Rabbi Alexander Kress
Perhaps my earliest Jewish memory is eating in a sukkah. Though our hosts happened to be the parents of my preschool arch nemesis, Ariel Warmflash, I have a fond, child-like memory of our families sitting under the branches of the sukkah on a crisp, clear fall evening and enjoying a meal together.
Growing up, I always enjoyed decorating the sukkah, shaking the lulav and the sweet, delicious smell of the etrog. However, if you asked me my favorite holiday, Sukkot would surely not be it - that honor was reserved for Chanukah, when I received presents each night.
Eventually, I concluded Chanukah did not deserve the crown simply for providing me with gifts that had nothing to do with the holiday. I wanted a new favorite holiday. So I went searching.
Do you know which festival in biblical times was considered the most important?
Do you know only one holiday in the Jewish calendar commands us to rejoice?
Do you know only one holiday requires we dine al fresco?
The answer to all three is my now-favorite holiday – Sukkot.
Sukkot involves three mitzvot or commandments: building, decorating & dwelling in the sukkah, gathering the four species together (palm, willow, myrtle & etrog), and rejoicing. There is also the special mitzvah of welcoming guests into your sukkah.
These mitzvot alone warrant Sukkot’s favorite-status in my book, but the foundation Sukkot provides for us to build upon is its real virtue. Sukkot asks us to create a weeklong palace in time in which we host family and friends for meals and rejoice together in our blessings.
However, the most powerful aspect of Sukkot for me is its proximity to the High Holy Days. Much like Israel's back-to-back holidays of Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) & Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day), the abrupt change from somber reflection to ecstatic jubilation is a powerful experience. Joy, sadness, and all the emotions in between ebb and flow throughout our lives. In the Hebrew month of Tishrei, our holidays mirror that reality: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
When we rejoice on Sukkot, after the introspective Days of Awe, it is not in the safe comfort of our home. It is within a temporary abode, reminiscent of the shelters the Israelites lived in while wandering in the desert. When we rejoice with family and friends, we also take a moment to acknowledge the fragility of life in parallel to the fragility of the sukkah in which we sit. Doing so allows us to appreciate our time together in a deep, meaningful way that teaches us to live every day with intention, purpose, and love.
I look forward to rejoicing with you in our Sukkah this year and counting our blessings together!