our families, gas-up our cars, pay our utility bills, make the rent, so that we might thrive in order to go to work so that we can eat, feed our families, gas-up our cars, pay our utility bills, make the rent, so that we might thrive in order to go to work so that we can eat, feed our families, gas-up our cars, pay our utility bills, make the rent, so that we might thrive in order to go to work….
    [NOTE TO NITPICKERS: I’m just giving you an example here, so please don’t burden me with emails like: “Well, I wish I had a family to feed” or “I wish I was lucky enough to have work,” and the like. Just like those of you who recently blasted me for mentioning “fur” in a previous newsletter teaching in which I cited this tabooed word within the context of a teaching by an 18th-century rabbi. Had you lived back then and trudged about knee-deep in the snows of blistering cold Russian winters, you’d have been first in line to skin a bear to stay warm.]

    It appears Solomon is proposing that life is just an exercise in futility and we are only here for the purpose of biding our time until we expire. “Go on,” taught the wise Solomon, “eat your bread in joy and drink your wine with good-heartedness, because Elo’heem has already found your endeavors acceptable” (Ecclesiastes 9:7). In other words, just do your time the best you can, have the most fun, frolic as much as you want in the good things of life, because your tab’s already been paid, your mortgage has been forgiven, and everything is okay, because the fact is: Elo’heem has already accepted your stuff long before you even got here. So, the whole Gestalt is just a big cosmic waste and you’re nothing more than the aluminum can you just recycled, originating from the earth only to go right back into the earth, as “all proceed toward the same one place; all come from the earth and all return to the earth (Ecclesiastes 3:20) and all the rivers stream continuously into the sea, yet the sea is never filled, and where it is that the journey of the rivers originate is where the rivers return to flow over and over and over again” (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
    So, what indeed do we do with the Solomonic solemnity of Ecclesiastes? Better yet — why did the ancient sages of Israel choose to incorporate this melancholic book into the sacred scriptures of a tradition that emphasizes the importance of joy and that life is replete with meaning and purpose? “For the believing Jew,” wrote Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the dreadful feeling that one’s life is empty, that one’s efforts are in vain, is foreign” (Spiritual Grandeur and Moral Audacity, p. 56). So, what indeed does one do with these teachings by a believing Jew that seem so antithetical to everything a believing Jew believes?
    Here’s another good one: “The living know that they’re gonna die, and the dead – well, they don’t know shit” (Ecclesiastes 9: 5). Seriously?! These are words of Jewish wisdom? Could you imagine your pulpit rabbi preaching such sentiments in a Shabbat sermon? You’d no doubt get up and walk out in a huff, muttering about how un-Jewish that was!
    [NOTE TO NITPICKERS: Yes, I know. You’re thinking “Now he’s nitpicking!” So sue me.]
    Let’s explore this issue a little deeper.
    How many of us are familiar with the words that immediately follow the aphorism first mentioned above at the beginning of this teaching attempt?
    Here is the full sentence: “That which is, has already been; and that which is yet to be, already was, and Elo’heem seeks-out those who are driven” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). Pray tell, what has “Elo’heem seeks-out those who are driven” to do with the endless repetition of the cycles of time? Did someone accidentally hit one of those “move text” buttons?
    There are two ways in which we can run-in-place within the great cosmic hamster wheel: (1) We can do so by remaining steadfastly oblivious to the fact that the act of our running is but a journey toward nowhere and that the spinning of the wheel which enables that act is made possible by the act of our running which in turn is made possible by the spinning of the wheel which is happening by the act of our running which in turn is made possible by the spinning of the wheel which is…. Or, (2) We can do so by remaining keenly aware of the futile act of running in circles and the illusion it offers of going somewhere, yet appreciating the gift of movement itself and how movement supports our cardio-vascular health and that -more importantly — you don’t need to go anywhere because you’re already there, so “eat your bread in joy and drink your wine with good-heartedness, because Elo’heem has already found your endeavors acceptable.”
    Each time we stop the wheel and stand still, we break through the humdrum of the eternal spin and create holiness. As God informed Moses some 3,300 years ago: “The place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). The revelation to Moses at the Burning Bush did not happen until Moses stood still long enough for it to happen. It did not occur until he broke through his patterns, his rote state of being, his slop-happy complacency, to unveil his oblivion and actually see, not in a passive, peripheral sense but in an active, deliberate sense: “And Infinite-All saw that he [Moses] vamoosed in order to see” (Exodus 3:4), that he stopped the wheel and got off, removed himself from the repetitious spin of his daily life-pattern; that he looked at the woman with whom he’d been married for twenty years and saw her like he’d never seen her before; that he read a piece of Talmud or Torah that he’d read fifty thousand times as if it were the first time he’d ever seen it.
    Now, in order to stop the wheel, we have to first become aware of the fact that we are spinning, that it is no longer we who are moving the wheel but that it is rather the wheel which is moving us. As I have noted numerous times in many of my few talks, if it would have been me who came upon the sight of the burning bush I would probably have responded by grabbing a bucket of sand and putting it out. Because, that is a routine response to a burning bush. I don’t think I’d have stopped spinning my wheel long enough to notice that the bush was not being consumed, like Moses did (Exodus 3:3). And we’d then read in contemporary anthropology texts how there was once a very short-lived religion called Judaism that began with a guy named Abraham and ended a few hundred years later with a guy named Winkler who extinguished the Divine Revelation at the foot of Mount Horeb.
    It is not opium that mesmerizes us into a deep sleep of oblivion. Rather, it is life itself that drives us into the hypnotic clutch of routine. Routine of whatever sort is a tool we create with the intent of introducing meaning and purpose to our otherwise…um…routine lives. However, the danger is that, often, what begins as us moving the wheel can easily and without warning morph into what becomes the wheel moving us, and consequently we become driven by the very force, by the very routine we originally established for the purpose of lending meaning to our lives, at which point our lives may lose some of its meaning.
    That is what Solomon was railing about. And that is what he meant by “…and Elo’heem seeks-out those who are driven.” When we are not driven but are awake to the magic of the moment; when we – in the language of Torah – “lift up our eyes to see,” then Elo’heem has no need to seek us out, for we are in those moments involved in actively seeking Elo’heem. On the other hand, when we are asleep in the smugness of routine and patterns — whether in regards to religious practice or personal relationship – then it is Elo’heem who has to search for us, as in: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
    When Adam the Man was awake, he perceived Adam the Woman in the personal I-Thou context of “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), and when he was asleep, lost in the spin of the Forbidden Fruit wheel, he perceived her in the impersonal I-It context of “The woman that you gave [to be] with me” (Genesis 3:12).
    Within the spin of the wheel, taught Rebbe Nachmon of Breslav, there are many doorways, many portals through which we can choose to exit out of the reel of momentum into the real of moment. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Say onto those who are stuck, ‘Get out!’ and to those wandering aimlessly in the dark, ‘Reveal yourselves!'” (Isaiah 49:9). Finding those elusive doorways that lead us out of our spin can be very challenging at times, especially when things are gloomy all around and we find ourselves groping helplessly in the dark searching for the nearest doorknob. The key to the awakening, taught Rebbe Nachmon, to the discovery of enough light to illuminate the way to the nearest exit, is a three-letter word comprised of the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet א, the very middle letter מ, and the very last letter ת, which spells אמת- EMeT – “Truth” (Likutei MoHaRaN, Ch. 112). This is not merely about “telling the truth” or “being truthful” as in being honest in business dealings and in relationship dynamics. Rather, by “Truth” is meant something far more basic and challenging: your open and honest acknowledgment of the total you, namely the inclusion also of your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, your dark side; the angel in you and the demon in you, side by side. Indeed, wrote Solomon, that is the best counsel, “Best to grasp of this and of that [your light side and your darkness side] and let your grip not weaken of either, for one who is God-Conscious emerges [out of the whirl of the wheel] through all of them” (Ecclesiastes 7:18).

    When we speak privately with God and acknowledge openly “What a jerk I am or what an ass-hole I’ve been, what a low down filthy….” — then, through that very act of bringing our darkest parts to light, the emergence within us of our deepest and most frightening Truths will illuminate and reveal to us the doorways which lead us out of the spin of oblivion into the journey of meaningfulness and holiness. Absolutely no degree or depth of defilement or of darkness, taught Rebbe Nachmon, is without its exits. However, since the exit doors are within them, one has to delve into those very uncomfortable places within oneself in order to generate the light that will enable one to discover these doorways and move through them (Likutei MoHaRaN, Ch. 112 toward end).
    When all is said and done, concludes the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Let it all be heard, and live always in awareness of Elo’heem, and observe its instructions, for that is the sum total of what Human is all about” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This is what helps to bring meaningfulness to who we are and what we do. This is what helps us to stop the wheel from reeling us so that we might see and experience the magic of the moment through the blur of its ever-reeling momentum.
    “A human being,” wrote Abraham Joshua Heschel, “must be valued by how many times he was able to see the world from a new perspective” (Spiritual Grandeur and Moral Audacity, p. 20).


  20. Wendy

    From Open Siddur Project

    הושׁענות | Hoshanot by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, translation by Gabbai Seth Fishman

    Hebrew English

    הוֹשַׁעְנָא לְמַעַנְךָ אֶלֹהֵינוּ הוֹשַעְנָא
    Save us, please, as if we were Your very self, our God, save us, please.

    הוֹשַׁעְנָא לְמַעַנְךָ בּוֹרֵאנוּ הוֹשַעְנָא
    Save us, please, as if we were Your very self, our Creator, save us, please.

    הוֹשַׁעְנָא לְמַעַנְךָ גוֹאֲלֵנוּ הוֹשַעְנָא
    Save us, please, as if we were Your very self, our Redeemer, save us, please.

    הוֹשַׁעְנָא לְמַעַנְךָ דוֹרְשֵׁנוּ הוֹשַעְנָא
    Save us, please, as if we were Your very self, our Attender, save us, please.

    כִּי אִיבַּדְנוּ אַדְמָתְךָ
    For we have destroyed Your ground

    כִּי בָּזִינוּ בְּרִיאָתְךָ
    For we have spurned Your creation

    גִיעַלְנוּ גִדוּלֶיךָ
    We have polluted Your generous gift

    דָרַכְנוּ עַל דִשְׁאֲךָ
    We have trampled upon Your verdure

    הָרַסְנוּ אֶת הַהֲוָיָה
    We have broken [the life-sustainability of] existence

    וְקִלְקַלְנוּ וְשִׁחַתְנוּ
    And we have damaged and we have ruined

    זָרַמְנוּ זִיז שְׂדוֹתֵינוּ
    We have stormed upon bloom of our fields

    חָמַסְנוּ חַיוֹת רַבּוֹת
    We have robbed [home] for a multitude of life-forms

    טָרַפְנוּ טִנִאֲךָ
    We have ripped Your basket [of goodies]

    יָקַדְנוּ יְעָרוֹת
    We have bogged down forests

    כִּרְסַמְנוּ כְּרָמִים
    We have infected vineyards

    לָכַדְנוּ לְבָנוֹן
    We have seized forests [Lebanon]

    מָאַסְנוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ
    We have loathed Your handiwork

    נִאַצְנוּ נְטִיעָתְךָ
    We have rejected your planting

    סָלַלְנוּ כְּבִישׁים סְבִיבֵי בָּתֵינוּ
    We have paved paths around our home

    עִינִינוּ עוֹפוֹת עִם רַעַל
    We have tortured birds with poison

    פִּגַלְנוּ פֵּירוֹתֵינוּ
    We have mutilated our fruits

    צָדִינוּ צָבִים
    We have ensnared reptiles

    קָצַרְנוּ קְמוּשׁוֹת
    We have harvested thistles

    רוּחֵנוּ רָזוֹן
    We have reaped sparsity

    שִׁמַמְנוּ שִׁטוֹת
    We have ruined a dream

    תִיעַבְנוּ תָלַמִים
    We have made abominations of mountain ridges

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi Menachem Creditor

    Written for American Jewish World Service

    Chag v’Chesed: Holiday Dvar Tzedek,Sukkot 5774
    By Rabbi Menachem Creditor | September 18, 2013
    What is it about the holiday of Sukkot that makes it so powerful? Tradition teaches that the energy of Sukkot is so intense, so visceral and delightful, that seven mythic figures leave the Garden of Eden to join in the light of our earthly sukkot (temporary shelters). But why? What is it about the sukkah that compels even those who have tasted Paradise?

    These spirit guests, known as the Ushpizin, are invited each night into our sukkot. Groupings of Ushpizin vary by community, and include biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes, invoked in turn each night of Sukkot. Jewish mystical tradition suggests that each guest also serves as a reminder of an action through which the brokenness of our world is repaired.

    Ironically, the Ushpizin and their message of an aching world typically function as spiritual enhancements during the physical experience of plenty. Many of us live lives far removed from direct contact with those truly in need of shelter. The week we spend dwelling in the sukkah, enjoying bountiful and joyful meals, does little to help us identify with their experience. The temporary walls and roof of our sukkot are, paradoxically and luxuriously, positioned near enough to our permanent home to facilitate the smooth flow of good food and sweet guests we are blessed to share during the holiday. We’d understand better the sacred urgency of the sukkah if we had nothing else.

    I experienced the urgency of Sukkot just over one year ago when I participated in an AJWS Rabbinic Delegation to Ghana, West Africa. We went to support and learn about Challenging Heights, a child-centered organization dedicated to promoting children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labor, in order to end child poverty. Since that journey, neither Jewish ritual moments nor interpersonal encounters have been the same. One experience stands out, and has changed Sukkot (and everything else) for me.

    One day, a circle of a few rabbis and children took turns telling each other stories. During one story, the girl on my right, Gladys, rested her head on my arm, obviously glad for human contact, something we were told would likely occur, as every experience of affirmation was part of the healing process for these children saved from slavery. I truly can’t remember the stories we were telling, but I can feel the warmth of Gladys’ head on my arm right now.

    And then Gladys looked at me and asked if I had eaten. I told her I would eat later. She nodded, and said, “I hope you eat tomorrow, too.” I nodded, accepting her blessing, wishing it back to her a million fold.

    My teacher Gladys changed me profoundly, giving me new eyes through which to see as a Global Jewish citizen. She transformed my Jewish life, by blessing me to realize that every ounce of strength we put into building our joyous, temporary structures must, in effect, be a sensitizing training for the higher purpose of building a world in which everyone eats tomorrow. Gladys has become my precious Sukkot spirit guest, my Ushpiza, whose message I commit to amplify until it is, one day soon, unnecessary in our world.

    Discussing the Ushpizin, the mystical text, the Zohar teaches:

    One must also gladden the poor, and the portion that would otherwise have been set aside for these Ushpizin guests should go to the poor. For if a person sits in the shadow of faith and invites those guests and does not give their portion to the poor, they all remain distant from him. …The first of everything must be for one’s guests. If one gladdens guests and satisfies them, God rejoices over him. (Zohar, Emor 103a)

    So what makes Sukkot so powerful that it compels the attention of heaven and earth? The answer can be discovered within the wisdom of the Ushpizin. The force of the Ushpizin custom, infusing our present with mythic possibility, invites us to consider internalizing spiritual values each day, transforming the sukkah into a safe space for sacred justice and radical welcome, for intentional encounter and deep feelings. In short, the Ushpizin teaches that a sukkah is, after all, an ancient microcosm of the world as it could be, as it must become—a universal shelter of peace

  22. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    The Wisdom of Sukot:

    Remnants of a Jewish Aboriginal Tradition

    A Teaching from Gershon…

    We will soon be celebrating the third of the four festivals of our harvest season: Sukot — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur having been the first two, during which we gleaned from our fields and from our insides what is good, and dispatched what is not so good to the compost pile of our lives for the hoped-for process of transformation. I know. You are wondering why I am writing so early about Sukot and not a word about Rosh Hashanah of Yom Kippur or the Ten Days of Returning, etc. It is because, basically, it’s all about Sukot. All of it. Sukot is the climactic drama that encapsulates the deepest meanings and intentions of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and everything in between. Literally, the festival of Sukot is referred to in the Torah as “Cycle of the Ingathering in the Turning of the Year” (Exodus 23:16 and 34:22). It is the actual harvest gathering time, when we harvest our past deeds and choices, gleaning the good from the not-so-good, taking stock of our stock, whether in our fields or in our hearts, and in regards to our relationship with God, Self, Other, and Earth. And if we have fields and orchards, it is the season during which we have in our homes more bounty from the harvesting than we had all year round. As such, it is a gluttonous time, as our tables are then filled with wide varieties of the produce we have gathered from the gifting of the earth and her trees.

    And just then, precisely then, when we feel all this wealth of bounty, we are instructed to take these riches outside the comfort of our solid, permanent-structured homes, and have a meal of it in a flimsy lean-two with an even less-dependable roof comprised of disconnected branches and leaves. It is a lesson in humility and a dramatic reminder of exactly where our bounty actually comes from (Menorat HaMa’or, Vol. 3, Part 4, Ch. 1). Just when we are inclined to feel swell-headed over our having accomplished all this growth through our hard work in both the planting and picking seasons , we are gently humbled — lest we declare “My power, and the might of my hand has achieved all this” (Deuteronomy 8:17); lest we forget where the flux of our blessings originates.

    And so there we sit, singing, celebrating, welcoming the spirits of the ancestors each of the seven nights of Sukot, vulnerable to the elements, unprotected, unsheltered, aware of how truly fragile we are at all times, and how the goodness of Creator sustains us even in those myriad moments when we are unaware of the miracles of our existence, and take life for granted.

    But there is more to this festival.

    The early-medieval masters of the Kabbalah, teachers like Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham, for example, remind us that the Torah’s first mention of the word sukot (literally: temporary shelters) appears in the story of our ancestor Jacob. The Torah recounts how – following his reconciliation with his brother Esau — he constructed “Sukot,” not for celebrating any festival of the same name, but for the sake of providing shelter for his herds: “And he made sukot for his flock, and therefore they called the name of the place Sukot” (Genesis 33:17 ). The second mention of Sukot in the Torah is in reference to the first site to which Moses led our people during their exodus from Egypt: “And the Children of Israel journeyed from Ramses and headed for Sukot” (Exodus 12:37).

    In the Zohar, we read about Great Mother, or Ey’ma Ila’ah, the feminine, motherly attribute of God. The celebration of Sukot, the Zohar teaches, is a celebration of Great Mother , “for She is Sukah, our shelter, our source of compassion against the forces of judgment. She hovers over us as a mother protects her children” (Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 186b and Vol. 3, folio 100b). Therefore, must the shade of the sukah roof-cover be greater than the sun light, writes the 16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham, for the sun light is representative of the consuming fire of judgment, and the shade is representative of the sheltering compassion that Great Mother shadows over us. Not even the walls of the sukah qualify as shade, he writes, as walls are too much associated with judgment. Rather, the roof-covering alone must provide more shade than sun. Therefore, he continues, was this festival given to us to celebrate almost immediately after Yom Kippur, after our sins have been forgiven, just as Jacob our ancestor built sukot for his flock right after he had reconciled and exchanged forgiveness with his brother Esau. It is in this Sukah that we dwell for seven days (Sefer HaSh’lah, Torah Ohr, Ch. 3) — the Sukah of reconciliation, during which Great Mother hovers over us as she did during the seven cycles of Creation: “And the Spirit of Eloheem, She hovered over the primal Waters” (Genesis 1:2). And as the second-century Rabbi Ley’vee reminded us, the sacred offerings we offered over the seven days of Sukot were on behalf of the neighboring non-Jewish tribes of that time (Talmud Bav’li, Sukah 55b) — even on behalf of those amongst them who were our sworn enemies — in commemoration of Jacob’s reconciliation with his brother Esau.

    Another deep Kabbalistic teaching goes like this: “The mystery of Sukot is nestled in a deeply concealed thought, out of reach of eagles and unknowable to any who ask ‘Where?’ From this nest of wisdom emanates the rays of the light of the World To Come, those very rays of divine wisdom light that once spiraled out of its primordial point of Genesis into the Six Directions of corporeal existence and merged with Bathsheba the mother of Solomon to become the Seven Days of Sukot” (Sefer To’la’at Ya’akov, folio 70).

    Bathsheba represents personal transformation, as she turned her affair with King David into a sacred union from which Solomon was eventually born – Solomon, who embodied both divine wisdom and peace. Likewise, the Kabbalah teaches us, the disconnected branches and foliage with which we cover the roofs of our sukot represent the spoils of our harvest (Menorat HaMa’or, Vol. 3, Part 4, Ch. 1) and thus also the sins which we have let go of during the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur period, disconnected from their roots – from us – and now transformed into sacred implements intended to shelter us from judgment, intended to represent the compassionate sheltering of Great Mother. Having called to the forefront our past wrongdoings through the introspective rituals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we would be inclined to follow those high holydays with judgment, as in self-judgment, instead of actually letting go of our past sins and moving on. We were therefore given the post-highholyday ritual of Sukot, where our past wrongs become the very shade from the fires of judgment, and become symbolic of Divine Compassion overriding Divine Judgment. And as Jacob built sukot to shelter his animals, we too do so to embrace our impulsive animal qualities with compassion and remove our judgment of those qualities within ourselves, even though we can easily attribute to them most of our past wrong-doings (Sefer HaShl’lah, Mesechet Sukah, Ner Mitzvah, Ch. 46).

    We learn from these tidbits that there is more to Sukot than sitting in a lean-to for the purpose of commemorating a time we sat in lean-to’s to commemorate a time we sat in lean-to’s to commemorate a time we sat in lean-to’s…ad infinitum (Leviticus 23:42). There is a lot more to it, writes the 16th-century Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague, “for the event of our having dwelled in sukot during our exodus journey is not the primary reason for celebrating Sukot. It goes deeper than that…” (Sefer Gevurot Hashem, Ch. 48, folio 201).

    Just how deep, is up to each of us.

  23. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    Hoshana Rabbah — “The Great ‘Save-Us!'” — is the seventh day of Sukkot and a minor holiday in its own right. On this day, traditionally, we make seven circuits of our sanctuaries with our lulavim and our Torah scrolls while reciting prayers called Hoshanot which ask God to bring healing and salvation. Seven is a number with spiritual significance in Judaism: seven days of the week, the seven “lower” (accessible) sefirot (aspects of God), the seven ancestral figures (some invite seven men and seven women) welcomed into the Sukkah as ushpizin (holy guests) — and now on the seventh day of this festival we circumnambulate our sanctuaries seven times, singing and praying. There’s also a very old custom of taking the willow branches from our lulavim and beating them against the ground; the falling willow leaves are an embodied prayer for rain. (For more on that: The Ritual of Beating the Willow.)

    Even if you’re not dancing or processing around a sanctuary with branches and Torah scrolls, reading some hoshanot and reflecting on their meaning is a lovely observance of Hoshana Rabbah. I like the ones written by my teacher Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, which online here at the Reb Zalman Legacy Project blog, and also here at the Shalom Center (with commentary from Rabbi Arthur Waskow below the hoshanot themselves.) And here’s a brief excerpt from a translated hoshana, provided by Rabbi David Seidenberg of

    A poem for Hoshanna Rabbah
    Posted: 08 Oct 2012 11:29 AM PDT
    My footsteps across
    this patch of earth’s scalp
    release the scent of thyme.

    Even in the rain
    the squirrels have been busy
    denuding the corncobs.

    The wind has dangled
    my autumn garlands. I untangle
    them one last time.

    Every day the sukkah becomes
    more a sketch of itself.
    The canvas walls dip

    and drape, the cornstalks
    wither, revealing more
    of the variegated sky.

    Today we ask God to save
    this ark and all that it holds.
    Today the penultimate taste

    of honey on our bread.
    Today we beat willow branches
    until the leaves fall.

    The end of this long walk
    through fasts and feasts:
    we’re footsore, hearts weary

    from pumping emotion. We yearn
    to burrow into the soil
    and close our eyes. We won’t know

    what’s been planted in us
    until the sting of horseradish
    pulls us forth into freedom.

  24. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Kohelet, chapter 1

    Son of David King of Jerusalem

    everything is sh** –

    he threw a mask concealing his face
    onto the stone wall:

    There is this Wall
    There is sh** that passes
    And there is this wall:

    The sun makes its way home
    Everything Yearns for home:

    The rivers to the sea
    Everything with its locus –

    Nothing new:

    Is this new –
    Same sh**.

    A lot to learn
    I go to the woodshed.

    jsg, usa

    Chapter 2

    I got high
    That too sh**

    Everything mixed up
    Laughing crying:

    So I got high
    I met my problem:
    Me –

    I made

    I became big
    Everywhere I went:


    Sh** everywhere;

    G*d everywhere

    Chapter 3

    Every time
    A season
    A Thing under heaven:

    A time to dance a time to pinch
    A time to tent a time not to tent
    A time to wear beads a time to wear cravats
    A time to carry a cane

    A time to eat pizza
    A time for silence

    A time to drink water and to change your shoes

    A time to watch an F-15 take off
    A time to watch one land

    A time to build tonka toys

    Something learned at 60
    Missed at 20

    A time to walk backwards

    A time for Source
    A time for derivatives

    A time for singing and
    A time for singing

    A time for sweets
    And teas from the mountains
    Fredericks from Hollywood

    I saw G*d
    Who made everything

    Made human being beautiful
    And effortlessly

    Always empty
    There is nothing better than

    I saw good and not-good
    And I said:

    It’s not my business how G*d
    Wants the world

    Who knows the heart of another?
    What I think of you is
    None of your business

    What you think of me –
    None of my business

    And there is nothing more
    Than happiness
    Chapter 4

    I returned and saw them
    Suffering under the sun
    Without consolation:

    I praised the dead
    More than the living;

    And the future
    Praised them too
    Before pessimism:

    I saw the foolishness of all our work
    And envy
    Un-such and frustration:

    We are consuming ourselves
    I returned and saw

    More un-such
    One somebody else
    Is better than none:

    If you fall
    Fall up

    If you fall down
    Lift someone up:

    I saw all the living who walk under the
    Sun; no end to the people I saw –

    All un-such and frustration:

    Clean off your feet when you enter the House of G*d
    At least you came:

    Chapter 5

    Keep your mouth shut
    The voice of fools full of words
    Better not to speak at all

    Than to promise and not fulfill
    You have dreams
    Full of un-such:

    Just love G*d
    And fight the good fight
    There’s what to do:

    I have seen some evil under the sun;

    You leave the way you came in
    Be with someone
    Get out of the dark and lose that face:

    I saw some good
    And beauty
    When hungry eat
    When thirsty drink:

    Enjoy the days you have been given
    It’s a gift from G*d:

    Your days are few
    G*d Is:

    Chapter 6

    I have seen an evil under the sun
    A sickness to the soul:

    A person of good circumstances
    Never satisfied
    Comes in with un-such
    Goes out in darkness:

    A person who knows darkness
    Misses the sun
    Darkness covers everything:

    The pleasures we work for –

    What is wisdom?
    Better that a person sees
    Un-such and frustration increases –

    Dog us under the sun
    What is good –
    Who knows?

    We are followed by shadows
    And who knows the future –
    Under the sun:

    Chapter 7

    Better than anything a good name
    Get familiar with the house of mourning
    Laugh into your seriousness:

    Let someone smart take you down
    Better than the love of fools;

    Fools’ words –
    A breath:

    The ends better than beginnings

    Learn to avoid anger
    You become a fool:

    The days of old
    No better than these:

    Wisdom is good when connected
    Toward the sun:

    Wisdom means life
    G*d’s work is good
    You might not straighten out the crooked
    You straighten out yourself:

    In G*d’s eyes
    A day of good
    A day of adversity
    The same:

    After Me
    What will you find?

    I have seen everything in these days of a breath
    Righteous perish
    Evil prosper:

    Don’t be so righteous
    Think it through and
    Let G*d be G*d:

    Wisdom gives strength to the wise
    More than all the big shots
    And you’re not such a big shot yourself:

    What was is far away
    Laid deep
    Who can find it?

    I look with my heart
    I have found with my heart
    Said Kohelet
    Add one to another:

    What my soul sought –
    A man
    A woman;

    I found
    I did not find:

    G*d made me straight
    With crookedness:

    Chapter 8

    Who knows the meaning of a thing
    Wisdom lights up your face:

    I am ready
    Give me the commandment of the King concerning
    The oath of G*d:

    Stand in front of G*d
    Don’t say anything:

    Know time and justice
    You have no notion of what will be:

    I saw all this
    I gave myself to the work under the sun:

    I saw them all come and go
    They will be forgotten in the city
    This too is a breath:

    There is a breath on the earth
    Good suffer Wicked prosper
    I say, this too is a breath:

    I raise joy
    There is nothing better under the sun
    Eat drink be merry
    To Be accompanied all the days G*d has given
    Under the sun:

    I won’t find it
    The deed done under the sun
    What it means
    What a wise person claims to know –
    I can’t find it:

    Chapter 9

    All this I laid into my heart and to clarify
    Everything is in G*d’s hand
    Love, hate, what we don’t know, everything:

    Everything comes to them as it comes
    One standard
    For the pure the unclean
    One who gives one who doesn’t give
    The sinner the non-sinner:

    So there is madness
    And wickedness
    Great evil done under the sun
    One Matter
    Then we go to the dead:

    Alive there is hope
    We know we are going to die:

    Love hate all under the sun
    Eat joyfully drink
    G*d has you already:

    Wear white
    Anoint your head with oil:

    Enjoy your life with someone
    All the days of your life of penumbra
    G*d has given you under the sun:

    For that is your portion
    You toil under the sun

    If you have the strength to do
    Do it
    You’re not taking it to the grave:

    I returned and saw under the sun
    The race does not belong to the quickest
    The conflicts to the strong
    The wise don’t eat better
    They don’t get rich
    The rich are nimcompoops
    Time and fate overcome them all:

    A person does not know when –
    A fish caught in a net
    A bird in a snare
    Death falls upon us:

    I have seen wisdom under the sun
    And it seemed large to me:

    There was a small city
    And Few people in it
    A great King came upon it and
    Surrounded it
    And built great walls:

    And there was found a poor wise man
    And he saved the city through his wisdom
    But he was forgotten:

    And I said,
    Wisdom is better than big shot-itis
    but the wisdom of the poor
    Is despised and not heard:

    The words of the wise are heard
    When spoken

    Wisdom is better than weapons
    And one dummy destroys
    Much good.

    Chapter 10

    Putrid dying flies
    Corrupt the perfumer’s oil
    A little foolishness corrupts honor:

    The heart of the wise on the right
    The heart of a fool on the left:

    Stay firm
    I saw some evil under the sun
    Some error anyway:

    Slaves on horses
    Princes walking like slaves
    Rich sitting in low places
    Stay your place:

    Your land is fortunate with good rulers
    (They eat and drink at the right time):

    Be careful what you say
    The birds of heaven carry your voice
    You may be betrayed by winged creatures:

    jsg, usa

  25. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Unity in Motion: Waving the Four Species
    excerpted from Rav Pinson’s latest release: The Four Species/English and Sod Ha’nanuim/Hebrew

    excerpted from Chapter 2/ The Four Species

    In the previous chapter, we explored the positive imagery of the arba minim, the ‘Four Species’—such as the letters of Hashem’s name, a unity between people, a unity of the masculine and feminine aspects of reality, and the enlightened attributes of the Patriarchs. Another type of imagery in the arba minim is that they are weapons of battle. The lulav looks like a sword.

    Our sages tell us that once we pass through the time of judgment spanning Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, we proudly parade with upright lulav, showing that we have been victorious in judgment. [Tanchumah Emor, 18, Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra, 30]. Through waving the lulav, we are holding up an emblem or weapon that disquiets our spiritual enemies. [Derech Hashem, 4:7]. In other words, the arba minim can be seen as instruments of cutting away negativity.

    With this additional type of image, we can now move on to discussing the na’anuim, the ‘wavings’ or movements of the arba minim, with their intentions and meanings.


    The Gemara [Sukkah, 37b], says that we should wave the arba minim back and forth, and up and down. Today the custom is to wave them in the four cardinal directions, plus up and down—six directions in total…

    “Rabbi Yochanan says, We wave them back and forth to [honor] Him who owns the four directions, and we wave up and down to [honor] Him who owns the Heavens and the earth. In the West [Israel, west of Babylon] they learned: ‘We wave back and forth to counter harmful winds (from the four directions) and up and down to counter harmful dews.’”

    These two opinions reveal a positive and a negative reason for the na’anuim. The first is to show the Unity of Hashem, which pervades all directions and dimensions. To declare Hashem’s Unity in all creation, and as the Chinuch writes to remember Hashem is all of life. The second is to negate negativity, to nullify negative forces. The latter could mean to purify the atmosphere of physical pollutants, or to purify the psychic and spiritual environment from negative influences.

    The Midrash (see Tosefos ad loc, and Aruch haShulchan) says the waving has to do with Hashem’s judgment of Creation: we wave the lulav to show that the earth is dancing, alive with singing Hashem’s praise: “Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy.”

    Our personal energy-field or nefesh extends six feet around our body. If we are susceptible, and if we have spent time around negative and pessimistic people, their energy-field can intermingle with our own and have a detrimental effect on us.

    When we wave the lulav and esrog in the six sectors of our energy field, we cleanse our immediate environment and create a protective wall around us. This relates, again to the teaching in the Midrash, which says that holding up the lulav is like holding up a sword, demonstrating our victory, and having cut negativity away from our lives.

    Purifying and elevating the six ‘directions’ of the psycho-physical and spiritual world, creates great joy, and we may be moved to dance. Dancing, lifting the feet is a natural expression of elevating the world, defying gravity. The nights of Sukkos are full of dancing, a tradition going back to the Simchas Beis haShueivah ceremony in the Holy Temple. The culmination of this process of purification and elevation is Simchas Torah, when we victoriously lift all of ourselves, and all of Creation, up to Heaven.

    Back and Forth

    In each waving of the lulav, there are two movements: outward into the specific direction, and then inward, back toward one’s body. The Maggid of Kozhnitz (Avodas Yisrael) explains that the outward movement is about pushing something away, and the inward movement is about yichud, unity, drawing in.

    As such, the two basic intentions are actually four. Within the intention of showing Hashem’s Unity in all directions, the outward movement pushes aside the kelipah that prevents us from being aware of Hashem’s Unity. The inward movement draws recognition of Hashem’s Unity into our lives.

    Within the intention of purifying the atmosphere and its influences, the outward movement can be seen as pushing aside negativity, and the inward movement as pulling positive influences toward us….

    With blessings for a truly joy-filled sukkos.
    Rav DovBer Pinson

  26. Wendy

    From Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    “An invitation implies a willingness to receive”

    Assembly, meeting, and reunification characterize Sukkot.

    Within ourselves we unite the scattered fragments of our identity, and at the Temple in Jerusalem there were seventy sacrifices to unite the scattered nations.

    These were called peace sacrifices.

    Peace, shalom, is wholeness, or shlemut.

    The seventy sacrifices at the Temple were aimed at bringing men together, and restoring the wholeness of humankind in a broken, disunited world.

    Sukkot ends with another form of wholeness, since on Simchat Torah we complete the Torah readings.

    Fulfillment only comes with tranquility and peace.

    Unbridled, unrestrained joy only comes in fulfillment.

    Sukkot is the only holiday that is called the ‘time of our rejoicing’ because all the forms of fulfillment are granted simultaneously — earthly wealth, the concluding portion of the Torah, the uniting of the nations.

    We are filled with an extraordinary sense of well-being.

    Seated in the sukkah, we live in perfect harmony in the shadow of God, echoing the verse in the Song of Songs:‘I delight to sit in His shade.’ (2:3)

    When I welcome the Seven Shepherds in my sukkah, I attain supreme harmony.

    An invitation implies a willingness to receive.

    By opening my door to the Shepherds I open the door of my being and say that I am ready to receive that part of my being that is in them.

    I say to each, ‘Enter within me with all you have to give and receive, with all that there is of me in you.’

    –Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    From “The Three Pilgrim Festivals” p. 277-278, in The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

  27. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler


    A Teaching from Gershon…

    Unbeknownst to many of us, Sukot is not only the name of the current festival, it is also the name of a place. Actually two places mentioned in the Torah that bear the same name: סכת Sukot. The first mention of Sukot the Place is in Genesis 33:17 which recounts how our ancestor Jacob built shelters (sukot) for his acquisitions [literal meaning, as opposed to “his cattle” or “flocks” as it is usually translated] after crossing over the Ya’vok (present-day Zarqa River in Jordan), wrestling with the angel all night, and reconciling with his brother Esau. The second mention of Sukot the Place is regarding a site located way down in Egypt land, a place where our ancestors rendezvoused with God, so to speak, after being redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and just before beginning their journey toward the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 33:5).

    “All Israelite natives,” God is reported to have instructed us back then, “must dwell in sukot for seven days. BecauseI caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukot when I took them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43). So is this referring to sukot as huts, or Sukot the Place in Egypt? After all, the rest of the Torah’s account describes us as dwelling in tents, not huts, during our 40-year trek across the desert (for example, Exodus 33:8 and 10, and Numbers 24:5), plus the above quote specifically speaks of the period of coming out of Egypt, not the subsequent journey through the desert.

    The eleventh-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki [Rashi], the foremost commentator on the Torah and Talmud, proposed that the “Sukot” God is referring to as having caused us to dwell in after taking us out of Egypt was actually Sukot the Place (Rashi on Exodus 12:37). Which means, he continues, we were miraculously miles away to spend a little time at this special oasis, where we were to meet up with God before continuing toward the Sea of Reeds! And how did we make this miraculous journey within a couple of days? Simple: On wings of eagles!! As is written: “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you upon wings of eagles and brought you unto Me” (Exodus 19:4). Other commentators read the event not that God “caused us to dwell in Sukot”, but that God restored us in Sukot, gathered us there from the various places across Egypt where we had been scattered, and brought us together into a single peoplehood (Midrash Mechilta, Ch. 2). After all, you can easily translate the same Hebrew word for “I caused to dwell” – ho’shav’tee הושבתי as “I restored.” Thus, the פסוקpa’suk (verse) in the Torah would read: “All Israelite natives must dwell in sukot [huts] for seven days. BecauseI restored the Children of Israel at [the place called] Sukot, when I took them out of Egypt.” And because Sukot was a fertile oasis with ample leaves and branches to shade us from the fierce desert sun, we built there lean-to’s, and so we celebrate having been restored in spirit and in peoplehood at the place of Sukot by building and eating in sukot.

    Yet another puzzle regarding Sukot is the fact that according to the ancient Scriptures of our people, we didn’t celebrate Sukot by sitting in lean-to’s, from the time of Joshua all the way up until the return of the first exiles from Babylon some eight centuries later! (Nechemiah 8:17). What was that all about?

    Is it possible that the custom of building lean-to’s and sitting in them was never the original practice, to begin with? After all, there is a dispute in the Talmud as to whether the original sukot were actually huts; that perhaps sukot refers to the ענני הכבוד a’nanay ha’kavo’d, “the Clouds of Divine Glory” that hovered over us protectively as we made our exodus out of Egypt (Talmud Bav’li, Sukah 11b). The ancients tell us that there were seven such mysterious “clouds”, garments, so to speak, for the manifestation of the Divine Presence: “One hovered Above, one Below, then one to the East, one to the West, one to the North, and one to the South. The seventh cloud moved ahead of the people by a three day’s journey, and cleared the path in front of them by removing scorpions, snakes and stones. And where the earth dropped, this seventh cloud raised the earth to an even plain, and where the earth rose, it lowered the earth to an even plain, so that the journey might be as smooth as possible” (Midrash Bamid’bar Rabbah 1:2).

    So, which is it? Sukot the Huts? Sukot the Clouds? Sukot the Place? And why did we suspend building and living in sukot for 800 years?

    The answer to all these puzzles may lie hidden away in the equally puzzling controversy surrounding the mitzvah of eating matzoh on Passover. There seems to have been a dispute between the ancient sages about why we eat matzoh on Passover (Talmud Bav’li, Berachot 9a): Do we eat matzoh to commemorate how our bread-baking venture was interrupted by the Egyptians, who rushed us out of the land before the dough could rise? Or do we eat matzoh to commemorate how our bread-baking venture was interrupted by God revealing Itself to us when we camped out at a place called… Sukot!? In the traditional account as it appears in the Torah itself we are told that we were rushed out by the Egyptians after the Tenth Plague, and so it was they who interrupted the rising of our dough, leaving us with…matzoh!(Exodus 12:33, 34, 39). In the oral tradition, however, and in the Passover Hagadah that emerged from that tradition, it was God who interrupted the rising of our dough, leaving us with…matzoh. After all, it was there, at Sukot the Place, where we settled in for a little break after being rushed out of downtown Ramses(Exodus 12:37),and so we tried once again to bake some bread.But no sooner did we prepare the dough when the collective Revelatory experience began, for it was there, at Sukot, where the Presence of God first met us in a Cloud to commence our journey together (Exodus 13:20-21), and so we had to hurriedly pack up and leave.

    The sixteenth-century Rabbi Yeshayahum ben Avraham resolves the seeming dispute simply by splitting in two the causes of the Great Rush: the Egyptians rushed us out of Ramses, and God rushed us into the Revelation, into Sukot (Sefer HaSheLaH, Mesechet Pesachim, D’rush Sh’ee’shee, No. 2). Very much aligned with David’s psalmic aphorism: “Get thee the hell away from what is not good for you, and vigorously pursue what is good for you” (Psalms 34:15 and 37:27). And thus, “I carried you on wings of eagles and brought you unto Me.”

    So basically we eat matzoh on Passover to commemorate two separate incidents that interrupted our attempts to bake normal fluffy bread and challah rolls: (1) when the Egyptians hurried us out of the land before the dough could rise, after we’d brought all those plagues down on them, and (2) when the Divine Presence revealed itself to us in a Cloud at Sukot the Place before the dough could rise, thus interrupting our bread-baking attempts yet a second time – both instances resulting in…matzah. The lesson is so rich: interruption is not always as bad as we often assume it is. Sometimes interruptions of our flow serve as catalysts for moving us out of stuck places (what happened to us in Egypt), and moving us toward better futures (what happened to us at Sukot).

    Sukot is therefore a very sacred place and represents a very important and daring process of moving oneself toward something better, after having been driven out of something worse. Being rushed out of Egypt was a good thing, although it occurred under harrowing circumstances. But the actual redemption had still not taken place, was not complete, until we would now on our own volition move ourselves toward the outstretched arms of the Redeemer, who was waiting — at Sukot the Place — for us to make our move. It is a blessing sometimes when bad things happen to shift us out of ruts, but the blessing is incomplete until we ourselves take the initiative to continue that shift so that it becomes ours, rather than circumstantial.

    From all this, we learn that Sukot (1) is the name of a place where God was waiting for us, to join us in our Exodus; (2) is the place where God gathered us like a mother eagle collecting her brood; (3) represents the “Cloud” that hovered over us protectively from that moment on across the rest of our desert trek, and (4) is the name for our harvest festival, during which we glean the good from the bad, thus abandoning the security of our bounty, the fluffiness of our egos, the rising of our dough, for our faith in God, under whose sheltering canopy – or sukah – all Creation flourishes, and all dough rises.

    Wow. What a tradition.

    And that is possibly why we suspended sitting in booths for 800 years. We felt uninterrupted. We had our own commonwealth, our own independent country, and eventually our own monarchy, our own nation. Ours. Uninterruptable. Permanent. And we cried out: “The power and the might of my own hands have accomplished all this!” (Deuteronomy 8:17), something Moses had warned us against centuries earlier. And then – poof! Out we go. Exiled to Babylon. Scattered all across the middle-east, Asia, Africa… driven from our homeland, and harshly reminded of our temporaliness in our personal lives and in our national homeland. This traumatized us so that when we returned from this shocking First Exile, we resumed the old Mosaic tradition of building and living in flimsy lean-to’s, in sukot, to remember always that we are here by the Grace of God, by the goodness of our Host Creator, and not to take any of it for granted; to remember we are temporary dwellers, even in our homeland, “for the land belongs to Me,” God reminded us 3,300 years ago in an interview with Moses (Leviticus 25:23), so don’t get too comfortable and claim any of it as yours. Your land is not yours, your children are not yours, your husbands, wives, lovers, are not yours. Not even you are yours. You own nothing and no one. You’re here on lease terms. You rent. You come here with nothing and you leave here with nothing, so deal with it. All you really have is sukah, the loving Cloud that hovers protectively from above and carries you patiently from below, and dances around you from all four directions, and clears the way for you farther than our eyes can see.

    Jacob understood this: “And Jacob built for him a house, and for his acquisitions he built sukot” (Genesis 33:17). He built both, a solid house “for him” [which could mean for God], and a bunch of lean-to’s “for his acquisitions” [which could mean for himself, his family, his animals, his belongings], and called the place Sukot. The solid house he built is symbolic of God who is always, and the sukot he built for his “acquisitions” represent the temporary nature of what he “acquired” in this lifetime.

    So, at every autumn, when you feel like going inside the secure walls of your solid home, take some time to sit in a sukah, to remember how vulnerable you are, how fragile life is, how temporary is your sojourn on this magical planet. And every time you set the dough to rise while intending to bake bread, take a moment to be thankful for every second that goes by that you are not interrupted, and to remember also that if you are interrupted and end up with matzoh – that, too, is a good thing. It’s all part of the unpredictable nature of this life walk. The more in tune with it you are, the more light your walk.

    There is then Revelation in all Interruption, and Interruption in all Revelation. Sometimes Revelation occurs subtly, camouflaged by circumstance, such as being driven out of Egypt, and sometimes it occurs overtly, by our being open to it, such as arriving at Sukot. In either instance there is what we experience as interruption, but that “interruption” may more often than we think actually be part of the higher flow, beyond our own script of how our lives ought to unfold.

    Matzoh and Sukah. It’s all you really need to know.


    “And God shall create upon the site of Mount Zion and upon her keepers a Cloud of Smoke to hover during the day, and the brilliance of a flame of fire during the night, for all shall bask in the Glory of the Sacred Canopy. And it shall be for a Sukah of shade from the heat throughout the day, and as a shelter and refuge from storm and rain” (Isaiah 4:5-6).

  28. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    The Thing of the Joy

    To David a song
    first the Shekhinah came and sat on his shoulder
    then David sang and played flat out on that axe of his too

    A song to David
    first David started to scat
    THEN the Shekhinah came and kissed his face

    so sweet he sang the secret bird
    song of King Solomon
    who knew the

    Shekhinah will not descend
    when there is laziness or sadness
    silliness light talk but

    when there is joy
    the deep joy of the mitzvah
    then WOW your mind Is Blown like

    when the slow hand player came to play
    the hand of God came
    UPON him

    I heard this when the wind
    came and blew through David’s singing
    harp one midnight in the palace of the King

    jsg, usa

    LeDavid mizmor – the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered the song,
    Mizmor leDavid — he lifted up his voice in song first, and then the Shekhinah
    descended upon him afterwards. The Shekhinah rests upon a person neither
    when there is laziness, sadness, laughter, levity or idle talk, but where there is a
    thing of the joy of the mitzvah. — BT Pesachim 117a

  29. Wendy

    From Reb Mimi Feigelson

    Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Hol Ha’Moed Sukkot
    October 15, 2011 / 17 Tishrei 5772
    By: Reb Mimi Feigelson, Mashpiah Ruchanit

    “Mai Matzlei?” – “What Does God Pray?” [Brachot 7a]

    Torah Reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26
    Maftir: Numbers 29:17-22
    Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16
    “Did you drop something?” is usually the reaction I get almost every Shabbat from at least one congregant at the end of Shabbat morning prayers upon exiting the sanctuary. This is because of the practice that I was taught in my youth and still adhere to. It actually appears in the small print at the end of some prayer books. Upon exiting, we are asked to turn our faces back towards the inside of the sanctuary, to bow and recite the verse: “God lead me in Your just ways….” Similar to the way the Talmud in Brachot tells us how to enter a place of prayer: “One should always enter both entrances [and then begin to pray],” we are taught how to exit holy space. We return our face towards God and walk out face to face with a prayer on our lips.
    It is with these two teachings that I ask myself how to exit Yom Kippur, knowing that I am walking towards Sukkot. Correlated to the two entrances I ask, what indeed are my two exits / steps out of Yom Kippur? My first step out of Yom Kippur happens when I recite the Shma of Arvit (the evening service). For twenty five hours I’m allowed to say the verse: “Baruch shem kvod mal’chuto l’olam va’ed” (Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity) out loud. At the conclusion of Ne’ila I get to scream it / proclaim it on the top of my lungs three times. And no, the screaming isn’t because God is hard-of-hearing, it is because I am… One minute I feel like the angels, belting out all I have inside of me, and then next moment, the Shma of Arvit, I’m told to return to my human whisper. “Baruch shem kvod mal’chuto l’olam va’ed” in a whisper. It is the closest I come to a silent scream.
    In a blessed way the second step away is also the first step toward – I step into the sukkah. Reb Meir of Parmishlan (1703-1773) says that there are three mitzvot (commandments) that we walk into with our totality – the land of Israel, the Shabbat and the sukkah. I hear you say, “but we also walk into the mikvah” and to this I want to reply – these three mitzvot are ones that we show up to as we are. We enter with our cloths, with our shoes, with all the ‘baggage’ that we carry around. Even on Yom Kippur, when we are asked to be honest about who we are, and to face God in our true face, we dress up in white, and behave like total spiritual beings (no eating and drinking).
    It is in walking into the sukkah that I truly manifest. I believe that the surrounding light and containment of the sukkah is actually what enables us to finally show up. Not Yom Kippur, not even the Ne’ila prayers, but the sukkah.
    We are taught that one of the explanations for the seventy offerings brought on Sukkot is in correlation to the seventy nations. It is in this spirit that I ask you to join with me in three teachings of Father Henry Nouwen (1932-1996). These teachings as they appear in his book The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life (Wendy Wilson Greer, ed.) are my guides for entering the Sukkah this year:
    “Prayer means entering into communion with the One who loved us before we could love… The more deeply we enter into the house of God, the house whose language is prayer, the less dependent we are on the blame or praise of those who surround us, and the freer we are to let our whole being be filled with that first love. As long as we are still wondering what other people say or think about us and trying to act in ways that will elicit a positive response, we are still victimized and imprisoned by the dark world in which we live. In that stark world we have to let our surroundings tell us what we are worth… As long as we are in the clutches of that world, we live in darkness, since we do not know our true self. We cling to our false self in the hope that maybe more success, more praise, more satisfaction will give us the experience of being loved, which we crave. That is the fertile ground of bitterness, greed, violence and war.
    In prayer, however, again and again we discover that the love we are looking for has already been given to us and that we can come to the experience of that love. Prayer is entering into communion with the One who molded our being in our mother’s womb with love and only love. There, in the first love, lies our true self, a self not made up of the rejections and acceptances of those with whom we live, but solidly rooted in the One who called us into existence. In the house of God we were created. To that house we are called to return.” (p.72-73)
    Further in the chapter Nouwen will become personal in his observations:
    “To return to God means to return to God with all that I am and all that I have… I suddenly felt a certain resistance to being embraced so full and totally. I experience not only a desire to be embraced, but also a fear of losing my independence. I realized that God’s love is a jealous love. God wants not just a part of me, but all of me… Only when I surrender myself completely… can I expect to be free from endless distractions, ready to hear the voice of love, and able to recognize my own unique call.
    “It is going to be a very long road. Every time I pray, I feel the struggle. It is the struggle of letting God be the God of my whole being. It is the struggle to trust that true freedom lies hidden in total surrender to God’s love.”
    And I echo the last observation, titled, “The Still Small Voice”:
    “Why is it so difficult to be still and quiet and let God speak to me about the meaning of my life? Is it because I don’t trust God? Is it because I don’t know God? Is it because I wonder if God really is there for me? Is it because I am afraid of God? Is it because everything else is more real for me than God? Is it because deep down, I do not believe that God cares what happens at the corner of Yonge and Bloor?” (p.84)
    Exiting Yom Kippur is first done by acknowledging our humanness and owning our physical needs as basic as water and food. It is the second step that seems even harder to me – the step that leads us into our sukkah. The sukkah that Father Henri Nouwen describes for us: the place of true love; the place of God’s embrace; the place where we are able and willing to surrender the totality of who we are into the hold of the One and Only.
    If on Yom Kippur we enter a synagogue and God listen’s to our prayers, it is on Sukkot that God walks into our sukkah and we listen to God pray.
    I pray that we allow ourselves to sit still long enough to hear that Divine prayer; I pray that we are blessed to share with each other the vision that God has shared with each and every one of us during this holiday in the years to come.
    Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!

  30. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    Interpreting Kohelet ( 5775)

    October 11, 2014
    At Sukkot, it is traditional to study the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). The original reason for this tradition is mysterious — as is the book of Kohelet, penned by an unknown author in an unusual style.

    The author says, “I, Kohelet, am a wise, wealthy king in Jerusalem.” One might identify Kohelet with King Solomon, but the book’s language is half a millennium too modern, and Kohelet is too critical of royal justice.

    The book of Kohelet has no story; no characters except the narrator; no discussion of the history of Israel or the future of the Jews; and no role for revelation. It encourages us to observe life and create meaning for ourselves. Some read pessimism in this teaching; others see optimism.

    Here are some of the words that frame the book, beginning and end.

    The words of Kohelet, son of David, king in Jerusalem.

    Havel Havalim, said Kohelet. Utterly insubstantial! All is insubstantial.

    What yitron, real value, is there for a human in the gains he or she makes beneath the sun? (1:1-3)

    The sun rises and the sun sets, and glides back to where it rises. Southward blowing, turning northward, ever-turning blows the wind; on its rounds the wind returns. (1:5-6)

    I observed all the happenings beneath the sun and I found that all is hevel, futile, and re’ut ruach, pursuit of wind. (1:14)

    My thoughts turned to appraising chochma, wisdom, as well as madness and folly. I found that chochma, wisdom, has more yitron, more profit, than folly, as light is more profitable than darkness. A chacham, a wise person, has eyes in her head, whereas a fool walks in darkness. But I also realized that the same fate awaits them both. Alas, the chacham, the wise person, dies, just like the fool. And sometimes a person she’amalo, who toiled, with chochma, wisdom, knowledge and skill, must hand it on to be the chelek, portion, of someone who did not amal, toil, for it. (2:12-14, 16, 21)

    There is nothing worthwhile for a person except to eat and drink and and enjoy amalo, his toil. Even that, I noted, comes from God. (2:24)

    Last week, in our course on Wisdom Literature, I studied Kohelet with our mostly Christian students at the Vancouver School of Theology.

    “What wisdom does Kohelet offer?” I asked.

    Trevor said, “God is at work, but we cannot exactly know God’s plan.”

    Tuyvec said, “We see only what is finite, but God’s wisdom is infinite.”

    Glenn said, “Learn to live within your limitations.”

    Vikki said, “When we are in right relationship with reality, we are in right relationship with God.”

    Linda said, “We come to know God through reasoned investigation into life.”

    Kirstin said, “Wow, these interpretations are really subjective!”

    “Thank you Kirstin,” I said, “for that perfect segue into a deeper look!”

    “Yes,” I continued, “there are more and less subjective ways to interpret texts. We just used a subjective, reader-centered method. We allowed the text to trigger spiritual musings. And we understood our musings to be the message of the text.

    “Let’s try something a bit more scientific, and examine Kohelet on his or her own terms. While we don’t know Kohelet’s identity, time, or place, we can literally look at Kohelet’s terms.

    “Kohelet uses a special vocabulary to express her or his philosophy. A few favorite words appear more in Kohelet than in any book of the Tanakh. Let’s identify those words, examine them in context, and draw conclusions. What philosophical teaching is presented through each word?”

    Here are our findings.

    Chelek refers to our portion in life; Yitron is the profit we derive from it. For Kohelet, the value of our portion and the quality of our profit is measured by our attitude.

    Amal describes all our toil, on the physical, emotional and intellectual levels. Because our toil brings no lasting result, says Kohelet, the best way to derive value is to enjoy life’s tasks for what they are.

    Chochma is wisdom. Wisdom, Kohelet teaches, is powerful, but not infinite. Empirical observation and analysis teach us about life, but we cannot know everything.

    Hevel means breath or vapour. Ruach means wind and spirit. Re’ut ruach is the activity of chasing wind or chasing spirit. Life, says Kohelet, is breath, an unending pursuit of ruach. All life is animated by spirit.

    Thus, Kohelet teaches:

    Be aware; spirit surrounds you.

    Keep your eyes and your mind open.

    Accept every present moment as a gift.

    Work for the good of the world, even though achievements are temporary.

    That’s how one lives well on this planet under the sun.

  31. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Some of the most extraordinary prayers for the earth are found in the Hoshanot for Sukkot. The prayers for Tu Bishvat are equally powerful, but the Hoshanot go back more than a millenium, while Tu Bishvat only goes back centuries. These are the prayers we say while parading around the ark or Torah with lulav and etrog in hand. Most siddurim fail to translate these prayers or miss the meaning.

    One Hoshana prayer-poem is recited for each of the hakafot (hakafah = circle march). On Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, we circle seven times and recite many many poems for the elements, the ancestors, the animals and plants, the clouds and rain and atmosphere, the Temple, and more. The fifth Hakafah of Hoshana Rabbah is especially wonderful. When I have time I’ll add the whole Hebrew piyut along with a translation, but here’s the first bit and the end:

    Hoshana adam uv’heimah, hoshana!
    Please save human and animal! Please, save!
    Hoshana basar v’ruach un’shamah, hoshana!
    Please save flesh and spirit and breathing!
    Hoshana gid v’etsem v’qormah, hoshana!
    Please save sinew and bone and knit!
    Hoshana dmut v’tselem v’rikmah, hoshana!
    Please save likeness and image and weave!
    Hoshana hod lahevel damah (hoshana) v’nimshal kab’heimot nidmah, hoshana!
    Please save! Majesty is compared to empty breath (please save!) and the one compared is likened as the animals!
    Hoshana ziv v’toar v’qomah, hoshana!
    Please save radiance and beautiful form and fullness of stature*!
    Hoshana chidush pnai ha’adamah, hoshana!…
    Please save, Renew the face of the earth!
    Hoshana t’luyah al b’li mah, hoshana!
    Please save [this world] suspended upon nothingness!

    Ushpizin: Inviting the Mothers Imahot to the Sukkah
    Here’s the basic order, which is explained below: Ruth, Sarah, Rivkah, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, Rachel, plus Leah as Binah.
    Where are the mothers on Sukkot? Why don’t we traditionally invite them into the sukkah the way we do the fathers? These are not just rhetorical questions, and the answer isn’t just “patriarchy”. The point of this page is to provide some liturgy for inviting the mothers, but also to understand the traditional prayers, so that the new liturgy is a direct extension of what came before.

    First and foremost, the seder of the ushpizin or guests—the seven Avot or ancestors we invite during the seven nights of Sukkot—is a Kabbalistic custom. Each of the ancestors represents one of the seven lower Sefirot. The same Sefirot correspond to the seven days in each week and seven weeks of the Omer. The traditional lineup, as most (but not all) visiting this page will know, is:

    Abraham, Chesed ~ Lovingkindness
    Isaac, Gevurah ~ Might, Judgment
    Jacob, Tiferet ~ Beauty, Harmony
    Moshe, Netzach ~ Triumph, Eternity
    Aaron, Hod ~ Majesty
    Yosef, Yesod ~ Foundation
    David, Malkhut ~ Kingship, Kingdom
    It’s important (to the degree that things like this can be important) that the order is not historically chronological but spiritual, reflecting the unfolding of divinity in creation, as Kabbalah understands it. Any Ashkenazi liturgy that orders the ushpizin chronologically, putting Yosef before Moshe, is not traditional, even if it is found in a Rinat Yisrael siddur.

    For the fathers, these correspondences are very strongly established in the Zohar and other Kabbalistic literature, and there are no well-grounded alternative orders. For the mothers, however, the correspondences with the lower Sefirot are much less stable, with the major exception of Rachel Imeinu, who is always Malkhut. To the extent that other female figures are mentioned in Kabbalah, they most often also symbolize Malkhut. For example, in Gikatilla in Sha’arey Orah writes, “In Abraham’s time Malkhut was called Sarah; in Isaac’s time Malkhut was called Rivkah, and in Jacob’s time Malkhut was called Rachel.”

    There are only two strong correspondences between any mother and a particular sefirah besides Malkhut-Rachel. They are between Tamar and Yesod, and between Leah and Binah. Furthermore, because Binah is above Chesed, and not one of the lower seven Sefirot, it doesn’t get its own day of Sukkot. That means that any liturgy for the Imahot, if it’s going to be based on the Kabbalah, can’t include Leah as one of the seven ushpizin (or, in the feminine, ushpizata).

    As an aside, the Kabbalistic significance of Leah being Binah and Rachel being Malkhut is that Binah and Malkhut are the upper and lower mother (imma ila’ah and imma tata’ah), or (alternatively), the upper and lower feminine, or mother and daughter. The reason why Jacob has to marry both Leah and Rachel because he is the symbol of Tif’eret, the lower masculine, which stands between Binah and Malkhut and connects them. Tif’eret-Jacob must be in conjunction with both Binah and Malkhut in order for the chain of emanation (seder hishtalsh’lut) to be unbroken and for the world to be sustained.

    The whole point of the liturgy of Ushpizin in fact is to invoke the energies of the seven lower Sefirot in the proper order, so that Shefa, blessing and sustenance, can be drawn down into the world. This is the essence of Kabbalistic liturgy, and a liturgy of the imahot would only make sense if it were to follow that pattern. That means we have the playfully serious task of finding a stable order for the imahot where no clear order exists. There are a number of proposals out there for how to do this. The liturgy I am sharing here uses only the most traditional texts (1) to establish the “right” order, and you can also find below Reb Zalman’s order and the order for the seven “prophetesses” from Azariah deFano.

    So, here is our list of correspondences between the mothers and the seven lower Sefirot:

    Ruth, Chesed (Love) – pure kindness and trust, devoting herself entirely to being God’s instrument and Naomi’s support, the one who chooses to be Jewish (to speak anachronistically) without any advantage or self-interest, motivated strictly from within herself, like Abraham

    Sarah, Gevurah (Judgment) – the one who demands that Hagar be thrown into the wilderness, judgment that overcomes mercy, she is even called g’virati by Hagar

    Rivkah, Tiferet (Beauty, Balance) – she is the wily one, like Jacob, who knows how things must turn out, who can create the reality that needs to exist, and who can draw on mercy or harshness as needed to accomplish her purpose

    Miriam, Netzach (Victory, Eternity) – prophet, bearer and bringer of water (the right side), Moshe’s sister, the one who knows how to celebrate victory over Pharoah’s army

    Devorah, Hod (Majesty) – warrior and prophet, the greatest female ruler in Israel.
    Netzach and Hod are called Einei Hashem, “the eyes of God”, and represent the power of prophecy, so Miriam and Devorah as prophets fit here pretty clearly, but the distinctions between Netzach and Hod in Kabbalah are pretty nebulous, so the order between them is tentative. The connection between Miriam and Moshe makes Miriam fit with Netzach well, but one could also argue for Devorah as Netzach, the victorious one.

    Tamar, Yesod (Foundation) – the one who sits at the crossroads of Einei Hashem (i.e. between Netzach and Hod), who embodies the fullness of sexuality (as does Yesod), who joins with Judah (who represents Malkhut – this reverses the masculine and feminine assignments of these Sefirot), who is tzadkah, the righteous one, just as Yosef is tzadik.

    Rachel, Malkhut (Kingdom) – the Shekhinah who goes into exile with her children and pleads for their return.
    How do we fit Leah in? It turns out that the Sefardi nusach includes a reference to Binah (Understanding), so all that we need to do is to add Leah’s name when Binah is invoked. You’ll see this in the pdf you can download, which uses other parts of the same liturgy to fill out the seder ushpizin liturgy.

    One thing you may have already considered is that it’s not clear which of the other women besides the four matriarchs (2) should be included. Dinah, Hannah, Hulda, Esther and many others come to mind besides the ones we’ve already mentioned. Because allusions to the other foremothers, besides Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, are so infrequent as compared to the forefathers, it’s hard to know which allusion is the most important, both with respect to which figure to use and with respect to which Sefirah she should represent.

    There is one clear text that assigns a Sefirah to each of the “seven prophetesses” which is quite different than the above order. Menachem Azariah deFano (3) gives this order in his work Asarah Ma’amarot: Sarah, Chesed; Miriam, Gevurah; Devorah, Tif’eret; Hannah, Netzach; Avigail, Hod; Hulda, Yesod; Esther, Malkhut. This order doesn’t feel to me like the one we should base ushpizin on however: only one of the matriarchs is represented, and the three very strong correspondences between the Sefirot with Leah, Rachel and Tamar are left out. We might make a distinction for this question between the seven n’viot prophetesses, and the seven mothers.

    Reb Zalman’s order is also quite different, with Sarah at Hod! The rest are: Miriam, Chesed; Leah, Gevurah; Hannah, Tif’eret; Rivkah, Netzach; Tamar, Yesod; Esther and Ruth, Malkhut. (4) (Download Reb Zalman’s explanation below.) You can also find other liturgies, sukkah posters, etc. that add the imahot to the Ushpizin in different ways on Ritualwell. It would be easy to plug deFano’s order or Reb Zalman’s order (or any other order you’re attached to) into the liturgy I’ve created, with the simple proviso that if Leah is included in the lower seven, one would leave out the mention of her name where it’s used as an epithet for imma ila’ah near the beginning. (This line is the one that immediately precedes the invitation, Ulu, ulu.)

    In all cases, making space for a liturgy that includes the imahot, especially where there is absolutely no halakhic rule about something needing to be said, seems not only good but imperative. May this action add to our “building the stature of the Shekhinah” (5) to bring redemption nearer.



    (1) The most helpful source in doing this was not a particular book but an index of Kabbalistic literature called Torat Natan.

    (2) This ignores the question of Bilhah and Zilpah, the handmaids of Leah and Rachel who also bore Jacob’s sons, and who are included in a discussion of the “six imahot” in one of the early midrashim.

    (3) Thanks to Aryeh Cohen of the SFKAUJ (AJU) for bringing my attention to deFano, which he learned about from Shaul Magid. Aryeh also spent time on the phone holding my hand through the Aramaic conjugations and declensions.

    (4) You can read a 2-page pdf in Hebrew of Reb Zalman’s explanations for these correspondences, provided by R. Ruth Kagan from the Hebrew volume of Reb Zalman’s thought, Kirvat Elohim:Tikkun Olam v’Tikkun Halev (Jewish Renewal—Integrating Heart and World), which she edited. Click here to download.

    (5) The phrase comes from the Or Hameir, Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, who calls on us to build up the Shekhinah to be equal, ayin b’ayin “eye-to-eye” with the Holy One. For him this is the essential task of the exile. Read his words here.

    Wendy’s comment: The Neohasid website has a Sefirot illustration that can be down loaded as a Pdf file.

  32. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt

    A learning and meditation based on: Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim Chap. 625

    The essence of the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah – **”so that all generations should ‘know’
    that I housed the B’nai Yisrael in Sukkot
    as I took them out of the land of Mitzrayim** –
    And these are the ‘clouds of glory’
    which surrounded them to protect them
    from the hot winds and from sunstroke
    As an example of this He commanded us
    to make Sukkot specifically for shade
    to remember His wonders and His awesome deeds

    _Therefore every person
    must have in mind as he sits in the Sukkah
    that he is sitting there to fulfill the commandment
    of the Holy One ‘baruch Hu’ – that He commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah
    as a remembrance of the Exodus from Mitzrayim.**_

    The question is asked: if so
    why don’t we celebrate Pessach in a Sukkah?
    in addition to the well known answer
    we seek to understand the close connection
    between Yom Kippur and Sukkot

    On Yom Kippur we confessed our transgressions
    we declared “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”
    thrice we said aloud “Baruch shem kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed”
    we coroneted Hashem over our seven attributes
    as we declared in loud voice and in unison seven times
    “Hashem is Elokim” – there is only One G-d
    we declared our allegiance to Him alone
    resolved to serve Him faithfully

    but what usually happens the next day?
    for one reason or another we seem to be afraid
    of the changes of the positive moves
    we had decided to make
    as if we are still locked in
    imprisoned and enslaved in our personal Mitzrayim

    and so we are instructed to start building our Sukkot
    immediately the next day after Yom Kippur – we
    are to ‘make’ with hands a Sukkah
    to shade us from the hot winds
    from the intense sun
    to remember the ‘clouds of glory’
    to remember that Hashem is here to help us
    achieve and fulfill all the positive and good things
    we affirmed and decided upon on Yom Kippur

    the world counts by the sun
    the Jewish people count by the moon
    sunlight is much brighter
    illuminating superficiality much better
    moonlight allows us to see deeper
    the ‘clouds of glory’ – the Sukkah
    allow us to see deeper
    allow us to see that Hashem is protecting us

    the hot winds
    the heat and passions of the world
    of all worldly delights and pursuits
    can distract us from living the
    deepest depths of life
    the Sukkah – the ‘clouds of glory’
    protect us from the hot winds of the world
    in the Sukkah we become aware of
    higher worlds and deeper depths of life

    there is a Midrash that tells us
    that it was the intense love
    the intense ‘ahavat Yisrael’
    that created the ‘clouds of glory’

    all year long we live in secured homes
    with locks alarms and window bars
    to keep us safe from the others outside
    we keep the others outside
    we lock them out

    in a Sukkah you can’t lock anyone out
    but in a Sukkah you feel safer and more secure
    in a Sukkah you are dwelling in the ‘clouds of glory’
    in the protection of Hashem
    in the protection of Ahavat Yisrael

    in the Sukkah you learn to trust
    that Hashem will protect you from
    the hot winds and the intense sun
    Hashem will uplift you
    He will help you achieve your highest self
    He will help you live your highest and deepest life

  33. Wendy

    From Rabbi Marion Maron


    The festival of Sukot is replete with deep deep feminine mystery.
    The seven days of this precious celebration of the harvest season
    is referred to in the Kabbalah as Bathsheba, the woman with whom
    King David had an affair while her husband was in the battle field
    (Sefer To’la’at Ya’akov, folio 70). Bathsheba is Hebrew for
    “Daughter of the Seven”, implying the seven sefirot that are
    most active in the earthly realm (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferet,
    Hod, Netzach, Yesod, and Malchut).

    In the Zohar we read about Great Mother, or ey’ma d’ila’ah, the
    feminine, motherly attribute of God. The celebration of Sukot,
    the Zohar teaches, is a celebration of Great Mother , “for She
    is Sukah, our shelter, our source of compassion against the
    forces of judgment, hovering over us as a mother protects her
    children” (Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 186b and Vol. 3, folio 100b).

    There are two sukot spoken of in the prophecies of our people as
    falling and rising: the sukah of David, meaning the Holy Temple,
    and the sukah of the “Virgin of Israel,” referring to the exile
    of the Jewish people. Both experienced their fall, their
    tragedies. The sukah of David, or the Holy Temple, fell and
    will rise again in the time to come, it is prophesized (Amos 9:11).
    That of the Virgin of Israel fell, too, but the wording in the
    prophecy seems to imply that she will never again arise. But
    along come the ancient rabbis and re-read the prophecy with a
    Talmudic “twist” to accentuate the positive, as they were known
    to do. The prophecy literally reads: “She has fallen; she shall
    not again rise up, O Virgin of Israel” (Amos 5:2). The Talmudic
    sages, however, re-read it this way: “She has fallen; she shall
    not again [fall]. Rise up, O Virgin of Israel!” (Talmud Bavli,
    Berachot 4b). The second-century Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
    reiterated this version to his disciples, further explaining
    that this is the correct understanding of the prophecy even
    when read the first way, “for she shall never again rise up to
    be as she was before; she shall be renewed in far more favorable
    and honoring circumstances. For it is written ‘She shall not
    again rise’ meaning SHE will not again rise, that is — by herself.
    Rather the Holy Blessed One shall personally raise her” (Zohar,
    Vol. 3, folio 6a).

    Sitting in the sukah, let us remember these teachings and the
    wellspring from which they trickle to us. Let us honor the Great
    Mother attribute of the Divine and feel her loving embrace and
    shelter, and as we become cognizant of the temporary nature of
    the sukah, let us remember these prophecies, that whatever in
    our lives feel crumbled, fallen, insecure, shall be lifted up
    again; and that even if we have lost all strength to rise out
    of our difficulties, we trust that God will ultimately lift us
    up and renew our circumstances for the better. So may it be
    during this sacred cycle of harvest and renewal.

    Chag Sa’may’ach!

    Rabbi Miriam Maron

  34. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson


    Sukkot: Entering into the Divine Embrace
    Rav DovBer Pinson
    Over the years, a custom has developed that on Rosh Hashanah, during the course of the day we go out to a living body of water, with lively fish swimming therein and symbolically cast away our unwanted negative baggage, a custom called Tashlich. We take hold of our negativities, the devastating weight that presses us downward and throw them into the waters. The act causes us to reflect inward, as we aspire to unburden ourselves of the negative elements within us and toss them into the waters to be covered over and washed away.

    Rosh Hashanah is a time of cosmic and personal renewal, and in the new reality we are creating for ourselves we wish to put aside the old self, perhaps forget about it, and even throw it away. We reason that a radical shift in beingness is required. Most often, for a something to change from what it is to what it desires to become there needs to be a moment when is ceases being what it is. A seed rots in the earth before it can offer new life; first comes sterility then fertility. So we look at ourselves, and look at the old image of the negative self and we let it go, let it slide into the waters.

    A mere few days later the festival of Sukkot comes around. In Temple times during the holiday of Sukkot a festive celebration with ecstatic dancing and lively music toke place as they went to fetch water from the well to lubricate the Alter the following day. Though in the Torah there is clear source, the sages intoned the verse that explicitly states “You shall draw water with joy, from the wells of salvation.”

    This celebration was called “simchas beis hashueva- the joy of the drawing of the waters.” The joy was so immense and overwhelming that the sages of that time declared; “He who did not see the joy of simchas beis hashueva did not see joy in his life.” It was impossible for someone who has never experienced this celebration to truly appreciate what joy is all about. But why the joy? After all, it seems like a pretty simple almost mundane act of drawing water.

    The Rambam, Maimonides seems to suggest that since with regard to the entire holiday of Sukkot the Torah says “And you should be happy before Hashem your God for seven days.” (Vayikra 23:40) And the soubriquet of Sukkot is “zeman simchaseinu – a time of our joy” therefore, as a result of the overarching theme of joy during Sukkot the joyfulness overflowed and inspired the dancing and music during the fetching of the water.

    Yet most commentators assume that there is an intrinsic relationship between the gathering the waters and the ecstatic elation that was experienced and expressed.

    While joy and happiness is our natural state, our ontological conditioning, it is who we are, often we lose touch with ourselves and we find ourselves down, dispirited and sad. To reclaim our birthright and to re-attain our joy we need a stimulant. Often what evokes our joy is precisely the regaining of something that was lost. We all know the joy we sense when we are reunited with an old friend, when a person we love returns from a long trip, when spouses resolve a conflict, or for that matter when you lose your keys and then after franticly searching you find them. The joy comes from righting what is wrong, the sense of repairing the broken, and making complete and whole that which has been shattered and fragmented. This is all part of the cosmic melding the ‘two’ back into the ‘one.’

    If in the initial stages of growth a radical break is required eventually a more drastic ingathering must take place. While during Rosh Hashanah we cast aside, we threw away the hindering elements of self in the waters, and that was beneficial and productive at that fragile stage, now we need a full embracing canopy, a Sukkah which will include all aspects of self. Now that a healthier self has emerged there needs to be a reintegration of all aspects of who we are on this higher and deeper level. The joy is the reunification with our very own selves.

    But how do we reintegrate and collect the old and broken parts of self? And what affords us the ability to do so?

    A tear is a cleansing agent. The waters of our tears rinse out, purify and ultimately allows for full transformation to transpire. In between the two extremes of throwing into the water and gathering from the water are “the ten days of teshuvah.” In these honest days of introspection and deeply opening up who is not moved to tears?

    If you are aware and conscious of the times and you open up, and expose all of yourself to yourself, let it all come out you will eventually find yourself crying. If not, says the Ari- R Yitzchak Luria “your soul is not complete.” Something is seriously amiss and drastically disaligned. Paradoxically, this awareness itself of your lack of inspiration will catapult you and may even shake you out of your complacency and spiritual insensitivity. Either way, by the time we have reached the climax at the end of Yom Kippur our tears have utterly inspired a total reorientation so that we can recollect and re-gather our lost parts and establish them within the new elevated context of our life.

    Broadly speaking there are two types of tears. There are the bitter tears of sadness, of loss and of yearning, but there are also the tears of joy and of reunification. Abraham cries when Sara dies, but Jacob also cries when he first encounters his future wife Rachel.

    During the days of teshuvah, culminating with Yom Kippur the tears that flow are most often bitter tears of yearning, desiring to reunite, return and come closer. Once Sukkot comes about the tears that may flow are tears of joy, of oneness, and a healthy sense of reunification and belonging. Sitting in the Sukkah we are present within the Makifim of Binah – the surrounding energies of divine comprehension. The walls are the Makifim – surroundings, and sitting down, settling down, translates the bringing down of the transcendent within the immediate.

    As we are sitting within the Makifim of Binah we are resting within the warming and gentle embrace of Ema Ila’ah – ‘supernal mother.’ Being engulfed within this sacred and protected space we may feel overwhelmed to the point of tears, but here the tears are tears of joy, of a child returning and running back into the arms of his mother. After the arduous journey through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are finally home. We have arrived, and arrived with the totality of who we are, all of us can now sit in the walls of the Sukkah.

    With blessings for a joyous and healthy Sukkot,

    Rav DovBer Pinson

  35. Wendy

    Two Teachings from Rabbi Gershon Winkler

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler 2007


    Wendy: This is in response to my question about the prayer said when saying farewell to the succah. It says that now that we have fulfilled the mitzvah and dwelled in the succah may we merit in the coming year to dwell in the succah of the skin of the Leviathan.

    Reb Gershon: ” Levia’tan is the mythic dragon in our tradition upon whom the entire known universe hinges. It is a word with two connotations: borrowed (le’vee), and given (tahn), with Yah in betwixt the two concepts. Is our life loaned to us by God or gifted to us by God? If loaned, we act responsibly; it isn’t ours to do with whatever we want. If gifted, throw all caution to the wind and do whatever the hell you want with it. Yah in the middle of this crossroad signifies the divine desire that we dance with both and in between. That we act with responsibility around what we do with our life, and also get playful and wild now and then, that both are important. “Leviya’tahn you created to be playful with,” wrote David in Psalms. In the end, this crazy paradoxical dragon, meaning the world the way it is and has been, meaning our personal lives
    and all of its ups and downs, will do what all serpents do: shed skin, that old skin representing all the struggles and challenges we encountered in our life journey, and we will bask in the sukkah, the shelter, the safety and tranquility of Yah, which we will be experiencing in appreciation and bliss by virtue of the very hardships of choice-making, and mistake making, and chance taking we dealt with (the shedded skin of Leviyah’tan) during the time we spent on this earth when she rolled up and down the bumpy back of the great dragon.”
    Teaching 2010 5771

    A Sukot Teaching from Gershon
    When we arrived in the Land of Canaan after 210 years of slavery in
    Egypt, we observed the ritual of Sukot, living in a lean-two for seven
    days — maybe just once, to make Joshua happy. But then we got so
    comfortable and settled in our homeland that we ditched the lean-two
    part of it altogether and reveled in our newly-built more permanent
    homes. After all, the long arduous desert journey was over. We’d come
    home. And anyway, since when did we actually dwell in flimsy sukah
    huts while sojourning through the desert? Maybe once when God
    asked us to. But the rest of the time we pitched tents. Not sukot.
    Balaam didn’t say “How goodly are thy sukah huts, O Jacob” — he said
    “thy tents” (Numbers 24:5). Tents, tents, tents!
    So, eventually we got comfy, and stopped doing the lean-two part of
    And then, 800 years later, many of us – especially our spiritual leaders
    and prophets — get taken captive by the Babylonians and exiled. And
    seventy or so years after that, we come back again. And when we
    return, we are so happy and relieved that we got back our land and our
    independence that one of the first things we do is build lean-to’s on our
    roofs and in our yards, and celebrate Sukot in actual sukah huts for the
    first time in eight hundred years – “And the community of captives that
    now returned built sukot and dwelled in the sukot, for the Children of
    Israel had not done this from the days of Joshua until that very day; and
    there was great rejoicing” (Nehemiah 8:17).
    You have to read this with a keen eye. And since I only read with one of
    my two eyes, I couldn’t help but notice that Nehemiah is recounting
    how those returning from captivity built and dwelled in sukot, not the
    rest of us. It would seem that those of us who had not been carried
    away into exile, continued to not observe that part of the festival
    having to do with sukah huts — only those traumatized by the exile. This
    becomes even more evident as we read the section prior to this one,
    where Nehemiah recounts how the returnees were depressed,
    saddened by how much they had missed out on the knowledge and
    practice of their tradition during their captivity. So much so, that they
    wept when they realized it was Rosh Hashanah and heard the leaders
    read from the Torah scrolls about the rituals of Rosh Hashanah. The
    leaders then had to stop everything and console these folk, and assure
    them that Rosh Hashanah was a festive time and that they ought to “go
    home and eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages and send gifts to
    the disadvantaged; for today is holy onto our Master, so do not be sad,
    for the joy of God is the very source of your empowerment” (Nehemiah
    Puzzling. Because, eventually it appears that all of the Jewish people re-
    adopted the particular rite of Sukot having to do with constructing
    temporal huts and living in them for seven days. It seems that we
    empathized with our returning sisters and brothers and joined them in
    their zeal of renewing a ritual that had been shelved for some eight
    centuries. And lest you surmise that the returnees built sukah huts and
    lived in them because they’d just gotten back and were otherwise
    homeless – obviously this was not so. Because Nehemiah describes
    them building these sheds “upon their roofs and in their courtyards”
    (Nehemiah 8:16).
    Sukot, then, has something to do with trauma. It is facing the
    temporary and very fragile and unpredictable nature of life. That
    nothing is permanent. Nothing is absolute. Nothing is guaranteed. No
    promise, no plan, no vision. We exist in a precarious reality. We tried to
    deny this by dismissing that part of the Sukot ritual having to do with
    facing just that, with facing the shaky, vulnerable nature of our
    existence. And so we lived happily ever after. Until the Babylonians
    descended upon us and pulled the rug of security and complacency
    from under our feet. We were so shaken that when it was over, we
    realized immediately the gift inherent in the ritual of the flimsy sukah
    hut. And we re-adopted it, all of us. And we observed that rite
    uninterruptedly for the ensuing 2,500 years – onto this very day. Its
    lesson became, among other lessons of our tradition, a significant
    factor of our uncanny survival through the length and breadth of the
    longest exile ever known for any one people in all of human history.
    It is no wonder that when the ancient rabbis correlated each of the
    festivals with one of the ancestors, they corresponded Sukot with Jacob.
    Jacob lived an unsettling life. He could never just really settle down
    without being uprooted the moment he leaned back in his favorite
    armchair. He was always on the move, always dealing with one
    challenge or another.
    When we celebrate Sukot, let us remember that this flimsy lean-to we
    sit in is closer to the reality of our life walk than the solid house or
    apartment or condo we live in during the rest of the year. And more
    than that, it is more reliable by virtue of its fragile, temporary nature.
    After all, the numerical value, or Gemmatria, of the word סוכה sukah is
    91, the same Gemmatria for the Hebrew word צא tzey, which means
    “leave.” On Sukot we leave the comforts of our illusion and enter the
    realm of our reality.
    Is all this getting you down? Good. That means you’re ready for this:
    For all of the festivals, the Torah instructs us “And you shall rejoice!”
    (Deuteronomy 12:18; 14:26; 16:14; 26:11; 27:7). Sukot, however, is the only festival
    for which the Torah adds: “And you shall be VERY happy!” (Deuteronomy
    That is the challenge. Can you find joy in your temporaliness? In your
    vulnerability? In your fragility? In the uncertain? In the unpredictable?
    Can you sit and eat in a shaky hut exposed to the elements and sing like
    you’ve never sang before? That is the mystique of the Jew. That is our
    strength, our history, our heritage, our model for all.
    חג סמח Chag Samey’ach!

  36. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    Hoshana Rabba; Seventh Day of Sukkot

    From 60 Day Journey: Elul and Tishrei


    The word “simple,” when applied to human beings or physical objects, usually implies an absence of something. A simple man, for example, is one who has not been blessed with much intelligence or depth of feeling.

    There is, however, another application of the word “simple”—in the sense of something that is pure and singular, as opposed to something that consists of various parts and elements. Thus G-d is described as “simple oneness.”

    In our world, we have no model for such a simple oneness, for even the most homogeneous entity is a composite of various parts, qualities and aspects. G-d, however, is utterly and absolutely one.

    And yet, the Baal Shem Tov draws a parallel between human “simplicity,” defined by a lack of learning and spiritual sophistication, and the Divine “simplicity.” He singles for distinction the simple Jew who has a simple faith in G-d not observed in his more sophisticated fellows. This is not because scholars do not possess faith or commitment to G-d (which is intrinsic to every Jewish soul), but because, in them, its innocence is blurred by the sophistication of their understanding.

    On Hoshana Rabba we celebrate the simple Jew by selecting for a special mitzvah the simple willow twig. Indeed, the day is called “Day of the Willow.” Among the “four kinds,” the willow twig stands for a Jew who neither excels in his wisdom nor his accomplishments, and it is the willow twig that makes Hoshana Rabba.

    Generally, when the “four kinds” are waved, there must be at least two willow twigs, each with at least three leaves, but the special mitzvah of Hoshana Rabba is fulfilled with just one willow twig, which need only have one leaf.

    This mitzvah is considered so important the rabbis of the Talmud arranged the Jewish calendar in such a way that Hoshana Rabba never falls on Shabbat when the handling of tree branches or twigs would be forbidden.

    Hoshana Rabba must be kept aloof of the changes and vacillations of this world. If the cycles of time threaten its consistency, we must divert these cycles, manipulating the calendar if necessary, to ensure that the simplicity of the willow twig—the simplicity of the Jew who puts all his trust in G-d—always assert itself on the seventh day of Sukkot.

    Wendy’s Comment: I want to bring specific attention to Hoshana Rabba so it is not lost among all the Sukkot teachings.

  37. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jill Hammer

    The Jewish Book of Days

    The Joy of the Water Drawing
    The Second day of Sukkot

    Sukkot is the Jewish earth holiday par excellence. Yet our modern rituals are tame compared to the water pouring of the temple festival of Sukkot. The celebration of the earth’s abundance in Jerusalem ran wild with joy at seeing the harvest completed. The celebration of water, which was an extended ritual to bring the rain, was the happiest of all Jewish rituals, full of fire and dance and song. The four lamps lit during the ritual perhaps represented the four seasons of the year of the four directions; and the eight torches of Shimon be Gamliel hint at the year’s eight phases. At dawn, after this dancing and singing and torchlit procession, the people would go out of the Temple through the Gate of the Dawn and see the sun and moon together in the sky. They would draw water from a sacred spring and bring it to the altar and then pour it on the altar to cleanse it. Thus they would inaugurate a new season of rain.

    On this day, we invite into the sukkah Isaac and Rebekah, both of whom are associated with the drawing of water. Jewish Mystics say that the Divine dwells within everything we consume, so whenever we drink water, we touch sparks of the Divine.

    Cited: Deuteronomy 16:14-15
    Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 53A 54A

    The Circle of Rain

    Seventh Day of Sukkot Hoshanah Rabbah

    Hoshannah Rabbah, or “great praise” is the seventh day of Sukkot. It is not a holiday but a “festival weekday,” when work is permitted; yet it has some of the most elaborate ritual of the Jewish year. Celebrants walk behind one another in a circle seven times, holding palm branches, willows, myrtle,and citrons while reciting ancient poetry to ask the Divine for rain. Each circuit has its own poem asking for a different kind of fertility, and each circuit represents a mystical attribute of God. At the end of the ceremony, celebrants beat willow branches on the floor until the leaves fly off, as a sign of their desire to be free of sin and perhaps also to awaken the earth to its task of growth.9

    Water moves in a cycle. The circles we make on Hoshanah Rabbah represent the circle of water from sky to earth. Ezekiel’s vision of a stream of water that bursts from beneath the temple altar to heal the world is s poetic version of the life-giving water cycle.

    Hoshanah Rabbah also begins a new cycle for us: It is the last day of the season of repentance, the last day when one’s fate decreed on Yom Kippur can be ” appealed” before the heavenly court. As our new cycle begins, we connect to the cycle of water and its mystery.

    Cited: Ezekiel 47: 1,5,8,9
    Hoshanah Rabbah Liturgy

  38. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Rebbe Nachman On the Serenity Prayer
    – From the King and the Emperor

    All the repairs are made from Rosh Hashanah
    until the Eighth day of Assembly [Shemini Atzeret]
    the unification made on Simchat Torah
    when Chava Eve and Adam are united
    face to face
    after having been created back to back.
    The Holy One separated Adam and Eve
    to reunite them at the end of the 22 days
    on Simchat Torah
    the time of the wedding
    the dancing like the dancing
    the Holy One performed for Adam HaRishon
    the first Adam
    – the wedding party
    of holy angels and chariots
    descending for the dance.

    Through these 22 days
    we each merit
    our true matches
    each Adam for his Chava
    each Chava for her Adam –

    So it is on Rosh Hashanah
    that Adam and Chava
    travel to Uman.
    It was there that the chair
    the Rebbe saw in heaven was created
    the one that held all the matches in the world inscribed on it.
    He asked
    how wilI I make a living?
    You will be a matchmaker
    and so every year in Uman
    Rosh Hashanah
    they go searching for their soul-mates.

    We are taught even after we find our soul-mates
    and marry them
    we spend our lifetime searching
    even after we marry
    we spend a lifetime searching out
    our beloved’s uniqueness.

    We are gathering Chesed [mercy]
    these days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot
    from the bottom up
    the Chesed within Hod [beauty]
    the Chesed within Netzach [victory]
    until we merit Chesed within Chesed on Sukkot –
    we call this
    gathering down the Chassadim.

    Then the light of Chesed is completely revealed
    and it sweetens all the judgments.
    Something new drawn down during the Days of Awe.

    Now, through Sukkot, we merit new ideas
    and those dinim those laws of life
    written and sealed through Yom Kippur
    are sweetened now with the light of Chesed.

    We have drawn down so much new in these days
    we are making the adjustments
    and separating the ones we can
    from the ones we cannot.

    God, Chesed in Chesed, master of the Chassadim,
    grant me the shalvah [serenity]
    to accept and make the adjustments
    the courage to separate the ones we can make from the ones we cannot
    and the wisdom to know the ones we can make
    from the ones we cannot make.

    Let us make the adjustments
    separating the ones we can
    from the ones we cannot.



    A Story for the Chag [Sukkot]

    I was sitting with the truthful linguist, the Gerer, just before he became nifter, er dead, it must have been ‘04, maybe ‘05.

    The Sukkah is a chuppah, he opened with, we wedded G*d on the way out of Egypt. I am the Holy One who marries you, he chanted quoting Vayikra 22, then he chanted the prayer Who spreads out a sukkah of peace over us. The truthful linguist stopped and cocked his head sideways, spreads out means to choose a portion, a part of the whole, he said. G*d is wholeness itself, and part of wholeness. I dwell with the partial, I dwell with the lowly with the humble, he was singing again, quoting Isaiah 57.

    Who is a whole person? He was quoting the Book of Splendor now — me, the one with a broken heart. His voice ascended. Wherever G*d dwells there is wholeness. G*d makes whole out of half. Who spreads the sukkah of peace over us? He spread out his arms like he was saying come to poppa.

    He was bringing down the idea now to its resting place, his voice settled into a whisper, a low hum heard from one corner of the room to the other.

    G*d sets aside the partial, the inner point that is everywhere, the part that is all. A few of us among the many, the wounded, the sick among the well, the partial among the whole.

    He closed with this: Everywhere, everywhere G*d dwells — is whole.

    jsg, usa

    • From the Sefat Emet Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter,
    the rebbe of Ger (near Warsaw)
    d. 1905.

  39. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    This was posted on the Neohasid website

    A Sukkot Embrace
    Embrace is hinted at in the sukkah: Just as a person embraces his child in love, encircling him with his arms, and sheltering him with his head, so here for the joints of the arm there are the two walls according to their rule, plus a third wall at least as wide as a handbreadth, and the third, the handbreadth, is the hand, and all of it is a parable for the situation of being embraced, of our being drawn near to Hashem [God] in joy and purity.
    —Meshulam Feivush, Rebbe of Zbarazh, in Yosher Divrey Emet

  40. Wendy

    From Reb Zalman

    On Sukkot: Surrounded and Filled with Faith

    The following is a translation of Reb Zalman’s text “On Sukkot” from his Sefer, Yishmiru Daat.

    And on Sukkot, the Sefirah of Tiferet lights up. Tiferet is associated with Yaakov, olav hashalom.

    [The following is the scriptural basis for this association. Gabbai Seth]

    (Genesis 33:17) “And for his cattle, he made Sukkot / booths.”

    And the Supernal Guests visit us each of the seven days the Sukkah structure stands,

    [Every night, a different guest as follows. Male: 1- Avraham (Chesed), 2- Yitzchak (Gevurah), 3- Yaakov (Tiferet), 4- Moshe (Netzach), 5- Aharon (Hod), 6- Yosef (Yesod), 7- David (Malchut). Female: 1- Miriam (Chesed), 2- Leah (Gevurah), 3- Hannah (Tiferet), 4- Rivka (Netzach), 5- Sarah (Hod), 6- Tamar (Yesod) and 7- Rachel (Malchut).]

    as Yaakov grows up into Yisrael Saba, (Zohar I, 236).

    [Yaakov was renamed to Yisrael. The term, Yisrael Saba / grandfather Israel, refers to that aspect of Chochmah which we can access. Chochmah is way at the top of the tree and has another aspect that is beyond our access. From the Baumann text: “Each and every partzuf / interface to God is divided into two levels… Partzuf Abba / father is divided into Chochmah and Yisrael Saba.” Think of Yisrael Saba as the exterior of the Sefirah of Chochmah.]

    During the period, all the Sefirot of Z’er Anpin

    [Z’er Anpin / the short face refers to the following six Sefirot: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod. These six are associated with the Vav of the divine name, Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, and the world of Yetzirah.]

    are made into a transport (or chariot) for Tiferet

    [Tiferet is translated as harmony or balance. It is commonly associated with Rachamim / mercy and is the union of Chesed / lovingkindness and Gevurah / strict justice. In the body, it is the torso or the heart-place and is associated with Yaakov.]

    and they enter under the shadow of faith, for the faith surrounds, then enters the inside. (Leviticus 23:42) “In booths” – surrounding -”you shall dwell”, in community, on the inside, “seven days” Z’er Anpin and Malchut (6 + 1, i.e. seven Sefirot) (Zohar III, 255), YHVH the Adonay / my Lord, together makes 91,

    [yod-heh-vav-heh plus aleph-daled-nun-yod, which means the higher worlds YHVH together with this world, Adonay; the union is a raising of this world, or redemption. The math is (yod (10) + heh (5) + vav (6) + heh (5) + aleph (1) + daled (4) + nun (50) + yod (10) = 91.]

    the numeric equivalent of Sukkah (also, Maachol / food).

    [Samekh-vav-kaf-heh (60+6+20+5=91). Mem-Aleph-kaf-lamed (40+1+20+30=91)]

    And the special faith of Sukkos brings about the rewards of rain, rewards from on high. To attain this prize will depend on what one undertakes in terms of the responsibility for one’s life and the way one lives it. And during Sukkot, the faith takes hold of one and one truly believes it, one feels it as real when one sits in the Sukkah. (Shabbos 104a.) “If one comes to purify oneself [God] helps him/her.”

    [So there is a vital ingredient which is what we bring to the situation. The faith requires some work on our part to make an honest assessment of what our opportunity areas are and to improve in those areas.]

    And during Sukkos, one remembers that one is responsible, because Sukkos is called (Tanchuma, Emor 22) “The primary time for taking inventory of wrongdoing.”

    And regarding the mitzvot of the four species,

    [This refers to the holding of the etrog / citron, in the left hand, together with lulav-bundle, held in the right during this holiday. The bundle consists of the hadassah / myrtle, the lulav / date palm and the arava / willow]

    they too show the way about the tree of life and it’s repair,

    [A tikkun / repair, making the world better through internalizing the etz chayyim / tree of life, a term referring to all the Sefirot. The “repair” means bringing the holiness into our lives and the lives of those we touch],

    and male and female, especially, through them:

    [The etrog and the lulav correspond to female and male, respectively; the repair, to health and balance between female and male. The union points to redemption.]

    Three myrtles: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, two rods of willow: Netzach and Hod, and the date palm, Yesod. And the etrog, like a womb, which is Malchut.

    [The lulav-bundle joined to the etrog represents the union of the worlds of Yetzirah and Assiyah, the vav and the final heh.]

    And the shaking of them begins at the chest, that same place that was tapped during the Yom Kippur confessions, that place in the body that feels obligations. And shaking them with all one’s heart (Mishnah Berachot 9:5) means with both your inclinations.

    [B-chol l-vav’cha / With all your heart. The word l-vav’cha is a form of the word for heart, lev. It is a special form with the letter Bet repeated. The two letters bet represent the two inclinations, yetzer hatov / good inclination and yetzer hara / bad inclinations. When we give blessings, we are blessing both sides, good and evil.]

    So one could say: “I believe with perfect faith that from Hashem Yitbarach’s source of mercy, we will be able, amidst joy, to raise our hearts in the ways of Hashem and to reach (Zohar I 236) from the microcosm of Yaakov to the macrocosm Yisrael Saba. And through our actions, we merit to draw down a great flow of abundance into all the worlds, because the flow will be roused for us by the supernal guests, and through them, you shall not lack water (cf., Hymn: ‘Prayer for rain’).”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *