This is a special time for many in the Jewish community as we prepare to celebrate Sukkot. Beth Judah Temple will open its sukkah on Sun., Sept. 30 with a pizza party. This is a unique time of year when the weather changes and yet we are commanded to dwell in such a flimsy building. Sukkot is a festival of striking beauty and contrasts. For one week each year, we abandon the stoical permanence of our homes and live, instead, in the fragile, temporary structure of sukkot (booths).
These booths remind us that we do not truly own our possessions. Things that we hoard and accumulate we will one day pass on to others. They can be lost, or broken, or stolen. The only true possessions we own are deeds of care and service, mitzvot. In that light, this festival presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on the life of service embodied by Sukkot and offered through our holy Torah.
One of the symbols of the sukkah is the joy of our temporary nature in life. Our life is short but the sukkah represents the joy of that short life and we are meant to celebrate every aspect of that joy, even the fragility of our mortal self.
Our awareness of death ought to awaken us to life's preciousness and also to its fragility. That is why as we close this holiday season I want to end with thoughts on life. Rosh HaShannah is called Yom Ha Zikoran, the time of memorial, but we are approaching Sukkot next week, which is ‘the time of our joy’. On Yom Kippur we mourn those we lost, but on Sukkot we celebrate their lives. We must turn the page and embrace the beauty and majesty that is life.
Our faith is so unique and special that we need to give ourselves moments of joy just as we set aside time for contemplation and reflection on the losses we have had in our life. I want to begin this Sukkot season by thinking of something positive but to also challenge you to make Beth Judah and our Jewish community a joyful place in deeds as well as prayer.
Fri., Oct. 5 we are having a Friday night service at 6:30 followed by dinner in our sukkah. So many in our community often forgo celebrating the joy of our faith on such wonderful holidays as Sukkot in favor of the deep contemplative holidays of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, but Sukkot is just as important.
I often wonder why so many of the younger generation see Judaism as a place of dour mood when the joy of Sukkot is forgotten and replaced by the more serious holidays we just experienced in September. The young need to see us laugh on Jewish holidays just as they see us cry on somber occasions.
This week I had many deep conversations with members of our community especially after the tragic passing of Michael Posternock, who was a lion in our community and a warrior to our town of Wildwood, but the one talk that stuck in my mind was from his niece who spoke of her days as a young woman in Hebrew school. She joked that she wanted the Temple turned into a playground so kids would enjoy coming.
It sounds funny and I am sure the Rabbi did not appreciate the comment at the time but, sadly, looking back she had a point. Beth Judah and all of Judaism needs to find a way to create joy in our lives just as much as it emphasizes the seriousness of torah study and the contemplative place of prayer. We need happiness in our lives, we need laughter, and sukkot is meant to be the holiday to give us that joy and fill us with laughter. We need to find our faith and make it a joyful place for all who dwell, maybe a spiritual playground.
We come together at this special time to remind ourselves not of our flaws but of our connection to one another. On Yom Kippur we Jews stood contemplating our own individual deeds and need for correction but on Sukkot we come together as a community to build something that exists in our hearts and to celebrate being together.
The booths that we reside in during this time are to remind us that the material world is temporary but our community and faith in fellow man is the core of our existence.
As we close out our High Holiday season take this challenge with me by committing to make our faith a joyful expression. Come Fri. Oct. 5 to our sukkah and eat the fine foods, shake the lulav and Etrog smell the fall fruit and see the beautiful sukkah that our Hebrew school kids have decorated. Celebrate the life of our faith just as we celebrate the life of those who passed by bringing a little joy into our world.
Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz is the spiritual leader of Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood and he welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org