Hasidic saying: “For the unlearned old age is winter, for the learned, it is the season of harvest”
Chag Sameach Sukkot. We welcome the first of our “Pilgrimage Festivals” as it brings a sense of celebration so quickly on the heels of the High Holidays. We create our sukkot and fulfill the mitzvot associated with what was the harvest. Today, this festival is often allied with environmental issues as well as traditional celebrations of Torah, as the festival ends with Simchat Torah, and we end one cycle of Torah reading and immediately begin a new one.
The theme in many ways of this festival is harvest. The theme invites our age cohort to consider this concept as it relates our lives. We ask then, what can we harvest in our life? As many have discussed over the Holidays, time is becoming much more precious to us now. How many of us, sometime during the Holidays, began to reflect on the passage of time and thought of how much time we have left? So, as we celebrate the end of one cycle of life, Torah, and the beginning of a new one, is it any wonder that we may ask as to what we shall spiritually harvest?
Over the Holidays we taught a class that looked at the Midrash starring Honi. Part of the Midrash was around the recognition that we plant seeds by what we do in this life that bear fruit in a future that we may not see. This is a reminder that our actions do have an impact, that we do not exist as a totally isolated soul whose deeds have no impact on others. In truth, what we do in life carries with it great meaning. In a commentary on Torah by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) he notes the study of longevity by George Valliant who speaks about all of us being “keepers of meaning”.
Let me suggest that this idea is of great importance as we reflect on Sukkot. We harvest values, beliefs, actions, attitudes, and approaches to life that in many ways were seeds planted in our souls by parents, friends, mentors and the like. Often, we are not aware of this until later in life. But think about the seeds of life you may have planted with students, friends, children, and grandchildren. Is this not another way of honoring and acknowledging the concept of l’dor v’dor: from generation to generation! In his classic book “From Age-ing to Sage-ing”, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi echoed this theme when he wrote: “From this perspective, harvesting has a purpose that transcends personal motives. When we recount our life stories and mentor young people, we transfer the contents and meaning of our experience into the global brain, raising the overall level of our cultural environment. In this sense, harvesting helps refine all that we have done into its highest essence, so that our individual lives serve as blessings for future generations.”
There is another take on this idea of looking at the festival as a time of our own spiritual harvest: rest and renewal. As we harvest those aspects of life that bring us meaning, let us also remind our souls that this is also a time of renewal. We begin a new Torah cycle and a message for our generation can be gleaned from this is that tradition reminds us that, no matter what age we are, we are never too old to keep learning. Indeed, our life experience enhances the learning. The maxim from our tradition and prayers that Talmud Torah k’neged kulam (the study of Torah leads to it all) is an eternal call that our engagement with texts is a life-long invitation to learn, study and plant new seeds that we hope one day will be harvested.
Sadly, in the everyday world in which we live, Sukkot is all too often an afterthought, coming as it does less than a week after Yom Kippur. Yet, the message of our own spiritual harvest, the idea that how we act and what we do as “keepers of meaning” can allow us to focus on that harvest of life experience. May you, in this season, enjoy a harvest of blessings and may you continue to plant seeds of blessing, kindness and love in the coming year.
Chag Sameach Sukkot
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.