Sukkot: Ingathering

Copyright 2010 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Sukkot

You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. (Shmot/ Exodus 34:22)

Shalom one and all!

We’re just about to start the week-long holiday of Sukkot, with its several mitzvot and interesting history, which includes its several names: Sukkot, or the festival of “booths;” Chag Ha’asif, or the Festival of Ingathering; or simple He-chag, “the festival.” Sukkot is called the festival of “ingathering,” or harvest, a few times in the Torah; the verse above is taken from the reading for the Shabbat which occurs during the week-long holiday.

The word used for “gathering,” or harvest, asif, is interesting, precisely because there’s a regular Hebrew word for “harvest,” which the Torah could have used if it wanted to make it plain that it’s commanding a harvest festival. Our friend Rashi learns from another verse that asif means not just harvesting, but bringing the grain into the house- that is, the whole process of preparing the harvest and storing it for later.

It makes sense to me that Sukkot is both the harvest festival, celebrating the bounty of the Earth, and also the festival of “gathering into the house,” understood metaphorically. We’ve just come through the “ten days of returning,” ending with a marathon of introspection and fasting on Yom Kippur. We took a personal and collective moral inventory, extended forgiveness when we could, tried to leave in 5770 what deserves to stay there. . . and now, a few days later, it’s time to gather the thoughts and experiences of the previous weeks, from before Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, and “bring them into the house,” that is, into ourselves, into the way we live. It’s a time to take the experience of the Days of Awe out into the “real world,” as a Sukkah is literally only valid if it’s outdoors, outside our private realms.

We gather the sparks from Torah learning, prayer and self-reflection over the Days of Awe and bring them into the Sukkah, where we celebrate, feast and enjoy life- precisely because we are not stuck in the previous year, but celebrating the new one. Our physical harvest is the crop planted in the spring; our spiritual harvest is forward-looking, towards the “turn of the year,” as we rededicate ourselves to those ideals and goals which are the worthy basis of life itself.

A happy and joyous holiday season to one and all,

RNJL

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