Sukkot: Truest Rejoicing

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Sukkot

Greetings all on this glorious autumn day! We’re back after a break
for Yom Kippur last week and right now we’re smack dab in the middle
of the Sukkot holiday. Our regular Torah reading cycle is preempted by
the special reading for the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot- check out
the link below for an explanation.

For today, just a quick thought about the Sukkot holiday, also known
by two other names: “Hag Ha’asif,” or “the holiday of ingathering,”
and “zman Simchatenu,” the “season of our joy.” Sukkot also has two
sets of very distinctive mitzvot: dwelling in the Sukkah, or booth,
and waving the lulav and etrog, the “four species” we are told to take
in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40:

“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches
of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and
you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days.”

So far, so good- although we do not customarily take up the lulav and
etrog on Shabbat, doing so the rest of the holiday is part of our
rejoicing and celebrating. Well, OK, but what’s so joyful about
holding a piece of fruit and some branches and shaking them around?

Sefer HaHinnuch offers an interesting interpretation of the meaning
behind lulav and etrog, based on the fact that rejoicing comes
naturally during a festival celebrating the successful harvest. We are
rejoicing for our harvest and bounty, and so we have a special
mitzvah- lulav and etrog- which helps us grasp (quite literally) that
our rejoicing should be “before the Lord.” That is, by taking lulav
and etrog, we are reminded to give thanks to the God of our
understanding for the many blessings of our lives. Having a
distinctive spiritual practice for this festival raises up our
rejoicing from “the harvest is done- it’s party time!” to “the harvest
is done- and I am grateful to be alive, to be sustained, to be
connected to the Land of Israel, for all my blessings.”

Seen this way, lulav and etrog transform something ordinary-
celebrating when the work is done- to something extraordinary: an
opportunity to practice gratitude on the deepest level. This is true
joy: not a transitory pleasure but a heightened consciousness. This is
what mitzvot, our spiritual disciplines, are all about: a greater
perception of our connection to the earth, to each other, and to the
Source of All.

With warmest wishes for the most joyous Sukkot, and Shabbat Shalom too-


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