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Erev Sukkot

September 29, 2023
15 Tishrei 5784

Dear Friends,

Sukkot is upon us. The holiday of fragile structures, buzzing bees, aromatic etrogs, waving palms, meals eaten outdoors, and the reading of Ecclesiastics, is a celebration of simply being alive amidst the uncertainty of a good harvest and a good year ahead.

Sukkot is certainly the holiday that enjoins us to celebrate the moment, to put ourselves in the now, all the while acknowledging how fragile it all is. It also stresses the importance of inviting others into our fragile abode, whether they be our ancestors or our friends and neighbors. This year the fragility truly resonates for all of us.

This past Wednesday our children ranging in age from four to seventeen decorated our Sukkah. Knowing that rain was forecast for the next few days, we worked hard to create decorations that would withstand the inclement weather. We will soon find out if we succeeded. But more than that, we created signs welcoming all who enter into the Sukkah. These signs were meant to go beyond the Sukkah into the real world. This idea of the fragile Sukkah as a place of welcome is exemplified by two adjacent Jewish ideas. One comes from the Torah and the other from the mystics.

From the Torah, we are given the mitzvah of Hachnasat or’chim, commonly translated as welcoming guests graciously, that comes from the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming their three unexpected visitors with incredible kindness and hospitality. This mitzvah is more than being a good host, it entails enabling guests, especially unanticipated guests, to feel comfortable in an environment they do not control. True hospitality is where the objective is to make the guest not only feel welcome but to feel at ease, all the more so when you are welcoming them into your fragile Sukkah.

The Kabbalists give us ushpizin, which means visitors in Aramic. These are special visitors who are invited one by one into the Sukkah over the seven days. They are traditionally Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. As this is a mystical tradition, we are inviting their spirits to join us, bringing with them their best selves. In more recent times we have included Biblical heroines. Most recently of all, we have invited those whom we admire and possibly view as exemplars.
What these two traditions have in common is the notion of radical hospitality.
One invites us to stretch spiritually while the other invites us to welcome those we might otherwise ignore or avoid into our spaces. The fragility of the Sukkah makes this notion of hospitality even more important, reminding us that no matter what we have, sharing it with others is of the utmost importance.

Maimonides admonished that anyone who sits comfortably with his family within his own walls and does not share with the poor is performing a mitzvah not for joy but for the stomach.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784