Learning about Community from the Holiday of Sukkot

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

We at Einstein Academy love fall. We love the crisp mornings and pumpkin spice everything. We love the changing colors and how different those Colorado colors are from other states’ versions of changing colors. We love the period of transition before winter, and we love Sukkot.

Sukkot, translated to mean “booths,” is a fall holiday on the Jewish calendar. During this eight-day festival, it is customary to build temporary booths (called a sukkah) in which to dine (and even sleep). While this holiday does have an agricultural connection (corresponding to the time of harvest) and a historical connection (reminding us of the temporary structures in which the Israelites lived after leaving Egypt, but before entering the land of Israel), it also places a strong value on community and teaches us some core components of a strong community.

Everyone is Welcome

According to Jewish law, the sukkah needs to have at least two walls with a part of a third. Many traditional sukkot have three walls, leaving one side open, or have four walls with doors and windows. The sukkah is intentionally built to be open and welcoming. Whereas during the rest of the year, we can be found in synagogues and houses that are secure and not always welcoming to those who aren’t already part of the community, the sukkah practically screams, “Come in! We have space for you!.” So, too, must we be cognizant of the extent to which we are welcoming people, both within and from outside of our community. How do we make sure people who aren’t familiar know we want them to join us? What messaging and imagery can we use? How can we reach out to others instead of waiting for them to come to us?

We Rely on Each Other

Building a sukkah is no small feat. Yes, today there are many companies that sell sukkot that are easier to snap together, but it’s always easier (and safer) to have help when building the sukkah. Additionally, here in Colorado, with our unpredictable fall weather, it has been known to snow during sukkot, and the community then comes together to help de-snow the roof and/or rebuild collapsed pieces. So, too, must we be available to help our neighbors in their building projects (both figuratively and literally). How can we work together to make all of our lives easier? How can we help each other feel stronger and less alone? How can we create a norm and culture of being a unified team, looking out for each other?

We Look Out for Those in Need and Learn From Them

It is customary during Sukkot to welcome figures from the past into our sukkah, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David (some include Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, and Esther as well). All of these figures had a time of wandering and/or uprootedness in their lives, and when we welcome them into our sukkah, we can help give them a safe space while learning from their journeys. These figures learned lovingkindness, strength, splendor, glory, holiness, eternity, and sovereignty during their experiences, and reflecting the periods of wandering in their lives can inspire us to emulate the benefits they brought to the world. Additionally, it is customary to invite guests from today’s world into our sukkot, giving them a meal and a place to celebrate the holiday. So, too, we should consider to whom we are we reaching out and whom are including in our community. Whom are we making sure to actively include? What are we learning from people who have had different experiences than us? How are we making them feel welcome?

People are Different, and Those Differences are Needed

In addition to the sukkah, another major symbol of the holiday is the four species, consisting of an etrog, a palm frond, a myrtle branch, and willow. During the holiday, these serve a role during our liturgy. The Midrash (a rabbnic Jewish text) teaches that each of the four species represents a different type of Jew: “The lulav/palm has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who know the traditions of Judaism but do not practice them. The myrtle has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who do good deeds but do not have knowledge of Judaism. The willow has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who never study Torah and never carry out good deeds. The etrog has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who know the traditions of Judaism and apply them in their lives.” In order to fulfill the commandant of Sukkot, we must unite all four and use them together, representing the importance of us coming together as one people and strengthening each other as a community. So, too, we should respect and appreciate the differences among us and recognize how our community is strengthened by its diversity. How can we celebrate the uniqueness in all of us? How can we come together for common goals? How can our differences strengthen us as a whole?

The holiday of Sukkot is so rich with symbolism and meaning, much of which comes back to one major theme: community. Are you using the holiday of Sukkot to strengthen your community? We at Einstein Academy are certainly inspired to do so!

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