In Leviticus 23: 42-43 we read the call to observe the festival of Sukkot to remind us of the temporary dwellings of the Israelites. Rooted in our agricultural and nomadic ancient past, this “harvest” festival is one of celebration. It is filled with symbolism, from the sukkah that is built to the lulav and etrog that is waved in all directions recalling the belief that God’s presence is everywhere. We conclude the festival with the addition of Simchat Torah, the celebration of Torah when we finish Deuteronomy and immediately begin again with Genesis. The festival continues to gain meaning in our modern world as it has evolved as a major focus on the growing Jewish environmental movement. To make the symbolic and spiritual menu even more rich, the scroll that is assigned to this festival is Ecclesiastes.
I think that this festival can have an even greater impact on our generation of elders. After all, as we often are told, our aging can be interpreted as a type of life harvest. Of course, a challenge may be that, as opposed to the land, our own aging need not be allowed to lie fallow, for our own aging is filled with, we hope, new opportunities to seek meaning and purpose. To that end, I wanted to suggest that this festival is a perfect one in which to examine what may be called our own “spiritual ecosystem”.
We see and hear much about the ecosystem around us that climate impacts. But what if we transferred that idea to a personal challenge to create or ask as to what our own spiritual ecosystem may be. What values, practices, beliefs comprise the spiritual ecosystem for each of us. Is the system based on prayer or ritual? Is our spiritual ecosystem nurtured and supported by our relationship to nature? Do we find our spiritual sustenance from text study or worship services or social justice work or empowering new or strengthening old relationships?
These sukkot that we build are to be fragile and open, much like our own life. We often struggle to remain intact, upright spiritually if not literally. Life often has given us challenges and choices that allowed us, or made us, reinvent our self. This festival reminds us of life’s fragility and often, as Ecclesiastes suggest, its futility. How much the more so to examine the infrastructure of our own spirituality.So, this holiday, as you march the Torahs around or have a meal in your sukkah, think about what may go into your own spiritual ecosystem, that system of beliefs or practices that help support and guide you in this fragile life.
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.