As if we haven't been busy enough, another Jewish holiday is here. But in contrast to the grandeur of Rosh Hashana or the solemnity of Yom Kippur, Sukkot is known as The Time of Rejoicing.
Sukkot lasts for eight days, during which we are commanded to dwell in the sukkah, a temporary outdoor home. The sukkah is rickety and flimsy and provides only the slightest bit of shelter against the elements, with its roof of branches laid on sparsely enough that we can still see the stars shining through.
This has always been one of our family's favorite holidays. After long hours in shul, it's nice to hang out at home, sharing meals with family and friends in the sukkah. Apart from cooking and building the sukkah itself, there's not much to do other than the daily waving of the lulav and etrog. The lulav is a set of branches made of willow, myrtle, and palm and the etrog is a citrus fruit rather like a warty lemon, all shipped fmo Israel. I have mixed feelings about these as the expense and the environmental impact of air shipping from overseas doesn't make a lot of ecological or financial sense. One of my friends talks of using local greens and fruits and I think this is a fine idea, but I'm a sucker for tradition so we continue to make the purchase.
This year we have a lovely new sukkah. Our old 8x8' lattice covered cube had begun to disintegrate after years of outdoor storage. Yes, it's supposed to be a humble dwelling but it's not supposed to come crashing down on those dwelling inside and we had reached a point of danger. After studying numerous plans online, The Spouse designed his own and after only three trips to Home Depot and two to the hardware store down the street our beautiful new "double wide" 8x16' sukkah came to be. It's spacious and cozy, with an open corner so guest don't feel cramped. We spent much of today decorating and embellishing and it now makes a lovely termporary home. The kids made paper lanterns and hung fruit. We made an 18' paper chain entirely out of the colored sheets of paper making up the synagogue's high holiday mailing which I think must earn some points against shipping from Israel.
The big question, of course, is why? What is this dwelling in the sukkah all about anyway? As ever, there are so many interpretations. We are commanded to dwell in sukkot to remember the years of wandering in the desert without a home. Today I think that translates beautifully into awareness of the fragility of life and the transitory nature of physical possessions. Spending a week in a space that is sufficient--maybe chilly, maybe damp, but in the end enough is an important reminder of those who go without and our own desires for excess.
Except that it really isn't deprivation. It's a lovely festival and we enjoy visiting with friends and sharing tasty meals in our temporary home. Chag Sameach!